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The Monks
Origin Germany
Genres Garage rock, proto-punk
Years active 1960s, 1999-present
Labels Polydor
Associated acts The 5 Torquays, Copperhead
Gary Burger
Eddie Shaw
Larry Clark
Former members
Roger Johnston (died 2004)
Dave Day (died 2008)
Notable instruments
electric banjo, farfisa organ

The Monks are a garage rock band, formed by American GIs who were based in Germany in the mid to late 1960s. 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.



The formation of The Monks

All the members were American GIs stationed in Germany in the mid-sixties. They began playing together in 1964, calling themselves the 5 Torquays. The Torquays differed little from countless other bands of the time: They covered Chuck Berry songs and played music inspired by the British beat groups. But the band experimented together musically—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."

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" [1] called 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, image of being hard and dangerous. Remy and Niemann were an instance of the post-War West German avant-garde intelligentsia impacting Anglo-Saxon pop in a manner perhaps comparable to—but more intense than—that of the Hamburg art scene on the early Beatles.

The Monks stage garb

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. Eddie Shaw later claimed in his band autobiography Black Monk Time that the nooses were symbolic of the metaphorical nooses that all humanity wear. 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.[citation needed]

The group's sound

The band abandoned common elements of much sixties rock n roll:

  • They have very little emphasis on melody, their songs are rhythmic, rather than melodic. The rhythms are heavy and repetitive, with the drums supplying a sound often described as 'tribal'. Compare Drone music for the Western and Eastern roots of this music style. Prior to The Monks, Little Richard had written Long Tall Sally in 1956 around one single note, very similar to drone music. The Monks' focusing on rhythm rather than melody also was reminiscent of 1950s R'n'B, compare especially Bo Diddley beat, and the rhythm-based styles of musicians such as Ray Charles, The Champs (see Chicano rock), Sam Cooke, and The Shadows. The mastering The Monks received, resulting in a very archaic, raw and aggressive sound, was very similar to that of contemporary, more successful German band The Rattles who were signed to the same German Polydor label as were The Monks.
  • Song structures are minimal and repetitive, and do not tend to follow the standard verse-chorus-bridge patterns of a pop song.
  • The band's lyrics are dadaist and playful, yet paranoid. They combine nursery rhyme style lyrics ("higgle-dy piggle-dy") with war commentary ("Why do you kill all those kids over there in Vietnam? Mad Vietcong! My brother died in Vietnam"; "People kill, people will for you/ People run, ain't it fun for you/ People go, to their deaths for you"), surreal interjections ("James Bond, who was he?") and paranoia about girls and love ("I hate you with a passion baby! And you know why I hate you? It's because you make me hate you baby!").
  • The vocal delivery is strangled, wailing and frantic, contrasted to deep chanting backing vocals which recall Gregorian chant, although both lead and background vocals of The Monks are reminiscent of the Shout-and-fall modal frame typical for 1950s R'n'B recordings such as by Ray Charles, Little Richard, and others.
  • Gary Burger utilises a great deal of guitar feedback and dissonance. According to Eddie Shaw's Black Monk Time, the group invented the use of audio feedback for musical purposes. It's been claimed by Burger that Jimi Hendrix caught their act in London and paid special attention to his use of feedback and the newly developed Gibson Fuzzbox along with the Wah-Wah Pedal. Perhaps the most notable aspect is that Burger eschews playing chords and scales in favour of free form bursts of improvised noise. The Monks published their album, and a little bit later The Velvet Underground and other noise rock groups would soon adopt a similar style of playing.
  • Dave Day replaced his guitar with a six-string, gut-strung banjo upon which he played guitar chords. This instrument sounds much more metallic, scratchy and wiry than a standard electric guitar.

Many of these musical elements are also found in sixties New York acts like The Fugs and The Godz in particular, but also The Velvet Underground. When the Monks developed their sound, the only one of these bands who had put out any records was the Fugs; it is unclear if the Monks had actually heard the Fugs or developed their sound independently.

Because of these features, the Monks are often referenced as forerunners of the later punk movement.[citation needed] Their use of improvisation, noise and motorik rhythms (as well as their geographical location) has also led to them being cited as the godfathers of krautrock.

After the Monks

  • In 2006 play loud! productions[2] completed the documentary film Monks: The Transatlantic Feedback in conjunction with the release of the album silver monk time - a tribute to the monks.
  • On January 10, 2008 Dave Day died of a heart attack.
  • Eddie Shaw went on to play in a progressive rock band called Copperhead in the 1970s and went on to become an accomplished fiction writer, who also wrote their autobiography 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.


Artists to have acknowledged the Monks as an influence include The White Stripes, Henry Rollins, 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 The Monks as one of their key influences, noting that "their melodies were pop destructive".[3]




  • ...let's start a beat! (2004, Munster Records) [CD]


DVD releases

  • Monks: The Transatlantic Feedback (2009, Play Loud! Productions)


  • "Monk Time" b/w "Higgle-dy Piggle-dy" (2006, Play Loud! Producitons) - a single from the above album
  • "Drunken Maria" b/w "Monk Chant" (2009, Play Loud! Producitons) - a single from the above album


  1. ^ The Mojo Collection: The Greatest Albums of All Time. Jim Irvin, ed. Edinburgh: Mojo Books, 2000. p. 58
  2. ^ a b c play loud! productions
  3. ^


  • Shaw, Eddie & Klemke, Anita (1994). Black Monk Time. Carson Street Publishing Inc., ISBN 0-9633371-2-2


  • The Monks' "I Hate You" is featured in the soundtrack of The Big Lebowski during the "World of Pain" scene.

External links



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