Gary Burger of the Monks
Even after seeing Deitmar Post and Lucia Palacios’s extraordinary documentary Monks: The Transatlantic Feedback, about five ex-GIs stationed in Germany who form a bar band, you’ll still have a hard time believing how a group so ahead of its time could’ve existed in the mid-60s. While the rest of the world was in the throes of Beatlemania, the robed Monks were bashing out crazed distortion-heavy anarchic jams that were punk rock more than 10 years before the sound would catch on. Monks: The Transatlantic Feedback screens at the NFB Cinema (150 John), Friday (June 13) at 4:30 pm, and Monks lead screamer/guitarist Gary Burger will be present.
How did the idea of using a banjo as a percussive instrument come up?
Our German managers suggested that Dave, our rhythm guitarist, should switch to a banjo, and we thought they were nuts. We had no interest in playing bluegrass music, but we agreed to give it a shot. Once we figured out how it could be used to pump up our rhythms, we loved it. That unique chicka-chicka-chicka immediately gave us a sound nobody else had. The banjo, the feedback and of course our look set us apart from every other bar band in Europe.
Did you get the idea for using guitar feedback from Jimi Hendrix?
No. We started using feedback before we knew anything about him. One night, I leaned my guitar against an amp and left the stage for a washroom break when it started feeding back. Roger kicked in with a beat and everyone else joined in. When I returned and saw the crowd getting into it, I just let it howl. Some time later, we shared a bill with the Jimi Hendrix Experience at a movie theatre in Kiel, Germany. We met his band at a café next door and they seemed completely wigged out, just laughing non-stop. Definitely on something. They played first, and after his show Jimi hung around for our set, watching us from the front row for the entire show.
What was the audience reaction to your off-the-hook performances?
Some people really liked us and went crazy, but I think many people were confused by us. In Europe during the mid-60s, I don’t think the public was ready for what we were trying to do. The bands we did shows with, like the Kinks in Munich and the Troggs in Düsseldorf were very cordial and encouraging. When we did a TV show with Manfred Mann, their singer, Paul Jones, suggested we release Pretty Suzanne as a single because he thought it could be a hit. We recorded the song, but it didn’t get released for some reason.
Any regrets about your time in the Monks?
It would’ve been great to play a show in the U.S. back in the day just to see if audiences would’ve reacted any differently to our music. But regrets? No. Even though things got rough at times, it was a wonderful experience. I’m happy with what the Monks accomplished and I feel very fortunate to have been a part of that band.
I Hate You