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Fricke’s Picks: The Monks

The silver lining around the passing on January 10th of banjo player Dave Day Havlicek of Sixties extreme-beat band the Monks (he died of heart failure at age sixty-six) is that he lived long enough to see the group ascend to its rightful place on garage-rock Olympus. Five ex-GIs based in Germany, the Monks dressed like Franciscans (complete with the clerical haircuts) and played a severe rock descended from the Star Club-era Beatles but shorn of the rockabilly and Motown influences and standard pop-song grammar (“Boys Are Boys and Girls Are Choice,” “Oh, How to Do Now”), with Day’s rapid-fire banjo chords sounding like he was strumming bamboo. At once ultraprimitive and the future of rock two decades hence, the Monks were post-punk before there were punks, an achievement nailed on the group’s sole album, 1966’s Black Monk Time (of the various reissues, get one with the non-LP singles). Deeper listening: Demo Tapes 1965 (Play Loud!), a one-day session even more rude and brittle than the ’66 album, and Silver Monk Time: A Tribute to the Monks (Play Loud!), two CDs of homage by assorted Monks spawn, including the Fall, the Gossip, Jon Spencer and a combo called the Havletones — with Day himself pummeling that banjo.

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