Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Monk Time: RIP Gary Burger

Posted by on Tue, Mar 18, 2014 at 8:11 AM

Gary Burger, front man for the now-infamous beat group the Monks, passed away this past Friday from pancreatic cancer. He was only 72. Some folks consider the Monks to be the first punk band. Hmmm, well...it IS an arguable point; they certainly crafted a LOT of fantastic NOISE!!

Jump the hump for more details on Burger and the Monks.

The Monks formed in 1964, when David Day (RIP) and Gary Burger, GIs stationed in Gelnhausen, Germany, started playing together. After adding fellow GIs Eddie Shaw, Larry Clark, and singers "Hans" and Ernie "Zach" Zachariah, they became the Torquays. On leaving the service, rather than returning to the US, they were convinced by a local agent they could make a living playing music in Germany. At the time Germany was THE proving ground for hundreds of beat groups, so, as there was work, they stayed. Hans and Zach were replaced by Roger Johnston and the group began touring, playing a couple originals, but mostly Stones/Kinks/Beatles covers.

However, the German scene was saturated with similar styled beat groups, so, in 1965, they retooled the entire idea of beat music. They deconstructed the song structure, sacrificing most extraneous elements, which meant gone was sweetness, cover songs, most lyrics, cymbals (!), and 12-bar form...and they added a banjo as a percussive instrument! They'd stripped their jams down to little more than hollering over a pounding rhythm. Oh yeah, and they were now called the Monks.

Of course, to further the "monk" theme, the fellers shaved their heads into proper monks' tonsures and wore black cloaks with nooses as neckties!! Uh...now they wouldn't be confused with ANY other beat groups!!! In late '65, they were afforded the luxury of recording an album, Black Monk Time; it's one of the most striking albums of the beat era! It opens with Burger hollering, "ALL RIGHT, MY NAME IS GARY! LET'S GO! IT'S BEAT TIME, IT'S HOP TIME, IT'S MONK TIME!" That opening track, "Monk Time," was actually an anti-Vietnam war song LONG before Vietnam became a quagmire. The entire LP was equally as possessed and as powerful as the lead track, but only a few hundred copies were pressed and the record went nowhere. Still, the band continued touring and issued a couple more 45s, but without commercial success the group split in early '67.

After returning to the US, Burger spent the remainder of his days in Minnesota—even serving as mayor of a town called Turtle River. In the late '80s record nerds sussed out the Monks LP, and in the early '90s a few demos and the 45s were comped and the band was officially DISCOVERED on this side of the pond. During the '90s their legend grew and they eventually reunited for Cavestomp in 1999. It was their first US show, ever.

If you're interested in learning more about the Monks I suggest watching the documentary Transatlantic Feedback (sorry no English sub-titles, but it's mostly retold from the Monks themselves.)


Comments (4) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
They are great- but they arent doing anything the Fugs weren't doing in NYC at the same time.
And both bands were a lot more jug band than punk.
I guess if you trace the history of punk thru the Lovin Spoonful, they were the godfathers of punk, but me, I am putting my money on the Sonics.
Posted by CATSPAW666 on March 18, 2014 at 8:56 AM · Report this
Matt from Denver 2
For a split second I thought this was about Gary Burghoff.
Posted by Matt from Denver on March 18, 2014 at 9:48 AM · Report this
Keekee 3
Everyone knows that the Sonics were the first Punk Rawk band!
Posted by Keekee on March 18, 2014 at 10:44 AM · Report this
nipper 4
@1 hahaha NO ONE traces punk from the Spoonful!

The Monks were a beat group playing, professionally, in Germany they evolved their sound from playing R&B. If they sounds like a jug band it's as they distilled the beat...the rest of their biz couldn't be father from the jug bands!!
Posted by nipper on March 18, 2014 at 2:16 PM · Report this

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