The Monks were an avant-garde garage rock band, formed by American GIs who were based in Germany in the mid- to late 1960s. They released one album, Black Monk Time, which was characterized by repetitive, unconventional, and often primitive music and chanted lyrics.
They reunited in 1999 and have continued to play concerts, although no new studio recordings have been made. The Monks stood out from the music of the time, and have developed a cult following amongst many musicians and music fans.
All the members were American GIs stationed in Germany in the mid-1960s. They began playing together in 1964, calling themselves the 5 Torquays. They covered Chuck Berry songs and played music inspired by the British beat groups, but the band experimented together musically. Band member Gary Burger said: "It probably took us a year to get the sound right. We experimented all the time. A lot of the experiments were total failures and some of the songs we worked on were terrible. But the ones we kept felt like they had something special to them. And they became more defined over time."
Black Monk Time:
The Monks played The Top Ten Club in Hamburg, where The Beatles had played earlier in the 1960s. Upon their discharge from the army the band developed a distinctive musical style, and took up a distinctive name and image to go with it. The transition from their earlier, more conventional and less provocative aesthetic to the abrasive and cutting-edge sound of their Black Monk Time period was partly induced by the influence of "a pair of loopy existentialist visionaries" named Walther Niemann and Karl H. Remy. Remy, a university student of design in Ulm, and Niemann, a student of Folkwang Arts Academy in Essen, "designed" the Monks as "anti-Beatles": short hair with tonsures, black clothes, ropes around the neck, and an image of being hard and dangerous.
At the beginning of 1965, Dave Day and Roger Johnston, on a whim, got their heads shaved into monks' tonsures. The rest of the band followed their lead, and to complete the image, the band took to wearing a uniform - all black, sometimes in cassocks, with nooses worn as neckties. Burger describes the band's "look" as completely their management's decision. Eddie Shaw later claimed in his band autobiography Black Monk Time that the nooses were symbolic of the metaphorical nooses that all humanity wears. His explanation exhibited a literal translation of gallows humor. The same attitude seems to be exhibited by the blunt lyrics of the band. The brazen attitude toward sensitive subjects was reportedly not well met. They received confused audience reactions at concerts, and one attendee attempted to strangle Gary Burger at a show in Hamburg, for perceived blasphemy.
After the Monks:
Bassist Eddie Shaw went on to play in a progressive rock band called Copperhead in the 1970s and later become a fiction writer; he also wrote the band's biography, Black Monk Time. Shaw's fictional work is based on his experiences growing up in Nevada and is published under his full name, Thomas Edward Shaw.
In 1999, the original five members of the Monks reformed and played the Cavestomp garage rock festival, which was held at the Westbeth Theatre in New York. A recording of that event was released on CD. Following that, they played the Rockaround in 2004 in Las Vegas, the Wild Weekend festival, which took place in Spain and in 2006 they played the Dirty Water Club in London, UK (with Day, Shaw and Burger being the only three original members performing at that time). Other shows took place later in the USA and later back in Germany, in 2007.
As of August 2006, lead singer Gary Burger was elected mayor of Turtle River, Minnesota.
In 2006 play loud! productions completed the documentary film Monks: The Transatlantic Feedback in conjunction with the release of the album silver monk time - a tribute to the monks. Artists to have acknowledged the Monks as an influence include: Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, The White Stripes, The Vaccines, Henry Rollins, The Fuzztones, the Beastie Boys and Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys, as well as The Fall. The latter covered both "I Hate You" and "Oh, How to Do Now" on their 1990 album Extricate (under the titles "Black Monk Theme Part I" and "Black Monk Theme Part II", respectively), as well as the song "Shut Up!" on their 1994 album Middle Class Revolt. The Fall have also covered "Higgledy-Piggledy" for the Monks tribute CD Silver Monk Time. The White Stripes named Monks as one of their key influences, noting that "their melodies were pop destructive".
Gary Burger: Lead guitar, lead vocalist (died March 14, 2014),
Larry Clark (born Lawrence Spangler):Organ, vocalist,
Eddie Shaw: Bass guitar, vocalist,
Dave Day (born David Havlicek):Banjo (initially rhythm guitar), vocalist (died January 10, 2008),
Roger Johnston: drums, vocalist (died November 8, 2004)