RIP Monty Lee Wilkes, veteran sound engineer for Replacements, Prince, First Ave

Veteran Twin Cities sound engineer Monty Lee Wilkes at his home studio. Photo by Paul Metsa.

Veteran Twin Cities sound engineer Monty Lee Wilkes at his home studio. Photo by Paul Metsa. Star Tribune

There are a lot of undervalued contributors in the music world. Folks who toil backstage. Folks who do the unsexy technical work that makes live music so enjoyable.

One of those folks was Monty Lee Wilkes — the local sound engineer and tour manager behind legendary Replacements and Nirvana tours — who died last Friday.

Wilkes, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer last fall, died while receiving hospice care at his parents’ house in Kettle River, Minnesota. The Barnum native was 54.

Though known mostly for his exploits with the Replacements, which are detailed extensively in this year’s Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements, Wilkes became a legend in his own right after over 30 years of involvement with the Twin Cities scene.

“He was another young, upstart, know-it-all kid, but it turned out he really did know what he was doing,” Steve McClellan, First Ave’s former GM, told the Star Tribune. “He became one of those bigger-than-life rock 'n' roll characters who wasn’t actually in a band but was still a big part of that world.”

After six years doing the job locally, Wilkes scored a gig managing the 1991 Nevermind tour for Nirvana — a hectic time chronicled in Nirvana: The Biography. The rest of his client list reads like a CliffsNotes guide to influential bands of the last 30 years. He also manned gigs for Prince, Beastie Boys, Britney Spears, Alice in Chains, Babes in Toyland, Joe Strummer, Soul Asylum, the B-52’s, the Go-Go’s, and many others. 

Wilkes was also First Ave’s in-house engineer for decades (up until December of last year) and taught at McNally College of Music in St. Paul. His name can now be found in a star on the exterior of First Ave alongside many of the bands he worked with.

Stay tuned for potential music tributes honoring Wilkes. The Strib has more anecdotes about the late roadie’s impressive life.