Ptolemaic Terrascope was kind enough to let us
reprint this interview with Eddie Shaw. This interview,
conducted and written by
Kelley Stoltz, first ran in Ptolemaic Terrascope
issue #23. For more information about Terrascope,
scroll to the bottom of the page.
Monks, a band who remained a rarely-mentioned footnote
in musical history until relatively recently, have
experienced a renaissance of sorts a mere thirty
years after their inception. Comprising of five
American ex-GI's stationed in Germany during the
Vietnam War, the Monks evolved out of tight if standard
format 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 hair-cuts, the "anti-Beatles"
held up a mirror to the times and commanded 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"
flavors of the day. Their record label, Polydor,
had no clue how to market the songs, and the Monks
were doomed to tour Germany confounding all but
a very few listeners. Their album, 'Black Monk Time',
its single 'Complication' and subsequent 45s 'Cuckoo'
and 'Love Can Tame the Wild' failed to chart anywhere
outside of Spain (Spain!?), and after a tumultuous
year and a half of touring, forever teetering on
the brink of either success or destruction, the
Like many albums which stand the test of time, 'Black
Monk Time' is not immediately accessible, but reveals
its message and beauty after repeated listenings.
With washes of electric organ, fuzz-laden 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
In the decades that followed the break-up rumors
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.
You met up with the future Monks at the Army base.
That's where you had your first rehearsals?
ES: There were two competing 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. After
a while 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 out of the
Army? You could make a hell of a lot of money if
you stay here. There's a lot of jobs now for bands."
So we thought about it and stayed. This was in 1964.
We played on the weekends for a guy named Karl Heinz
Kalt. We'd have to go out and build the dance hall
before we could play 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 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
You called yourselves the Torquays at this point,
when did you start getting booked regularly?
ES: Well, were booked as soon as Gary and
Dave got out. Bands got booked for the whole month.
One month in one town, and then you'd 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. 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 at Dave saying, "that's one of
our partners, you don't sleep with your partners."
In you 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, the Maxine
Club, was a small place maybe 50 feet by 30 feet,
with a balcony upstairs, and at the 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."
Chaos would ensue and the M.P.'s would show up?
ES: Yeah, pandemonium, girls screaming, glasses
breaking and we'd try to play through it because
it was kind of funny to watch until they started
throwing things at the stage. 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 tear-gas
right in the middle of the dance floor so there
was nowhere to buy 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].
What kind of songs were you playing?
ES: We'd do Ray Charles . . . 'Baby, What'd I Say'
was our showstopper . . . 'Wipeout' [sings it] .
How long did you play as the Torquays?
ES: About a year, year-and-a-half. Up to pretty
close to 1966.
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.
One 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. We all lived
together in rooms provided by the club.
What did you guys look like then, what was your
image as the Torquays?
ES: We wore Beatle-boots, gray pinstripe suits,
drainpipe 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
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: We were doing original stuff all along, Dave
and Gary were writing an awful lot of it, including
that one. 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 any more!
Where did you record?
ES: In Heidelberg, We'd put money into the band
fund and when we had some surplus, Larry, because
he was the businessman, says, "we've got the
money, let's 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 our amps up right there.
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.
Independent records are pretty much standard practice
now, but it was an unusual thing to do then?
ES: Other bands then were saying, "you guys
are selling your own records? That's crude.&
Bands then were getting huge deals, so we kind of
had an inferiority complex. Larry kept pushing us
to do more but by that time was 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]
That single cover has you wearing some striped nightshirts
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.
You were living a pretty cool life, playing every
night, visiting German towns - when did you get
tired of being a Torquay?
ES: The first month it got hard was when were in
Munich, playing right down by the Bonhoff, these
were real dives where they had girls sitting at
the tables enticing the guys, and we realized that
in those places 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.
We had a lot of friends who also lived in the underbelly
of society and they'd come to see us, but these
were brutal, long, hard hours where you're standing
up playing and knowing that nothing you're doing
is important. Same thing in Stuttgart too. Stuttgart
is a line of clubs, one after another - Casey Jones
and the Governors played next door.
The 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.
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.
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 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 turned 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 intro 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 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
Your future managers, the men who would make you
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.
What did they offer you?
ES: Basically just that if we worked on the music,
they would get us some record contracts. We did
it because 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.
When did you become 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. 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. In the day we were Torquays and the
next we were Monks.
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 were on stage in Hamburg, but whenever we had
to go back down south to the GI bars we'd almost
get killed. They didn't like it at all.
Tell us about recording 'Black Monk Time', in January
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 a very
large soundstage and we had problem 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
Where did you tour to promote the album?
ES: Wolfgang, our tour manager, sent us on a grueling
six month tour of one niters. 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.
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 . . .
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 we lived downstairs
in these cold, damp rooms that were like basement
cells. 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 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'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. 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 he he's like, "it's
that shit they want," what his company wanted.
Larry had some pictures of that night and its really
weird to see a monk and Hendrix talking together.
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 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 wed already passed the height
of our careers and that really, we weren't gong
anywhere. We did one last single for Polydor, 'Love
Can Tame the Wild' (b/w 'He Went Down to the Sea').
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. This was gonna be
the thing which might get us into America. But it
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. At the
same time, 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.
In a last gasp you tried to give 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 any more.
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.
Ahh, the classic creative differences dilemma .
ES: Right. Disenchantment sets in, you don't fell
successful and the weaker ones want to stop. 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, 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 tours went alright, but
the tour before we signed up to go, I think they
lost two people. 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.
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.
Did you keep in touch with the Monks when you got
back to 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 a while. Anita and I moved
to Minnesota and we shared a trailer house with
Gary and his wife. Larry lived with his parent in
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. 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.
He learned to speak English again by reading comic
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 know what to do with [laughs].
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.'
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 apiece to do one. I really
didn't want to do it, as a reunion thing because
they don't give anybody and pleasure. If you're
looking to see the Monks all you're gonna see is
a bunch of old men. If we did 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. Because the person they want to see is
not there anymore.
Eddie Shaw was interviewed
by Kelley Stoltz on Friday & Saturday, October
11 & 12 1996, Carson City, Nevada USA.
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