Not to be confused with the 70's English group of the same name, The Monks' are perhaps one of the strangest bands in Rock 'n' Roll, and also an unfortunately short lived one: Five American G.I.s stationed in Frankfurt after World War Two received their discharge in early 1965, what's the first thought on their minds? Stay and form a band of course! Although The Monks' have occasionally been called the first (or one of the first) protest groups, this is not true. Although they were pretty way-out for their time, remember that even Tom Lehrer was attacking commonly held standards in society back in the 50's, and a number of groups had similar ideals in the early sixties.

Gary Burger (vocals/guitar), Larry Clarke (organ), Roger Johnston (drums), Eddie Shaw (bass), and Dave Day (banjo) started the band before they had actually left the army. Called the Torquays, they were a fairly basic beat band, playing Chuck Berry tunes, Dick Dale covers and miscellaneous Brit-invasion songs, but in between theses gigs full of covers they played at pubs some very interesting music was being conceived. Come halfway though 1965, and an amazing transformation had taken place. Gone were the sharp suits, long hair, flares, and standard pop song covers; instead each member performed with the top of his head shaved, a rope around his neck and in full-length monk robes. The music incorporated garage rock, polkas, droning rhythms (think about Velvet Underground's 'Sister Ray'), and could also be considered primitive punk, while also containing wild organ runs, electric banjo, and feedback-laden guitar. Their song content featured anti-Vietnam protests, their views on a devolving society, and some fairly extreme outlooks on relationships with girls.

Burger discovering feedback was only one of the elements that made The Monks' sound distinctive. As he tells it; "We were practicing and I had to take a leak, I laid the guitar against the amp and walked off the stage. I forgot to turn it off and the thing began to make this god-awful racket. It started off humming and then it increased in volume. Roger started hitting his drums and it sounded so right together." Dave Day added his own trademark by putting two microphones inside a horse intestine strung-six string banjo. Most of the time this instrument was played on the beat, but occasionally it was played between the beats, providing a strange counterpoint to the guitar and drums. These instruments were given the strange match of Johnston and Shaw's rythym section, Johnston hammering his drums in a primal, savage, beat faithful way which completely ignored all fancy fills and most cymbal crashes - Amazing considering his roots as a jazz drummer. Shaw too was a jazz-man, although none of the loud, dark bass-lines he used in The Monks' would allude to it.

And so, their album was released early in 1966 (after recording concluded in very late 1965) after the Complication single. Disappointingly, the German audiences didn't know what to make of it or The Monks themselves, and they were met with confusion rather than positive or negative responses. This didn't stop them from scoring a tour with the Easybeats, a record deal from Polydor, exposure on German TV music shows like 'Beat Club', and bookings to play gigs in some fine locations in Germany. They became reasonably well known, but their music never took off, and they disbanded rather roughly and in confusion in 1967. Their recordings were never released in the United States, possibly because of the anti-Vietnam sentiments in it, or perhaps because the lyrics were deemed too shocking (Don't forget, even 'Louie Louie' was banned because it may have had vulgar lyrics)

Sadly, the Monks' have proved to be one of those bands that were much more lauded and influential after their demise. The members of the band split up in unhappy circumstances, some unpleasentness even going back to their days as the Torquays. Really though, overwork and underappreciation was their biggest downfall, the the band collapsed due to infighting and not being able to stick together with their image. The 2001 reissue of their only album Black Monk Time should not be too hard to track down, and contains the album plus their two later singles. If you can find it however, the 1994 reissue is superior, adding another three live songs to the package. Either way, I wholeheartedly recommend it. Come on people, It's Monk Time!

Three Monks' songs are covered by Mancurian band The Fall, two on their 1990 album Extricate, and one of the album Middle Class Revolt. 'I Hate You' and 'Oh, How To Do Now' are covered as 'Black Monk Theme Part I' and 'Black Monk Theme Part II' ('II' only available on CD/Cassette) respectively on Extricate, while 'Shut Up' appears under it's own name on Middle Class Revolt.

1966: Complication/Oh, How To Do Now (single)
1966: Black Monk Time (Album) (Re-released in 1994 with 7 extra tracks, and again in 2001 with only 4)
1966: I Can't Get Over You/Cuckoo (single)
1967: Love Can Tame The Wild/He Went Down To The Sea (single)
1994: Black Monk Time (Book by bassist Eddie Shaw)
1999: Five Upstart Americans (Compilation of pre-album demos, recorded when they were still the Torquays)
2000: Let's Start a Beat: Live From Cavestomp! (Live Album, from 2000 when they briefly reformed)

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