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R.I.P., Iain Burgess, a key architect of the Chicago punk sound

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Though he was a native of the U.K., Iain Burgess' name was ubiquitous on some of the most influential recordings from the Midwestern post-punk scene of the '80s, and he could boast of engineering credits on some of the best records Chicago ever produced, among them "Atomizer," "Bulldozer" and "Racer X" by Big Black, "Fly on a Wire" by the Effigies, "Throb Throb," "All Rise" and "Jettison" by Naked Raygun and "Three Chord Monte" and "Earwig" by Pegboy.

According to reports on numerous punk Web sites, Burgess died on Thursday of a pulmonary embolism, a complication of pancreatic and liver cancer.

Though Burgess moved to France in the early '90s. where he was a operating a studio in the countryside called Black Box, the massive, crunching, live-and-in-your-face sound that he captured on those Midwestern punk recordings of the '80s continues to be emulated by countless other producers and artists, and chief among his many acolytes was his friend and student, Chicagoan Steve Albini.

"Iain was a dear friend and mentor, and I consider him responsible for a good many of the best things that have ever happened to me," Albini wrote in a post on his own studio's Web site. "As is the case when someone important dies, I find it hard to imagine the world without him. Black Box survives as a testament and monument to Iain's imagination and perseverance. It's in the running for the best place on earth to make a record."

Burgess' discography also included work with the Bhopal Stiffs, Bloodsport, Ministry, the Defoliants, Heavy Manners, the Cows, the Poster Children, the Didjits, Breaking Circus and Jawbox, among many, many others.

A funeral service reportedly is planned for Feb. 19.

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Whoa, that's sad news. He was one great producer.

Not only did Iain organize us and have us sounding great, with his kinship, skill and crankiness we had a gas and a record in little more than a week-end. Twas the best of times. Regret not having spent more time with him.

Magic, magic stuff.

Thank you Jim for the write up. What a loss.

Bless you Iain . The world has lost someone very special but im convinced wherever you are now there`s one huge party going on to celebrate your life of music and sound . Condolences to Iain`s family .

I worked as a go-fer with Iain at Hedden West back in the day. Considering I had no idea what I was doing, Iain was very patient with me. That may have changed once I left the room however...

Plus side, he showed me what it was like to work with a "Pro" and that's something I will never forget.

He also introduced me to margaritas. To help me forget.

A good man.


I'm absolutely shattered to hear news of Iain's passing.
He and I "grew up" together in the recording world out at Hedden West Studios and were great friends.
Between us, and occasionally together, we recorded a lot of the more vital bands at large in this area at the end of the 70's and into the mid 80's and Iain's work was particularly outstanding.
He made a huge difference individually and creatively within the Chicago music community and later of course, far beyond.
Many of the records you have mentioned would never have been made or had the impact they did without his ear and talent.
As Steve Albini said, it is hard to imagine a world without Iain Burgess.
This is truly sad news.

Michael Freeman

Thanks for writing about this, Jim. Iain was such a great engineer and such a good friend to so many of us, and I know that there must be so many old friends mourning his passing today.
I can perfectly remember the day we packed up that Flickinger console in a shipping container and helped him pack for his move to Europe. We laughed about all the great times we had together, and we promised to stay in touch.

Very sad news. Iain engineered much of the music I ever recorded and made a mediocre player such as myself sound listenable. My heartfelt condolences go out to his family and friends, and everyone his talent influenced. He is missed already.

a big peice of my heart is sad tonight upon hearing the news of the loss of my friend Ian burgess.the music world has lost one of the true pioneers in the recording industry.Ian engineered every song that my band NoSecrets recorded in the 80's starting at Hedden West and on to CRC and then Pierce Arrow...Ian was a mentor as well as a special soul he taught me so much about recording and was never at a loss for words when I wanted to know more about why he did it this way or that way and all just for the asking.he once told me that the two most important things about recording music are your own 2 ears and don't let the space between them get in the way and if it sounds good at the end of the mix it's because you were paying attention at 5 in the morning not just 5 in the afternoon.Ian you will be missed by everyone that your light ever touched I know because I miss you allready.till we meet again my friend unfortunately this time we can't fix it in the mix...

I feel such an incredible emptiness. Iain co-created my band "Scarlet Architect" and was the greater part of "Ministry's" early sound. He was so much more than an engineer. He genuinely loved the people he recorded. The overnight sessions at Hedden West were balanced with Cub Games, house parties, home BBQed rib dinners at his place in Wrightwood
listening to him laugh and tell "warstories" of what now is so apparent: his role as patron saint of the Chicago Sound circa 1980s and
beyond. I know I echo so many Chicago musicians when I say that my grief will not settle for any comfort save for the music he created with all of us so long ago.

Although it has been nearly 30 years since I worked with Ian, I clearly remember his respectful and cheerful greeting in which he always called me "Boss". He is one of only two folks who called me that, ever. I've never been very bossy, but Ian was always interested in hearing my thoughts about everything he was doing in the studio. He developed very quickly into his own boss, with his own style and sound. I would have enjoyed seeing him again before this sad day.

Working with Iain I learned much about the technical side of the recording process, miking, EQ, etc but perhaps more importantly what to leave out of a recording. And you could count on him to push better performances out of you and to be brutally honest(his comments on first hearing us are basically unprintable).
I sold him my first house, we worked on and swore at our Volvos together and he introduced me to the concept of a beer for every occasion.
In the end he was a good guy with a wry sense of humor and a creative soul who painted with his own brush.
My condolences to his family and friends
Richie Mayer

Jim, thank you for remembering our close friend and associate - Iain Burgess. We did many records together at Chicago Trax Recording over the years and became quite close. Iain was a brilliant producer / engineer and simply a wonderful person. He may be gone, but he will never be forgotten. I am deeply sorry to hear of his passing. My condolences to his family, friends and all. Reid

Thank you to everyone for your amazing words about my father... I never knew how much his work touched people and it's comforting to see it here... He is very much missed...

Good bye my friend.

A des moments de notre vie, il y a des gens qui comptent.
Alors on les pense immortels. Ou plutôt, on n’y pense pas.
Un triste coup de fil. Des larmes qui montent.

Good bye my friend.
Je n’avais pas réalisé le rôle que tu avais tenu dans ma vie.
Thank’s for all my friend.
Guitars were never loud enought. I remember and I won’t forget.

Bye Iain, I’ll miss you.

His list of credits is awe inspiring. I'm still shocked every time I take a look at it.

Where would Chicago punk be without him?

Oh this is horrible news. I saw some Facebook mentions about Iain, but didn't see the caveat attached to them.
Like others, I sat next to Iain during numerous sessions, learned tons, and had Ian's trademark one word response:
"Right. . ."
ingrained into my DNA forever . . .


I'm sometimes freaked out by flying, so I travelled by boat, train and bus to get there. I arrived first. I turned up in pieces and Iain immediately offered me a beer and a chair in his front garden. We had a nice chat in the sun, about his studio and why at Action Park sounds so good, his dogs, finding the site for the studio and his lack of enthusiasm for dealing with industry types "I really don't wanna be dealing with that s---". He had a 'larger than life' presence, occupying the space he was in. Immediately reminded me of John Wayne, but without the mean streak. Made us Pizza because we arrived late without stocking up. Very nice guy.
He created a perfect atmosphere for making a record. I slept like a baby and worked all day. Heaven for an audiophile with a thing for vintage gear. An unbelievable collection. A plate reverb that will "make you s--- in a bucket!" All curated by Iain and his working parters. Very sad he's not around anymore. I believe he was very generous with his knowledge, which he passed on to Steve Albini and more recently Dave Odlum and Peter Deimel at Black Box. We hope that the studio can continue in his absence. I really recommend flying to france and experiencing what Iain believed was the most appropriate venue for making a great sounding record.

We went to a bar in a nearby town after we finished mixing. Rennes I think. They had so many of Iains
records. We asked them to put on At Action Park. Maybe it was the beer but f--- if it didn't sound like the guitars were bypassing my ears and being transmitted directly into my brain.

An amazing producer, and a real gentleman.
i met him during a summer trip to paris, i hot his phone number from a friend (Agostino from Uzeda/Bellini) and i called him.
I told him i would have loved to visit the studio, (becaused i loved all the records he recorded at the black box) so he told me to get the train and bus and he would come and get me at the bus station in noyant.
He was there, took me to visit the studio, we had a long talk about how he got from chicago to noyant.
then i met Peter Deimel, we went to dinner and since it was late to go back to paris, ian told me i could sleep in the band's room.
The next morning i was woken up by the crows, those were particularly loud.
He got me back at the bus station.
Yes, this is the last time i saw him, i think it was 1996.

Iain, I will certainly miss you my friend. You changed the way I record music, listen to music and play music. All for the better. We sure had some great fun in the 80's!! My bands NoSecrets and The Distance had success much to the credit of your production talents and generous guidance. Our industry has lost a true pioneer!! Like Ricky said, this time we can't fix it in the mix but we surely can keep your memory alive by simply playing the songs you've touched!!
Danny B.

My dad was good friends with Iain. All the buzzards recordings he did and even helped my dad build a recording studio at our old house in the city. I know he was an honest,hardworking gentlemen. Who will be missed forever. He did a ton for Chicago punk music.

Like many other musicians, I became friends with Iain through the course of working with him on various recording projects. He was known to call you "boss" or "maestro" while becoming the master of your session, through his enormous talent of capturing raw sound and producing an amazing in-your-face finished work. He could be brutally honest, and compel you to perform at your ultimate best. He was the ultimate pro.
In the course of our friendship, I roomed with him at the Richmond St bungalow for about a year until I got married. We had great neighbors in Phil, Coco & Tommy Lucckese and Jeff King, and there were many musician-type visitors. The camaraderie that was always present was a tribute to the goodness of this man. Many a summer weekend was spent barbecuing, drinking cases of Busch beer, and watching Cubs games on TV. A frequent jaunt over to Resi's Bierstube would result in an almost lethal combination of weinerschnitzel and German beer, which would force us to retreat to the bungalow and "ATP"... assume the position, reclining on the sofa with feet up. Iain would talk about his dream of owning a studio in the South of France, and being able to ATP on the Mediterranean coast.
I never met his daughter Lauren, but I would hear him talking to her on the phone, saying "Hiya, Sweets!" and a great big smile would conquer his face. After the phone call ended, that smile would endure for a good time longer.
Although we lost contact after I got married and he moved to France, I still thought of this good friend often. He touched many of our lives as a colleague, ally, and friend. He laughed, loved, and lived life to its fullest. He is one of the few persons I know who went out and lived his dream. Iain...I will still think about you often and a smile will conquer my face. Rest in peace, my good friend.

I am shocked. My deepest condolences from all of us. I must say I appreciate Iain for taking us on {two frivolous guys trying to play over their heads}. Iain help us get into the good recording studios and define the sound. I will always remember him as one of the positive epochs of my life. ThanX Iain Burgess.

Lauren Burgess, My husband and I were very good friends with your father and mother. I've been trying to find your mom for years, and of course your dad moved out of the US, but we loved them both. We were so saddened by this news.

Very sad to hear of Iain's passing.
He was my instructor and became a friend when I studied recording back at Hedden West in 1974. I learned so much from him about micing, technique, editing, mixing, all aspects of engineering.
I fondly remember traveling thru a snowstorm in the winter of '74 with him to do sound for a Hungarian New Year's party.
Some very fond memories.
I've been doing live sound for 37 years now and give great credit to Iain for all the encouragement, advice and love of engineering that he gave me.
Rest in Peace, Iain

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This page contains a single entry by Jim DeRogatis published on February 12, 2010 2:53 PM.

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