The Monks interview with Gary Burger
The Monks are a garage rock band formed by American GIs, based in Germany in the mid to late sixties.
I’m really pleased you agreed to this interview. The Monks are one of the most influential bands. I would like to ask you first about your childhood. What were some of your first influences?
The Grand Ol Opry on radio WSM out of Chicago was a favorite for me to listen to. I was of course country and western music and I listened to the first “pop songs” of my life. I was probably 10 years old, I had an old, beat up radio jury rigged with an input to plug in my first electric guitar (DanElectro) and if I turned the volume up much I got this real fuzzy sound. My first fuzz tone! Ha!
You started in a band called The Torquays. Were you in any other bands before forming The Torquays?
Dave and I had a little band called the Rythm Rockers while we were in the army and that was before Larry, Roger and Eddy were called on to help out our thin act.
Any releases from then perhaps?
No releases then.
How did you first come together to form The Torquays? Why the name The Torquays?
Being in the U.S. Army was very boring so Dave and I used our music to pass the time and keep our lives interesting. We decided that we wanted to have a full band so first came a drummer, then Larry, then Eddie on bass. I guess we were still calling ourselves the Rythm Rockers and we wanted a new name now that we had all these guys in the band. One of Dave’s favorite songs was called Torquay, I think the Wailers recorded it and Dave liked the name so much that he argued long and convincingly that we should call our band that name so we did.
How do you remember the first session you had as The Torquays?
We were playing in a bar called the Odeon Kellar in Heidelberg (after the Army) and found out that there was a recording studio down the street so we decided that it was time for us to make a record. Dave and I were in love with the idea of writing our own songs and we had two songs ready to go.. Boys Are Boys and another one called There She Walks so we took the boys to Tone Studio Scherer and recorded. We sold alot of those records off the stage in the nightclubs we played in. Larry was in charge of keeping track of sales and he was very good at it. He had a mind like a vise when it came to keeping track of money. The rest of us were careless about money so Larry was the right one to be in charge of it. The song Boys Are Boys eventually became one of the songs on Black Monk Time.
You released many 45’s as The Torquays. Can you tell me a few words about recording and making them? I am also interested on what label were they released, mostly on Bellman Records, or?
We only released one 45 as the Torquays and that was the one I described above. The Torquays did record ourselves often in the clubs we played at but none of those recording were ever released. I still have some of them. We would turn a tape recorder on when we started playing and let it run all night if we had enough tape.
When happened the transformation to The Monks and why?
The Torquays had a job in the Rio Bar in Stuttgart and that’s where we met our future managers. They had this Monk idea and after explaining themselves to us we decided to take them on. We liked them because they were as cheeky as we were. We all wanted to get to a higher level with our music and we needed help to do that. Our managers were very good but they didn’t stick with us long enough. I’m still unhappy about that because we needed them to help support this Monk idea.
You were so different at that time, how did people look at you?
People of course thought we were very strange and we were strange. If we walked down any street together in full Monk dress the crowds would part to let us through. I think most people thought we were some kind of religious group and that bought their respect. Once they found out that we were a rock band they either laughed themselves silly or they stuck around to hear what we sounded like. They usually didn’t like us very much, our music was difficult for them to dance to and I find this strange because now, in these days it is easy to dance to.
Would you like to share some interesting stories that happened during some concerts?
Once in southern Germany we were playing a large hall for about 700 people. One young man decided that he hated us and so he jumped on to the stage and started to choke me. I hit him in the side of the head with my tuning pegs and he let go to hold the side of his head. By then, the security people woke from their slumber and dragged him off. This sort of event was rare but it always concerned us so we were on guard as much as possible without losing track of the idea that we were having fun!
Girls – girls – girls. My favorite quote regarding the Monk’s sex life came from Eddy who said something to the effect that, “When we were the Torquays we got the nice girls. When we became the Monks we got the strange girls.” I don’t know if that is entirely true but I do like the ring of it.
Let’s go to the period when you were recording your legendary Black Monk Time. This was one of the most iconoclastic, innovative and transgressive albums from the sixties.
The album was recorded in Cologne very late at night after we’d finished our evening gig at a nightclub called Storyville. We’d get to the studio around 3:00 a.m. and start recording. I think the entire album was recorded in 3 days. We were playing our songs in a very tight and precise manner about then so it was a good time to record them. The recording room was huge and fit the size for a very large symphony orchestra. Our producer Jimmy Bowien and his engineer set us each up in this huge room with a Monk in each corner. We tried to play the songs but it wasn’t possible because we were so far apart so we soon gave it up and gathered ourselves closely together and began to record Black Monk Time. One of our managers, Karl Remy thought that no one could properly record a rock album without liquor and so he started plying me with whiskey just before I began to sing my songs. He told me that it would rasp up my voice and I guess it did but I sure as hell got drunk making that record. Great fun. Jimmy Bowien was then and still is, a great guy and he had a very good recording engineer working with him and they managed to capture the essence of what the Monk’s were all about. I appreciate them to this day.
Would you share your insight on the albums’ tracks?
Anti-war all the way, all the way. There is no other reason for this song.
Liars everywhere, shut up, don’t cry. Worried world. Is the end coming? Maybe, just maybe it is.
“Boys Are Boys and Girls Are Choice”
Just a fun song, what I would call a “filler” on Black Monk Time. We did like to play this one.
Upside down world – again, the end may be near.
“I Hate You”
One of my favorites – haven’t we all had a relationship that is love and hate? Cold and hot? This is a love song in more of a blues manner. Yes it is.
“Oh, How to Do Now”
The guy (me?) is chasing the girl on this one which has such a terrific rythm. I still don’t know if he gets her.
Anti war all the way again! I am very pleased that the Monks had two outstanding anti-war songs! Horray!
“We Do Wie Du”
Pretty much nonsense
This is an old sailor’s song that was given to us by Karl Remy. It doesn’t make much sense but we loved to play it for it’s happiness.
“Love Came Tumblin’ Down”
This was a Torquays song that we unsucessfully tried to turn into a Monk song. The Torquay version was never recorded but it was much better than what the Monks did to it.
Another fun song to play – I’m sure we were thinking of going to the moon or Mars but our minds couldn’t leave Venus, all the girls were there.
“That’s My Girl”
I hate this song and refuse to talk about it. Ha!
The album was released on Polydor Records in 1966. Do you perhaps know how many copies were made and how did it sell?
No. I don’t know any of that.
How did you decide for the cover artwork?
Our managers did all the artwork. We weren’t so interested in those matters at that time. They could have wrapped our album in toilet paper. We didn’t care.
What did you do after the release?
Kept on playing, just kept on playing. But it changed some. Now, we are playing with the Kinks, the Troggs, Manfred Mann, Jimi Hendrix and other touring groups from those days. It became more work for us because we were traveling more and doing one-nighters instead of staying in a nightclub for a month-long gig. It became REAL work. Play at night, drive during the day to the next job, set up, play sleep a couple of hours and do it all over again. We had nearly two years of this and it wore us out.
What happened next for you?
We were supposed to do a tour to Siagon, Djarkarta, Hong Kong, Tokyo and then Los Angeles to meet some record people. It didn’t happen because Roger left the band and without the original 5 Monks the contract was not valid. That was the end of the Monks. I didn’t see any of the other guys for years after that. It was not a good time for any of us.
Well in 1999 you had a reunion and you also released some great demos in an album called Five Upstart Americans…
Yes, that did happen and the Monks later played in Austria and Germany. The audiences were absolutely a dream for us and made us again happy to be a Monk. Unbelievable adoration came from them to us and gave us the strength to kick ass on those songs from our youth.
What are you doing these days?
I own and operate a recording studio which also produces hi-def video for commercial clients and makes documentary films. I live quietly in the country with my wife and three dogs. Sometimes I get some musician friends over, crank up the studio and record a song or two. Just trying to live ok and have a good time.. I’m getting it done, life is good.
What are some of your future plans?
I don’t make many plans.. things come that are surprising and I just let life flow. I love my work and where I live so I am content with this.
Thank you so much for answering questions for my Magazine. I really appreciate it a lot. Would you like to add something else?
Best wishes to you Klemen and also to Psychedelic Baby Magazine. Thank you for your interest in the Monks. I hope I have been helpful. Gary Burger 6.8.2011
– Klemen Breznikar