The Monks Black Monk Time

"Their melodies were pop destructive and must be played to your younger brother."
- Jack White, The White Stripes

"You can hear their influence across the decades."
 - Colin Greenwood, Radiohead

Today the words "garage," "psych," and "punk" are ubiquitous – but in the mid-1960s there was only one group that clearly defined them. The Monks were five beat-playing American GIs stationed in Germany who, after their discharge, decided to stay and continue their musical mission. With a team of local managers they transformed into a holy racket like the world had never witnessed. The Monks birthed the above genres through a fuzz-drenched sound, bursting with social commentary and future primitive rhythms.

We kick off in America at the dawn of the 1960s, when five young men all joined the United States Armed Forces. One by one and independent of each other, Gary Burger, Larry Clark, Dave Day, Roger Johnston, and Eddie Shaw all found themselves stationed at the 4,000 strong post in the small German town of Gelnhausen, 47 kilometers east of Frankfurt.

Music was a distraction from the menial day-to-day of life on the base. Both Burger (vocals, guitar) and Day (first guitar, then later 6-string banjo, vocals) often found themselves retreating to the Army Service Club to practice writing and singing. The pair developed a rapport and began performing off-base at a GI bar. Soon Johnston (drums, vocals), Clark (organ, vocals), and Shaw (bass, vocals) joined the ranks. They called themselves The Torquays. By the winter of ‘64 the band had all been discharged from active service. With the promise of steady work playing clubs around Stuttgart and Munich the band decided to stay in Europe.

The main mode of currency for The Torquays was "beat," the infectious guitar, bass, and drum-based music from the UK. With bands like The Beatles coming directly from England to Hamburg–the capitol of beat music in Germany–there was a passion for the genre. Throughout 1965 The Torquays performed seven nights a week in the beat clubs of Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Munich, Nuremburg, and other regions of Germany.

While playing a residency at the Rio Bar in Stuttgart, the Torquays were approached by Karl Remy and Walther Niemann who, along with partners Gunther and Kiki Aulich, had an interest in managing the band. In contrast to the lightweight pop sensibilities of beat, Remy and Niemann stressed the ideas of simplicity, energy, opposition, repetition, and brevity. Their vision dovetailed perfectly with an experimental new sound the band had been toying with, and the die was cast. This puritanical ethos was the foundation of The Monks, and the name came like a revelation from above.

The final transformation came when Remy and Niemann dressed the group in all black and painted their instruments white. Each member wore a piece of rope around his neck as a tie. Remy and Niemann took the fellows to a barbershop, where they had a large round portion of hair cut off the top of their heads and the space shaved smooth, like a monk’s tonsure.

Hamburg was the nation's second largest city next to Berlin. Its Reeperbahn in the St. Pauli section of town was home to a red-light district spilling over with grime, smut, and excess, and The Monks were an instant success. Hamburg was also home of Deutsche Grammophon, the parent company of Polydor International. With the perfect blend of strong image, instant branding, and promising demos, Polydor signed The Monks.

Black Monk Time was recorded in Cologne during November of 1965 and was released to the German record buying public in March 1966. The Monks toured non-stop for the next year and a half, some times playing in three towns a night, doing two sets in each.
Despite that, Black Monk Time petered out in the record stores, and Polydor asked for a more commercial second single. The band had a contract to fulfill, and the result was "Cuckoo". It did well for the group, leading to better gigs, exposure, and television appearances. Soon The Monks found themselves sharing bills with fellow rock and roll pioneers The Troggs, The Kinks, and Jimi Hendrix.

The breakneck pace began to take its toll, and cracks began to show. Remy was disillusioned with "Cuckoo” ’s softer sound. His relationship with Niemann and the Aulich's began to sour, and the management team broke up in bitterness. The Monks would have to face the music by themselves.

1967's "Love Can Tame The Wild" b/w "He Went Down To The Sea" was pressed in the greatest quantity of any Monks record yet, showcasing an even softer and more traditional direction than their last. With mounting tensions and unrealistic expectations, the band focused on their upcoming tour of Asia and the exciting prospect of a new album.

Yet alas, it wasn't to be. On the day before their departure to Asia, Burger received a note from Johnston reading: "I can't take it any longer. I'm going back." The band was over, and they all went there separate ways. Years went by and the story of the Monks receded into memory.

Over time collectors specializing in the obscure rediscovered the Monks. Fanzine Ugly Things did an extensive Monks piece/interview in 1992. Shaw wrote a book about the group in 1994 (Black Monk Time, Carson Street Publishing Inc.). Eventually, all of the Monks reconnected and decided to reunite for a handful of events. The first took place in 1999 at the Cavestomp! festival in New York. Spain followed in 2004 (without Roger Johnston who had passed away.) In 2006 German director Dietmar Post created a documentary entitled Monks-The Transatlantic Feedback. To support it there was a German and Austrian reunion in 2007. Dave Day passed away in 2008. It seems that time waits for no Monk.

The 2009 Light In The Attic reissue of Black Monk Time and The Early Years 1964-1965 is the current manifestation of the Monks' crystallized vision. It means the world to us (and to the Monks; remember, "We're all Monks!"). As far as we're concerned, we feel that Monk music should be filed with pride alongside the Velvet Underground, Can, The Stooges, and Fela Kuti in the great record cannon in the sky. Long live The Monks!