The Godz

godz2

Our thanks to reader Srimad1 for reminding us that, while we did once write a post about freak-folk/noise-rock pioneers The Godz, we never actually got around to adding them to The Weird List. Well, we’re gonna fix that right now, Sri. Can we call you Sri? We feel like we’re already on a nickname basis, since we’re all in the extremely small club of Godz lovers.

The Godz (not to be confused with the awesome-in-their-own-way-but-far-less-mindblowing hard rock back from Ohio of the same name) came together in mid-1960s New York City. Their official bio says they were “born out of the grimy streets of the Lower East Side”; another account, which we find far more entertaining, says they met at a Sam Goody record store in midtown Manhattan. United by a love of marijuana and pretending not to know how to play their instruments, they began laying down improvised, repetitive jams that resembled no sound anyone had ever produced before, unless somewhere in Greenwich Village before 1966 a jug band attempted to play three different songs simultaneously while falling down a flight of stairs.

All 25 minutes of The Godz’s nine-song debut album, Contact High With The Godz (or Contact High With Da Godz, as the ransom-note lettering on the cover reads), is equal parts brilliant, deranged and insufferable. It’s one of the first — maybe the first — great weirdo artifacts of ’60s psychedelic music, predating The Velvet Underground & Nico by a year and Cromagnon‘s Orgasm by three. We posted it once before and it’s so great we’ll post it again. Warning: If you have cats, don’t play track two, “White Cat Heat,” on a large home stereo system. I’m not saying my cats are scarred for life or anything, but they’re definitely a lot jumpier than they were the day before they heard it.

Contact High With The Godz was released on the great ESP-Disk label, best-known as one of the vanguards of free jazz but also responsible for putting out some of the most mind-warping folk music to come out of New York in the ’60s (including records by The Fugs, Holy Modal Rounders and the aforementioned Cromagnon). Apparently Godz bassist Larry Kessler worked at the label at the time and arranged for them to audition. It’s a safe guess that everyone treated the whole thing like a joke at first, but somewhere along the way an actual recording session took place and lightning in a bottle was captured.

The Godz released three more albums over the next seven years, each weird and charming in its own primitive way, but never quite surpassing the magic of their unhinged debut. Godz 2, released in 1967, kept the droning, hypnotic qualities of Contact High but sounded more inspired when the guys delved into actual songcraft, as on the proto-punk rave-up “Radar Eyes.” 1968’s The Third Testament leavened the noise with some straight-up acoustic numbers that wouldn’t have sounded out of place in a Richie Havens set. Following a few years of inactivity, The Godz got back together after famously contrarian rock critic Lester Bangs sang the praises of their early work in a 1971 article for Creem. But 1973’s Godzundheit, which featured a ragged but surprisingly faithful cover of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” would prove to be the final chapter in their first act.

Over the years, The Godz achieved semi-legendary status — especially in the NYC post-punk/no wave scene, where they came to be viewed as godfathers, championed by Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore among many others. They finally reunited in late 2007 and early 2008 to record several new songs that later turned up on a pair of compilation albums called The Godz Remastered (a kind of hilarious title, given the deliberately lo-fi nature of their early work) and Gift From The Godz. Those recordings featured all three surviving members: Kessler, guitarist Jim McCarthy and drummer Paul Thornton — but inevitably, they’ve ditched the most aggressively abrasive elements of their early work, though they still rock out with youthful punk enthusiasm. (The fourth original member, autoharpist Jay Dillon, died in 2005.)

In 2014, Kessler put together a touring version of the band called L.L. Kessler’s “GODZ” that initially did not include McCarthy or Thornton, though Thornton later signed on to celebrate the band’s 50th anniversary. According to their official website, they’ve recorded a new album called America — but as far as we’ve been able to tell, only the title track, a jaunty protest song with a horn section, has been released so far.

Even though it’s far from their weirdest song, we’re gonna play this post out with “Radar Eyes” because it fucking rocks. Long live The Godz!

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Monks frontman Gary Burger just died

The Monks' Gary Burger

We were gutted today to learn that Gary Burger, lead singer/guitarist for our current Weird Band of the Week, The Monks, passed away on Friday from pancreatic cancer at the age of 72. Minnesota Public Radio’s The Current broke the story on Friday, with a local paper called the Bemidji Pioneer filling in some additional details of his post-Monks life in the tiny Minnesota town of Turtle River, where he was the mayor (and still played the occasional Monks reunion gig).

Despite The Monks gaining a sizable cult following over the last 25 years, Burger led a pretty quiet life, producing the work of other bands and musicians out of a home recording studio and occasionally working as a filmmaker. He was elected mayor in 2006.

Burger remained modest about The Monks’ legacy. “We all knew that we were doing a different sort of music,” he told Minnesota music journalist Andrea Swensson in 2009, “but as far as being a forerunner band—that was the furthest from our minds. We really weren’t thinking that. We were thinking that we were playing rock and roll with a twist, and the twist was the electric banjo, the feedback, the drums, basically not using cymbals but lots of tom toms. We had no idea that we were creating a new movement. And I’m still thinking, hey, we were just a rock and roll band that really had a lot of fun.”

With Burger’s death, only two of the original Monks are still alive: bassist Eddie Shaw and organist Larry Clark. But their spirit lives on in countless bands that owe a huge debt to their innovative sound, from The Raincoats to The White Stripes to the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.

We’ll leave you with a clip of Gary and The Monks from 1999, still rocking out just as hard as they did in the ’60s. Here’s hoping their reputation continues to grow, even after Gary’s passing—they still haven’t gotten all the recognition they deserve.

The Monks

The Monks
Photo courtesy of The Monks / Light in the Attic Records

[Note: In a crazy and sad coincidence, Monks singer/guitarist Gary Burger died just two days after we wrote this post. You can read more about his passing here.]

We’re gonna take a little trip in the Weird Band Wayback Machine this week. It’s 1965 and we’re in Hamburg, Germany. On the infamous Reeperbahn, at a club called the Top Ten, where The Beatles had been the house band four years earlier, a group called The Monks are pounding out original, primitive rock songs wearing matching black outfits with ropes in place of ties. They’ve even all shaved the tops of their heads in the style of monastic tonsures. Their music sounds like nothing else of its time; raw and rhythmic, almost entirely devoid of melody, with shouted, nonsensical lyrics (except the parts about Vietnam, which probably would’ve sounded nonsensical to most Germans in 1965).

Where the hell could such a group have come from, you might ask? Well, it turns out they were a product of the American military. They began playing in local clubs while they were still enlisted men, calling themselves the Torquays and performing a fairly standard house-band repertoire of Chuck Berry tunes, surf-rock instrumentals and early British Invasion stuff. It wasn’t until after they were discharged that they took a turn for the weird. The new name The Monks came first; the shaved heads happened later, on a whim. But the original music, even though it sounded like cacophony to most listeners back in the day, was all the result of careful experimentation and hours of playing live together.

“It probably took us a year to get the sound right,” said lead singer/guitarist Gary Burger, in an excellent history by Will Bedard on the band’s website. “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.”

Among their many unconventional moves was replacing Dave Day’s rhythm guitar with the harsher twang of a six-string banjo. They also did away almost entirely with high-hats and cymbals and were one of the first bands to experiment with the deliberate use of feedback. All of it was intended to produce a sound as raw, primal and grating as possible. And judging from their one and only full-length album, 1966’s Black Monk Time, they succeeded.

Originally released on then-German label Polydor Records, and never distributed in the U.S., Black Monk Time has since gone on to become one of those records that collectors will fight over like coyotes over a chicken bone. Until it was finally reissued in the ’90s, it reportedly sold for nearly $1,000; these days, an original pressing in good condition can still be worth as much as $600.

Like many bands ahead of their time, The Monks weren’t built to last. They followed up Black Monk Time with a pair of singles, the novelty tune “Cuckoo” and a throwaway attempt at writing a saccharine pop hit, “Love Can Tame the Wild.” But by 1967, the group was done, torn apart by internal tensions, frustration over their lack of commercial success, and the strain of non-stop touring.

Since ’99, the group has played a handful of reunion shows and been the subject of a documentary film, 2006’s Monks: The Transatlantic Feedback, which you can watch in its entirety (in German) on YouTube. They’ve also released one “lost” track, an early demo called “Pretty Suzanne” which was included in the latest reissue of Black Monk Time on Light in the Attic Records. (Another Light in the Attic release, The Early Years: 1964-1965, contains demo versions of songs that would later appear on Black Monk Time, as well as two songs the band recorded as The Torquays, “Boys Are Boys” and “There She Walks.”) But they’ve stopped short of recording any new music, which is probably just as well. It would be impossible to recapture the energy of those early records, especially since the deaths of drummer Roger Johnston in 2004 and banjoist Dave Day in 2008.

Amazingly, there’s a ton of archival footage of The Monks performing, mostly from German television. We’ll leave you with a couple: “Monk Chant,” which features an amazing guitar-feedback freakout that predates Hendrix at Monterey Pop by a year; and “Complication,” which was, improbably, the lead single off Black Monk Time. Those ’60s German teenagers are trying their darnedest to dance to this stuff, but sadly, nobody had invented mosh pits yet.

P.S. Thanks to readers Alex and Twufee the Wondermoose for suggesting these guys to us many moons ago. Told ya we’d write about them eventually, guys.

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Todd Tamanend Clark

Todd Tamanend Clark

A few weeks ago, we got an email that began: “Please allow me to introduce myself! My name is TODD TAMANEND CLARK, and I am notorious for having made the weirdest album of all time.” Jaded fuckers that we are, we proceeded to ignore this email for the next two weeks, because when people write to us claiming to have recorded the “weirdest album of all time,” they usually sound more like this.

But eventually, we did get around to checking out Mr. Clark and his allegedly weird oeuvre, including Nova Psychedelia, the collection of tracks from the first decade of his career (1975-1985) that stands as (allegedly) the weirdest set of music ever assembled in one package. And while we’re not gonna crown him Weirdest Artist of All Time just yet, we gotta admit: Todd Tamanend Clark, you are one weird dude.

Here’s Todd’s story as best as we’ve been able to piece it together from various sources, including the man himself, a brief Facebook bio, and a rapturous (but, according to Clark, somewhat inaccurate) review of some of his early work by none other than Julian Cope. He was born in 1952 in Greensboro, Pennsylvania, a small town near the West Virginia border, where he continues to live to this day. A poet, singer and musician, he released his first album under the name The Stars in 1975, then joined a Pennsylvania band called The Eyes and put out an excellently titled release called New Gods: Aardvark thru Zymurgy (sometimes mistakenly credited to a non-existent band called New Gods, though for reasons obvious to those few who’ve ever been lucky to get their hands on an original copy).

During the Stars/Eyes period, Clark’s music was still heavily influenced by the ’60s psychedelic rock of Hendrix, the Doors, the Electric Prunes (who he covered) and especially the United States of America, one of the first bands to use early synthesizers in a psych-rock context. But he was also clearly attuned to the newer, harsher sounds of early punk, and would go on to collaborate with people like The Dead Boys’ Stiv Bators and Cheetah Chrome. Later, in the early ’80s, he dove more deeply into full-blown experimental rock, taking equal inspiration from bands like Pere Ubu (another occasional collaborator) and the works of sci-fi and stream-of-consciousness writers like Harlan Ellison and William S. Burroughs. And yeah, he also collaborated with Burroughs, too. For a smalltown boy from western Pennsylvania, the guy got around.

For awhile there, Clark appeared to be well on his way to, if not fame, at least a sizable cult following. But something seems to have happened between the late ’80s and now that caused Clark to drop even further off the radar than he already was. Maybe his combined interests in his Native American roots (he added the Indian “Tamanend” to his name sometime in the ’80s) and vintage synthesizers (he’s an endorsed Moog Music artist) was too much for most listeners to handle. Or maybe he just didn’t release much music; there seems to be a gap in his catalog between 1984’s Into the Vision (the album that features the aforementioned Burroughs collab, as well as appearances by some of the Pere Ubu and Dead Boys guys) and 2000’s Owls in Obsidian, the first in a trilogy of instrumental tribal-prog-synth-rock explorations that also includes Staff, Mask, Rattle (2002) and Monongahela Riverrun (2004). Todd offered to proofread this article for us for “factual errors,” so hopefully he can enlighten us.

[Update: Todd did enlighten us. Here’s what he wrote: “What I did during the recording gap… After Into The Vision, there was a vinyl single in 1985 (‘Flame Over Philadelphia’ b/w ‘Oceans Of She’) which along with my 1980 single (‘Secret Sinema’ b/w ‘Nightlife Of The New Gods’) were my college radio hits, the most commercial I ever got. I released no new recordings during the years 1986-1999, although I continued to compose music and play occasional concerts. During that time, I went to graduate school and was a devoted father to my (at that time) five children. (I’ve since had another son who is now thirteen.) I also immersed myself more deeply into Haudenosaunee and Lenape culture, as well as networked with indigenous activists from other native nations.” So there you have it.]

More recently, Clark’s been hard at work on his first vocal album in years, a magnum opus called Dancing Through the Side Worlds. Based on this one interview we found, it was originally slated to come out in 2008 as a four-CD set, but based on our latest email transmission from T.T. Clark himself, it’s now due to arrive in November of this year, just in time for Native American Heritage Month. “If you can imagine Iggy Pop backed by Skinny Puppy and Adrian Belew doing a cyberpunk re-make of Forever Changes with new lyrics by William Burroughs and production by Trent Reznor, you will be somewhere in the aesthetic ballpark of this album,” Todd tells us. OK, then!

Clark’s body of work encompasses so many styles and genres that it’s impossible to cover all of it here, but we’ll skim the surface as best we can. Let’s start with some of his ’70s basement psych-rock stuff, from Aardvark thru Zymurgy:

Then fast-forward to 1984 and Into the Vision, on which he sounds vaguely like Jim Morrison fronting The Residents:

And finally, here’s an extended taste of the Native American-influenced prog-synth freakery he was getting up to circa 2001, with one of his kids, X Tecumseh Clark, playing some of the synths. (Yes, he has a kid named X Tecumseh. And another named Shaman Manitou.) (Bonus fun fact: X Tecumseh is the cover boy for Crystal Castles’ 2010 album.)

So here’s hoping we can do our small part in broadening the audience of this truly original oddball. And here’s hoping he really does release his next album in November as promised, because we cannot wait to break out the thesaurus and the review the hell out of it.

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Nous Non Plus

weirdestbandintheworld

Here at TWBITW, we have very strict criteria for weirdness. Start a fake French garage-rock band in New York? Not weird enough. Start a fake version of the fake French garage-rock band, using the same name? Now you’re talkin!

Details of what exactly went down are a bit sketchy, but we know this: at some point, various members of fake French band #1, Les Sans Culottes, got fed up with the band’s lead singer and ringleader, Clermont Ferrand, and decided to start their own fake French band instead. The problems arose when they decided to keep using the name Les Sans Culottes, even though Ferrand had already assembled a new band and was also performing around town as Les Sans Culottes. Ferrand (real name: Bill Carney) eventually took his old bandmates to court, where we can only imagine the judge was tempted to bitch-slap the whole fake French lot of them. The melee was ultimately resolved, however, with Ferrand able to keep calling his band Les Sans Culottes and the second crew of fake Frenchies rechristening themselves Nous Non Plus (which means something like “us no more”).

To make matters even more confusing, there’s also a NYC restaurant called Les Sans Culottes. The phrase, which literally translates to “those without underpants” or, more archaically, “those without knee-breeches,” was apparently originally coined to describe the poorly equipped conscripts of the French Revolutionary army in the late 1700’s.

Anyhoo, although we were bummed that the original incarnation of Les Sans Culottes broke up (we saw them live a few times and they were pretty great), it’s kinda nice to now have not one, but two fake French bands to choose from. Les Sans Culottes 2.0 still sounds like a cross between the B-52’s and a French Ramones; Nous Non Plus, for their part, have taken the music in more of a power-pop direction, but the silly Franglish lyrics still take center stage.

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