The Monks, who remained a rarely mentioned sidenote in music history until relatively recently, have experienced a renaissance of sorts thirty years after their inception. Comprised of five American ex-GI’s stationed in Germany during the Vietnam War, the Monks evolved out of a tight if standard formatted rock and r&b act, the Torquays, to become the most rebellious thing on Hamburg’s famed Reeperbahn. Dressed in black monk’s garb and sporting shaved monk tonsure haircuts, the “anti-Beatles” held up a mirror to the times and commanded the people to take a look at the world around them. The image revealed was too dark and wacky for most listeners currently being comforted by the “soft wave” flavours of the day. Their record label, Polydor, had no clue how to market the songs and failed to release their album in America, and the Monks were doomed to tour Germany confounding all but a very few listeners. The album, ‘Black Monk Time’, its single ‘Complication’ and subsequent 45’s ‘Cuckoo’ and ‘Love Can Tame the Wild’ failed to chart anywhere outside of Spain (Spain!?) and after a tumultuous year-and-a-half of constant touring on the seeming brink of success or destruction the Monks disappeared.PRIVATE
Like many albums which stand the test of time, “Black Monk Time” is not immediately accessible, but reveals its message and true beauty after repeated listenings. With washes of electric organ, fuzz-laden almost surf guitar, pounding tom-toms, hyper-repetitive bass lines, a cutting, chugging rhythm banjo and vocals that screamed with unbridled insistence, the Monks were able to create all the sound and fury that is rock and roll within the construct of three minute mad dashes. At their best, Monks’ music overwhelms the listener with a sound they termed “over-beat” - at their worst it is totally oddball freakrock that sounds like a pleasurable argument. Both are endlessly appealing.
In the decades that followed the break up rumours circulated among rock music intelligentsia about the personalities and whereabouts of the Monks. Whilst agreeing that the Monks were one of the first punk bands who “outsexed the Pistols” ten years beforehand, no-one knew what had happened to the Monks themselves. Some listed them as AWOL still somewhere in Germany, others thought them mad, dead or both. All questions were laid to rest however in 1994, when bassist Thomas “Eddie” Shaw chronicled his life as a Monk in his book ‘Black Monk Time’. After reading this, and listening to the album a few hundred times, I put Captain Beefheart’s words into action and “putt’d on down ta Carson City” where I interviewed Eddie Shaw. The Monks sang that “hate is everlasting, baby”. What follows is testament to the fact that their music is everlasting too.
PT: When did you go over to Germany to join the service?
ES: Well, I was there in 1961. Got in in ’61, got out February of ’64 and stayed there to play. Mostly at that point I was playing at a GI bar in Gelnhausen, the Maxine Bar.
PT: You met up with the future Monks on the base. That’s where you had your first rehearsals?
ES: There were two bands on the post. I was playing drums in one band, and Gary and Dave were doing their thing in another. We were playing rock and blues, two or three chord songs. It was like two competing bands on the same post. Something happened and we decided to start playing together... but Dave still insisted I audition.
PT: Where did you guys practice?
ES: In the service club, there were different rooms where guys were practicing. At that time Dave and Gary were playing for the hat down at the Fisherstoope which was really a raunchy place, you walked in and it stunk. It was a lower class GI bar. Bambi’s was one where all the big city guys went for the sophisticated stuff and the Fisherstoope was a raunchy getting drunk place.
PT: Did you guys have a name?
ES: It was the Rhythm Rockers. We had an audition and I went down and bought a bass at some little record store, some really weird bass, some German brand, the body of it was about that big [wide]. Actually it sounded really good, cause after that I got a Hofner and it sounded a hell of a lot better than that Hofner.
PT: So after a few rehearsals you started getting booked on weekends?
ES: Yeah after awhile a guy named Hans Reish, a club owner came over He heard we packed the place, and he says, “what are you guys doing when you get out of the Army, you could make a hell of a lot of money if you stay here...there’s alot of jobs now for bands.” So we thought about it and stayed. This was in 64. We played on the weekends for a guy named Karl Heinz Kalt. He had dance halls, and I didn’t know it but we’d have to go out and build the dance hall before we could play in it for the guys in the army, so I’d be out laying concrete for a dance floor in the morning, we’d let it harden and then we’d get to play there at night. He controlled us, one day we were getting ready to go play some other place, which he didn’t like, and all of our instruments disappeared.
PT: You called yourselves the Torquays at this point, when did you guys start getting booked regularly?
ES: Well, we were booked as soon as Gary and Dave got out. Our first month started in Siegen and that was seven nights a week for a month. Bands got booked for the whole month. One month in one town and then you go to another town, always seven nights a week, never a night off. In the meantime, we picked up a girl singer, Mary. We thought, being ex-GI’s, coming out of that mentality that we needed a girl to hold the audience, a real sexy broad. So she was with us in Siegen, and we all had to sleep in the same room, but then Dave and Larry got to arguing over her. Larry fell in love with her and she was sleeping with Dave and I was pissed off at Dave saying, “that’s one of our partners, you don’t sleep with your partners.
PT: In your book, “Black Monk Time”, you tell a great story about one night in particular playing at a GI bar when a fight started.
ES: Well where we were playing was a small place maybe 50 feet by 30 feet, with a balcony upstairs, and at the Maxine Club you got a mix of sophisticated and crass clientele, soldiers who were guarding the border and the local German girls who would come in and mix with them. These soldiers are trained to kill and really don’t have any social grace... like, “I got two days to get drunk and fuck, you know, I can get drunk and maybe I can do the other, and for that I’ll fight if I have to.”
PT: Chaos would ensue and the MP’s would show up?
ES: Yeah, pandemonium, girls screaming, glasses breaking and we’d try to play through it cause it was kind of funny to watch until they started throwing things at the stage...and one night a chair went right past my head and a foot of it stuck in the wall behind us, like a spear and when that stuff happens you know its time to get off the stage. An MP would show up and roll a canister of teargas right in the middle of the dance floor so there was nowhere to go but out the door and Larry would reach down and put on his army-issue gas mask and keep playing his organ. Playing “Green Onions” to an empty room, swirling with poison gas...that was his own twisted sense of accomplishment [laughs]. He always said, “I told you guys, bring your masks.” Larry was very detail oriented, he made his plans, always wore these black gloves except when he played, with his pens and notebook, he was always prepared.
PT: What kind of songs were you playing?
ES: We’d do Ray Charles... “Baby, What’d I Say” that was our showstopper... “Wipeout” [sings it]...
PT: How long did you play as the Torquays?
ES: Maybe about a year, year-and-a-half. Up to pretty close to 1966...
PT: Did you play a couple of sets each night?
ES: Well, Herr Friedman made us play fifteen minute sets with a 45 minute break so he could sell more drinks. We’d play two or three songs and he’d fight his way up to the stage and say, “Stop! I need to sell more drinks.” It was a grueling job. On weeknights you’d start at nine and be done at 3 in the morning. On Sundays we’d do 3 to 5 in the afternoon and come back at night.
PT: Where were you living?
ES: We all lived together in rooms provided by the club.
PT: Did you spend all your time with your bandmates?
ES: When we first got out of the army we stuck together cause we were sort of afraid, being in strange towns. After we were in a town for a week or two we’d branch out. Larry would go to the chess clubs, I was always with my wife Anita who was from East Germany, Gary and Roger hung out. Roger had a Jaguar XKE convertible and all the women loved that car, Gary and Roger were heavy into women. Gary used to always wear this hat, and the women would get pissed cause they swore he’d even wear it to bed. He was a little sensitive cause he had thinner hair than everybody.
PT: What did you guys look like then, what was your image as the Torquays?
ES: We wore Beatle-boots, gray pinstripe suits, straight leg trousers, longer hair. Dave’s haircut was like a helmet and Roger had it long, but because he was a Texan he insisted on combing it back on top.
PT: The Torquays released one single “Boys Are Boys” [b/w “There She Walks”] which later became a Monks song... was that one of the first you guys wrote?
ES: Yeah, Dave and Gary wrote that song. We were doing original stuff all along, Dave and Gary were writing an awful lot of it. As we went along we all added our ideas to songs, getting more into the group writing effort. Sometimes they’d say, “well I hate you to ruin my song but if we’re gonna change it, okay...” and by the time the song was done it wasn’t theirs anymore cause everything had changed. Words and verses would go, we’d argue about that, like “who cares about ‘there she walks dah-dah-dah,’” or whatever, you know - cut to the chase.
PT: Where’d you record?
ES: That was in Heidelberg, we’d put money into the band fund and we had some surplus, and Larry, I think, cause he was the businessman, says, “we’ve got the money lets make a record.” So we went to a little 2-track studio at an old man’s house, in his living room, the only studio in Heidelberg and he ran a tape recorder on the other side of the wall. We just set up our amps right there.
PT: What label was this first record on?
ES: Ours. We just made our own label. We printed 500 copies. Larry sold them off the stage, we sold them all in a month.
PT: Independent records are pretty much standard practice now...
ES: Other bands then were like, “you guys are selling your own records? That’s crude.” Guys were getting huge deals so we kind of had an inferiority complex. Larry kept pushing us to do more but by that time Dave was saying, “no that’s stupid, selling our own records, somebody else is supposed to sell them for you. Elvis doesn’t do that!” [laughs]
PT: That single cover has you guys wearing some striped dresses or something.
ES: We wore those during our “show hour”, when the crowds would start mixing, around 11 o’clock. We’d take a fifteen minute break, run to the back room roll up our pants, showing our Beatle-boots and hairy legs and put these striped nightshirts on, we had some tailor make them for us, and we’d run out on stage and do “Skinny Minny” and Larry would run circles around his organ holding down one key, we’d get down on our knees and shake our heads, jump up and down and pretend to shoot people with our guitars and run around screaming, twitching, all animated, with our striped red suits on.
PT: You were living a pretty cool life, playing every night, visiting these weird German towns, when did you get tired of being a Torquay ?
ES: The first month it got hard was when we were in Munich, playing right down by the Bonnhoff, these were real dives where they had girls sitting at the tables enticing the guys, and we realized in those places that we were nothing more than an enticement to bring crowds in so they could get fleeced by the women. Nobody really cared about the music, these were hard places. But we had alot of friends though who lived in the underbelly of society and they’d come see us, but these were brutal, long, hard hours where your standing up playing and you know that everything you’re doing isn’t important. In Stuttgart too. Stuttgart is a line of clubs, one after another, Casey Jones and the Governors played next door, German Bonds on the other side of him...
PT: These bands were all playing basically the same material?
ES: Yeah, all the same stuff. It depended on who could do “show” most, so Dave insisted we learn dance steps, you know, swing your guitar right, swing your guitar left, all Dave’s shtick. He says, “that’s very, very important...nobody wants to go in and see dead fish”. [laughter]
PT: So eventually you got tired of being props for the club owners?
ES: In Stuttgart you’d play for six hours and the competition was so stiff that on week nights you’d wonder why you were there playing for twenty people. Managers would run from their club into the one next door and if they were “doing show” he’d run in and say, “it’s time to make show, now!”, so we’d have to do our show to bring people in. It was like a circus act. Constant pressure. To relieve the boredom on those long nights we would play one song after another without a break in between, for some reason that made the night seem to go faster. Some bands would play one song and then tune up, stand around, talk to each other and we recognized right away this was a way to compete with other bands, keep it constant, no dead air time. If we went up for 45 minutes the music didn’t stop, the last note of one song and then the count off of the next one.
PT: So at Torquay rehearsals you began to mess around with your sound a little bit and one afternoon you guys had, musically, a moment that you described to be like “discovering fire”.
ES: Yeah, well we were a little bit disenchanted, bitching and moaning, the club was empty and locked up and Gary went to take a leak and he forgot to turn down the volume on his guitar and leaned it against his amp and there was a little bit of a sympathetic vibration that just started roaring by the time he got halfway across the room. Roger sitting there, bored, just starts beating on his tom-toms and I started playing a bass on the beat and Gary looks at us like, “we’re really getting sick”, but then Larry starts doing something and Gary says “Hey!” and comes running back to the stage and jumps up and twangs his guitar and pretty soon we were all playing, just having fun with it. So when we started playing each night we’d start sticking a little bit of that into songs, just to relieve the boredom. If no one was watching we’d do it and the amps would screech and howl and we’d laugh and giggle and go back into whatever we were playing. “Do Wah Diddy” or whatever would just explode for a minute and the manager would come running up and say, “What’s wrong with your equipment!”, and we’d act dumb, “I dunno, it just happened”. And sooner or later Karl and Walther happened to see us...
PT: Your future managers, the men who would make you Monks.
ES: We didn’t know who they were, but they came in one night, wearing business suits and I always watched that stuff, I was always watching for someone, maybe some guy from a record company who might pick us up or something. Karl was a heavy drinker and he got drunker than hell by the end of the night so we dismissed them. But they were back the next day and they asked us to come down and talk to them, so on break we went down. As it turned out they were advertising people, and very good ones. They had recognized something in that sound and they said, “you’re playing the sound of tomorrow and you don’t know it.” But we thought ahh, we’re musicians we know what the sound of tomorrow is and we’re doing it right now, ’cause for musicians there is no tomorrow, you just play what you’re playing right then. Anyway, they convinced us to come and take a look at a slide show presentation of the photography they had done. Karl did the advertising for Volkswagen, the real bleak pictures of a VW Bug out in the sand. Very modernistic and I thought, “wow that’s kind of neat, this guy is sharp, you know.”
PT: What did they offer you?
ES: Basically just if we worked on the music, they would get us some record contracts. We did it cause we didn’t have any other choice and so we started practicing with them every afternoon and they just kept encouraging more of it till we finally began to feel comfortable.
PT: At this point was it still two guitars, organ, bass and drums?
ES: Yeah one of them came up with the idea of an electric banjo, to mess with the sounds, and they liked the things Roger was doing with the feedback on his drums, playing his tom-toms and they encouraged him to continue with that. There was actually seven of us working as a team creating something we hadn’t done before. They were used to the team concept as advertising people and bands, at least the ones I’ve been with, if there’s five people in the band, there’s five egotists and each one of them swears up and down that he’s the only one that’s right. So we had to learn to satisfy everyone. Everyone found their thing to be outrageous on, within a fixed, minimalist, philosophical, psychological construct. Trying to make five words into three words and create a new image.
PT: When did you become strictly the Monks?
ES: Karl and Walther got us an audition at Polydor and we did our demo tape which was more minimalist, more pure in the concept actually than ‘Black Monk Time’. They took a copy of the master tapes up to Hamburg and talked to Jimmy Bowien, and at that time we still hadn’t played Hamburg, that was strictly English territory. It was a little scary going up there. So Polydor saw we had a team and Karl and Walther would show them these drawings of what we would look like, from the rope ties, to the monk haircuts, they were done up by this guy Gunther who was a graphic illustrator. We worked on the music and the concept for about six months before we changed, and when we finally had the idea that yes, this will work, Polydor said they’d take us if we worked up in Hamburg, ’cause that was the real proving ground. So we got a job at the Top Ten Club, changed our clothing and our music and went to work. One day we were Torquays and the next we were Monks.
PT: How was the initial response?
ES: The crowds loved it, the newspapers loved it and Karl and Walther said, “see we told ya. It’s gonna work.” And it was great as long as we were on-stage in Hamburg, but whenever we had to go back down south, to Mannheim or somewhere, to the GI bars we’d almost get killed. They didn’t like it at all.
PT: And this was January of 1966?
PT: Tell me about recording ‘Black Monk Time’.
ES: We recorded every night after we finished playing. We were playing with Bill Haley then. We’d finish our set and pack up and start recording around three in the morning and end around eight. It was at a very large soundstage and we had problems with the acoustics since we played so loud. We spent a lot of time just trying to figure out how to get a decent sound. The best way to mic our amps left us all in separate corners behind sound walls and the engineer, in a bit of frustration, reeled off about fifty feet of tape, ran it through the 4-track across the room and around a door knob, for reverb. Our managers stayed in the control room and told the producer, Jimmy Bowien, what it was we were trying to accomplish. The engineer had never heard anything like us, but did his best while scratching his head saying, “this isn’t music.”
PT: Where did you tour to promote the album?
ES: Wolfgang, our tour manager, sent us on a gruelling six month tour of one nighters. All the small towns. Running us through every town like politicians. Playing intimate community halls and bars. On weekends we could do three towns in one day, one in the early afternoon, one early evening and one late at night.
PT: And you were always dressed in your monk outfits?
ES: Polydor wanted us to always be Monks, at home, at the bars, at cafes, in the taxicabs...
PT: Quite a shock to see five Monks drinking, swearing, chasing women, and playing minimalist rock and roll!
ES: Yeah and that’s what the managers wanted. They would set us up in places to make a spectacle to get press out of it. In Sweden, they had us stay at a convent. We had a hell of a party there, girls and whiskey and stuff.
PT: These guys were such smart PR people, what was happening with the album in America?
ES: Polydor was promising this break over there, but they couldn’t get over some of the lyrics and the wackiness of it and the distributors wouldn’t touch it, so they wouldn’t put any money into it there.
PT: Cause meanwhile the Vietnam War was going on and America was just starting to divide over the War, and you were singing these political almost protest songs.
ES: All we were really doing was holding a mirror up to what was happening, not really as a protest but as a statement of fact. To be as austere and authoritarian as possible. Because when you shave your head and wear the monk garb you gain an innate sense of reverence from those around you and there is a psychological change in those who wear it everyday. You gave off an almost unapproachable aura.
PT: Did you ever realize Monks’ music was special?
ES: We knew it was different, we knew no one else was doing it and we enjoyed it mostly. There were moments on the street, or in crowds, like in Hamburg we could walk down the streets and all the prostitutes and the door men to the clubs and strip joints would say, “Hey, the Monks!”, people would wave at us and playing on the TV shows when other bands would be up with their paisley shirts we knew we were special then too.
PT: Obviously you had know idea that the music would be so timeless, but did you know it was good?
ES: We weren’t sure it was good, in fact, as the band wound down and we couldn’t break in the States we kept going on the one night tours, burning out, even on the bigger venues playing with the Kinks and the Troggs, though we did well on those, Polydor was getting a little disenchanted with us and they said they wanted softer music, like Lovin’ Spoonful. They kept bringing up that band, they wanted us to study them.
PT: The Monks played with Jimi Hendrix, right?
ES: Just outside of Hamburg is a club called the Star Palast in Kiel. A converted movie theatre, a lot like the Star Club. We were booked for a month and it was a gig I hated because I lived downstairs in these cold, damp rooms that were like basement cells, and we shared them with other bands and I was sharing a room with this Irish band. I was on the bottom bunk and the guy up above me would spit down on the floor all night and I’d get up in the morning and step in it. So I got pissed and took my entire months wages to get a room at a local bed and breakfast and that’s where Jimi was staying. He played the club a few nights and I remember that month was totally drab except for him. He had this one little roadie with a thick Cockney accent who was saying, “Jimi Hendrix is going to the fuckin’ moon, man...” He’d just come out with ‘Hey Joe’ I think, and one night me and Larry ate dinner with Jimi, Mitch and Noel Redding. Jimi was asking about the town and the Monks, why we were dressed up and stuff, getting to know us. He said he was from Renton, Washington and that’s where Dave was from too, so that evening they got talking before our set. We were used to people looking at us a little askance, you know, dressed like we were, and when Hendrix arrived dressed as he was I personally was relieved to find someone getting the same kind of treatment and looks. People would move away from him, wouldn’t talk to him and I took some comfort in seeing that. We played our set and Gary used a wah-wah pedal and on break Jimi comes up and says, “what is that?” So we showed it to him and said, “Hmm, that’s pretty cool.” He liked us actually, but when he came up on-stage, I was totally blown away. He had his own shtick, laying the guitar on the floor and acting like he was having sex with it, pretending to play with his teeth... and you could see he really wasn’t enjoying it. At break we talked about it and he’s like, “it’s that shit they want”, what his company wanted. Larry has some pictures of that night and its really weird to see a monk and Hendrix talking together. I’d heard these English bands playing the blues, but when I heard Hendrix play I knew he’d taken it to some other level.
PT: You got the feeling that he was going to be great?
ES: I was convinced of it, and the thing is after he was done he just sat down at a table by himself and was totally ignored.
PT: How did you feel about the Monks after hearing him, did you think you were going about it all wrong?
ES: Yeah, that thought crossed my mind because we were rooted in American music but we’d absorbed the German culture and the “over-beat”. Of course the music was totally different, but here he was playing real American music, putting a twist on it and taking it to some other place. That’s when I began to suspect we’d already passed the height of our careers and that really, we weren’t going anywhere.
PT: Like you were on a tour that was never going lead to anything better?
ES: Yeah, we were discouraged and it was obvious we weren’t going to America and we did one last single for Polydor, ‘Love Can Tame the Wild’ (b/w ‘He Went Down to the Sea’) we were running back and forth all over the country, down to Firth, the job from hell, where we didn’t get paid.
PT: Those songs are an even further departure than the second single ‘Cuckoo’ was from the hyper, feedback stuff of ‘Black Monk Time’.
ES: Well, ‘Cuckoo’ was an attempt at a fuller sound, not really at writing soft-wave music. On the last single we were gonna try some new techniques, like bouncing tracks which we hadn’t done before. Playing softer, using a piano instead of the organ, bells... a whole different sound. I played a little trumpet piece in it, I hadn’t played in years but I managed something. This was gonna be our Lovin’ Spoonful thing which might get us into America, if nothing else would... but it really didn’t. We knew when we were done recording it was pretty much through. They made more copies of that record than any of the others, I think they expected it to sell an awful lot more than it did. Polydor by now felt that whatever we were doing wasn’t working, so we got talking with Phillips Records, but they weren’t quite sure what to do with us. At the same time, we were fighting and not really practicing, we started going from gig to gig without putting any effort into it. We were playing for empty crowds down south, just to keep food on the table. Now we were playing for food... and nothing else.
PT: Did you guys ever consider just relocating to the States as the Monks and starting over there?
ES: We contacted an agent in New York, but he wanted us to have long hair, play soft-wave, basically be the Torquays. But we didn’t have alot of confidence, at that point we were dividing into factions, arguing about how to be accepted and stuff. It had something to do with money too, but really we didn’t have the collective energy to restart there.
PT: Most of you guys were married so you had to set some kind of timetable for the band?
ES: There was only so long you could justify it and promise things would get better. Roger was getting really unhappy and he said, “this is all bullshit.” He’d had some trouble with pills and drinking...
PT: He got hooked the same way as the Beatles?
ES: Well, GI medics would offer us stuff in the early days and then Oma, who was the bathroom attendant at the Top Ten Club, she was the one who took care of the Beatles, she felt every band who played there were her boys and she took care of them with some kind of speed pills. Roger was her favourite and she’d give out pills to the musicians to keep them going through those long nights of playing. He was a low key guy and playing monk style, he felt he needed that stuff to play.
PT: In a last gasp you tried to give the people what they wanted, playing soft music, did the monk image start to fray too?
ES: Roger started showing up for gigs in regular clothes, growing his hair back out and Gary was doing that too. Nobody wanted to be a monk anymore. Everyone said it was a failure and we believed it. But, Larry wore his monk outfit to the end. We started doing covers again, like “A Whiter Shade of Pale”, Dave refused to be on-stage when we’d do it, he’d just walk off.
PT: Ahh, the classic creative differences dilemma...
ES: Right. Disenchantment sets in, you don’t feel successful and the weaker ones want to stop.
PT: What was your management thinking about all this?
ES: We had a month in Firth playing and then a month off to rest and we all kind of went our separate ways and during that time our road manager proposed a tour of Vietnam. They were running tours through Vietnam and bands were going and playing in these clubs in downtown Saigon with no protection, not as part of the military. Basically, just going over there and gigging like you’re in Germany. The Vietnamese club owners figured with all these soldiers around they could make some money booking rock bands. A couple of the tours went alright, but the tour before we signed up to go, I think they lost two people.
ES: Yeah, somebody rolled a grenade into the club. Vietcong knew where the Americans were hanging out and they’d blow up the bar. We were still gonna go, although I don’t think any of us really wanted to do it. I think what saved us is the day before we were supposed to leave, Roger quit. He wrote us a letter from Texas.
PT: It all came to a sudden end, what was your reaction?
ES: It was disbelief... totally disappointed. It was like somebody had died. Because I hadn’t thought about what I’d do without the Monks. I didn’t have any money to get home. So Anita, my wife, found me a job in a wine cellar, some gourmet place where I’d bring wine up to the waiters. I wore this little white jacket. Every bottle I’d open, I’d take a big swig of, I tasted the best wine in Germany. [laughs]
PT: How do you feel talking about the Monks thirty years later?
ES: Somewhat vindicated, which gives you a sense of pride in what you did, at least now you can almost brag about it [laughs]. But I don’t expect anything big from it, it was one album and a couple of singles. And a lifestyle... I gained a lot of experience from all the things I learned in the process of doing it.
PT: When you think about it, as the Monks, your only link to being an American was the language you sang in, otherwise you may as well have been a German band.
ES: Yeah, but we were always billed as being “direct from America”, if anybody asked we told them we’d just gotten to Germany the week before.
PT: Did you keep in touch with the Monks back in America?
ES: Gary and I were in touch immediately, he was feeling alone in Minnesota and it was like we all needed to get back to somebody who understood the Monks. I couldn’t talk to anybody about it, because that part of my life had nothing in common with people I used to know. Roger went to Texas, his wife stayed a week there and realized he didn’t have anything like he did in Germany, he was living in a little shack someplace and so they moved up to San Francisco for awhile. Anita and I moved to Minnesota and we shared a trailer house with Gary and his wife. Larry lived with his parents in Chicago.
PT: Dave’s story was the most tragic.
ES: Dave came over with his wife and she couldn’t stand it so they went back to Germany. He opened up a bar over there in a GI town. They had some problems and split and he was homeless for about a year-and-a-half. He lived in the woods in a tent and the police wouldn’t arrest him if he kept moving every few days. He’d go into restaurants and steal food or play Elvis Presley on his guitar on the corner for money. Somehow his brother found him and sent him a plane ticket home and by that time he’d forgotten how to speak English. It’s easy to do when you are eating, sleeping and dreaming in German. When he got back he got on the ground and kissed his brothers feet and cried. He learned to speak English again by reading comic books.
PT: You started playing music again in Minnesota right?
ES: Yeah, I played trumpet in some funk bands over the next fifteen years. I recorded with Copperhead for Capitol Records, they changed our name to Minnesoda. But Capitol and Columbia couldn’t figure out what to do with our music. My whole life I’ve been playing music that people don’t really know what to do with [laughs]. We were doing Sly and the Family Stone type stuff, with jazz mixed with it.
PT: You guys were pretty big on the Minneapolis music scene?
ES: Yeah, Prince, when he was a teenager, would come and see us down at the Depot. In fact, “Purple Rain” was filmed at that club. The interior there was all purple, and when I saw the movie I sat and cried cause it was all about spending time playing there as the house band, which I was.
PT: After that you came back to Carson City?
ES: Yeah, and started writing books. I did about thirty short stories and published twelve of those. Then some movie company shows up out of the darkness and asked if I’d give them the story of the Monks so they could do a movie about it. So I wrote the book, ‘Black Monk Time’.
PT: In retrospect, what song or memory best represents the Monks spirit?
ES: I think, the songs ‘Shut Up’ and ‘Complication’ maybe. Our great moment as the Monks was really a period of time. The times in Hamburg, because people were appreciative of our different sound there. The Top Ten Club was always packed, even though the owner of the club hated us. Last week I got a call from Walther and he said everything we did at the Top Ten was secretly recorded. No wonder, since we always had to use their equipment, their soundboard and play at their settings. They must have some different sounding Monk music. Evidently they recorded every group there, including the Beatles. I guess the owner is trying to market those stolen performances.
PT: Have you listened to any of the modern bands that credit the Monks as their inspiration, I personally got into the Monks through the Fall. Mark E. Smith loves the Monks.
ES: Somebody sent me a tape of the Fall, and I couldn’t believe it because I never thought anyone would cover Monks songs! Kinks, Troggs, Beatles sure, the Monks no way. They cover ‘Complication’ and ‘Oh, How To Do Now’ (on 1990’s ‘Extricate’. The Fall also cover ‘Shut Up’ on 1994’s ‘Middle Class Revolt’), which I think are great. I love the stuff he does that’s not Monks stuff.
PT: ‘Black Monk Time’ is getting released for the first time in the States right?
ES: It’ll be released in January on American Records. After all these years of the Monks being considered such dangerous music, I guess the time is right for our dream to come true.
PT: Were there ever any offers for a Monks reunion tour?
ES: Yeah, we got offered a seventeen date tour and we’d all get $100,000 a piece to do one. I really didn’t want to do it, as a reunion thing because they don’t give anybody any pleasure. If you’re looking to see the Monks all you’re gonna see is a bunch of old men. If we did it we’d want to do all brand new stuff. Miles Davis said, you only play a song once... get through a phase in your life, don’t look back. I’m seeing groups do reunion tours and what they really do is blow their own image, sometimes it’s best to let people remember you as you were. Cause that person they want to see is not there anymore.
PT: So where are the rest of the Monks now?
ES: Gary’s in Bemidji, Minnesota. Dave’s back in Renton, Washington, I’m here in Carson City, Nevada, Roger’s in Minnesota near Gary. The last time I saw or talked to Larry was in Chicago in 1973 or so when he came to see my band, Copperhead. But the manager kicked him out because he wasn’t buying any drinks. I haven’t seen him since.
Eddie Shaw was interviewed on Friday & Saturday, October 11 & 12 1996, Carson City, Nevada USA. (c) Ptolemaic Terrascope.