Mar 29, 2021: Jerry Burgan, Co-Founder of We Five (‘You Were on My Mind’), Dies

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The cover of We Five’s You Were on My Mind album (Jerry Burgan is at far left)

Jerry Burgan, a founding member of the ’60s folk-rock group We Five, best known for their pop hit “You Were on My Mind,” died March 29, 2021, at age 76. He passed after suffering a series of strokes and a paralyzing neck injury. Burgan, a tenor and acoustic guitar player, co-founded the San Francisco-based group with Michael Stewart (brother of John Stewart of the Kingston Trio), Beverly Bivens, and two others in 1964. The news was shared on his Facebook page.

By 1965, We Five (never “the We Five”), which also included Bob Jones and Pete Fullerton, had scaled the pop charts with their cover of “You Were on My Mind,” written in 1962 by Sylvia Fricker of the Canadian folk duo Ian and Sylvia, who recorded it the following year. We Five’s version, with Bivens singing lead, reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 (and #2 on the Record World chart) on Sept. 25. Other songs in the Top 10 that week were Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” the Dave Clark Five’s “Catch Us If You Can” and the Beatles’ “Help!”

Watch We Five perform their hit on television that year

Related: The #1 singles of 1965

This ad for the album appeared in the Sept. 25, 1965 issue of Record World

William Jerome Burgan was born on Feb. 3, 1945, in Kansas City, Kansas, and moved with his family to Pomona, Calif. Before he began high school, Burgan was given a banjo by John Stewart. In the years to come, he and Michael Stewart assembled the group that became We Five. Their success with “You Were on My Mind” paralleled the rise of the electric sound from what had been traditional acoustic folk music.

Their only other charting single was their follow-up release, “Let’s Get Together,” a cover of the Kingston Trio recording. (The song ultimately evolved to the best known version, “Get Together,” by the Youngbloods.)

As recently as 2020, We Five continued to perform as We Five Folk Rock Revival.

In 2014, Burgan co-authored a book, Wounds to Bind: A Memoir of the Folk-Rock Revolution. He is survived by his wife, Debbie Burgan, who replaced Bivens as We Five’s female singer in the late ’60s. Michael Stewart later produced Billy Joel’s Piano Man album. He passed in 2002 at age 57.

Related: Musicians we lost in 2021

Greg Brodsky

5 Comments so far

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  1. Alan
    #1 Alan 31 March, 2021, 15:44

    Thank you for being among the few to report this and for being so careful about getting everything right. I was the writer Jerry allowed to co-author his book. It was always important to him not to overestimate his role in the birth of folk rock (he freely acknowledged Michael Stewart as the creative genius behind their arrangement of Sylvia Tyson’s song), and he considered himself half a skeptic amid the fame and turmoil that came his way in the sixties (all the while trying to get it back!), which I think was the odd magic of his story. But it ends with him finding his small place, in the way I think every biography and every life should. Also, Debbie was the love of his life, and that is the sleeper power of his book.

    When we did readings for the book, he ridiculously let me perform the song live with him and Debbie. When I had a novel I couldn’t sell, he gave me a song for the main character (a country singer), and the unpublishable novel turned into an unpublishable novel-with-songs performance, at which he and Debbie and other musicians played. A few weeks ago he was celebrating being vaccinated and starved to see people again.

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    • Greg Brodsky
      Greg Brodsky Author 31 March, 2021, 17:14

      Thank you, Alan, and for sharing those insights with our readers. Sorry for your loss.

      Reply this comment
    • Frank May
      Frank May 1 April, 2021, 15:03

      My condolences to Debbie and her family

      I was honored to know Jerry and thank him forever for recording “Five Will Get You Ten”

      Reply this comment
  2. sig
    #2 sig 1 April, 2021, 01:13

    great song, great harmonies. memorable, a delight for me to hear it again

    Reply this comment
  3. Theresa
    #3 Theresa 7 May, 2021, 19:25

    My condolences to Debbie and their sons. My brother Mic played drums with them. Jerry was at my brother’s wake and we sat in his car and listened to a song he wrote about Mic. It was great to reconnect with him.

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