Time Has Told Me: The Monks
Interview with Eddie Shaw, The Monks.
“Their melodies were pop destructive and must be played to your younger brother.”
Words: Mark Carry
As described by David Fricke of Rolling Stone, “The Monks were the original exiles on main street — ex-GI’s playing heavy attitude freakrock in the hard-luck bars and roughhouse teen clubs of the 60’s Cold War Germany.” The story of The Monks — whose ground-breaking full-length record ‘Black Monk Time’ (released in March 1966) journeyed into garage, psych and punk many years before any Sex Pistols or aforementioned movement would surface — is beautifully told by Monks bassist, Thomas Edward Shaw in the aptly titled autobiography ‘Black Monk Time’.
The Monks were five beat playing American GI’s stationed in Germany, who after their discharge, decided to stay and continue their musical mission, in the words of Shaw: “Our creation is the material expression of an inner spiritual reality”. The line-up for The Monks comprised: Gary Burger (Minnesota, guitar); Roger Johnston (Texas, drums); Larry Clark (Chicago, organ); Dave Day (Washington, banjo) and Eddie Shaw (California, bass). Starting out as good-time surf band The Torquays, their metamorphosis into the Monks occurred during the mid-60’s after a chance-encounter with a team of local managers after which time the five-person order forged a fuzz-drenched evolution of sound, bursting with social commentary and futuristic primitive rhythms.
Some forty years after the original release of the band’s landmark studio album, ‘Black Monk Time’, Light In The Attic Records lovingly assembled the U.S. group’s recorded legacy, including ‘The Early Years 1964-1965’ and numerous period photographs (many unseen) included in both releases.
“You’re a monk, I’m a monk, we’re all monks!
Dave, Larry, Eddie, Roger, everybody, let’s go!
It’s beat time, it’s hop time, it’s monk time now!”
—Taken from ‘Monk Time’, the album opener to ‘Black Monk Time’ (Polydor Records, 1966).
It’s a real honour to ask you some questions about the Monks and the rich musical legacy that five American GIs have left behind. Firstly, before discussing the band’s cult-classic — 1966’s ‘Black Monk Time’ — I would love to gain an insight into the inception of The Monks. You originally were The Torquays, a good time surf band. Please discuss these few years together as the Torquays and your cherished memories of this period. It is clear a solid foundation for the band’s peerless musicianship developed naturally during this time.
Eddie Shaw: I was a trumpet player and began playing professionally when I was 15 years old, playing at The Nugget Casino in Carson City, Nevada. I was on the backroom stage, while Wayne Newton, 12 years old, was on the main stage with his brother.
After boot camp in the army, I was assigned to the Sixth Army Band, at the Presideo in San Francisco — the same company assigned to Herb Alpert and Chet Baker. It was a prestigious assignment. Not many musical people are given this opportunity, but I was too naive (Dumb? Adventurous?) to understand it. Since I thought it was too close to home, and since I wanted to see the world — I asked for to be sent somewhere else. That’s how I came to Germany. I realized I had made a mistake when I got there and found myself assigned to a combat unit where I became a computer in an artillery battalion. At that time there were no electronic computers. A person was the computer, and my job was to calculate the locations of targets using Geometry (the Pythagoras Theory).
Stationed in Gelnhausen Germany, there were many amateur musical groups on this army base, because playing music was a way to relieve the tension caused by more serious matters. For awhile when off duty, I played drums in a Dave Brubeck style trio — both in boot camp, on the troop ship, then for the officer’s club. When this group was unable to stay together, I played drums in a country band for the non-commissioned officers’ club in Gelnhausen.
I didn’t enjoy playing country, when I noticed two guys who played weekends, off base, in town. Gary Burger and Dave Day were guitar players, and they played for whatever money people might put in their guitar case on the barroom floor. It was simple three chords, Chuck Berry type rockabilly. When I heard them practicing in a small room in the servicmen’s club, I went to a music store, bought a bass guitar, practiced the three chords for about a week and then approached them. After awhile there were six people in the group. It’s all described in the book. The song list was expanded into new songs, some of which included the Beach Boys — and later the English groups. Gary sang the high falsetto parts.
I was the first to get out of the army, and when an agent (Hans Reich) heard us playing at the Maxim Bar in Gelnhausen, he suggested he could get us full-time gigs. I agreed to stay in Germany if the others would stay, when they got out, as well. They did. Being in a foreign country, we stuck together. We played the German clubs, seven nights a week, six to eight hours a day (2 hour matinees on Sundays) — and did nothing else but that.
You found yourselves together because of the army, stationed in Germany. After your discharge, the band decided to stay and continue your musical mission. After reading your wonderfully insightful and enlightening book, ‘Black Monk Time’, there were many memorable club shows during those early years. Can you please talk me through the various shows you performed together during the pre-Monks years. It’s amazing to read how diverse the audiences were, depending on the space and time. I can imagine you must have faced many difficulties and hardships being so far away from home, and as a result, a closeness must have formed quickly between all the band members?
ES: I don’t think it’s easy for five healthy males to eat together, live together, travel and work together without some kind of tension. As time passes and there is an awareness of being noticed, there is also a competition of egos or perhaps feelings of trying to maintain positions — it’s a common condition in rock groups.
The Beatles experienced it. The Rolling Stones all have separate dressing rooms when they perform today. In time we get to know too much about each other, causing each person to look for his own space. Years later, when we did our reunion performances, we began to recognize that circumstance. We are individual people and still we’re all Monks — together.
The lineup of the Monks were Gary Burger (lead vocals, guitar), Roger Johnston (drums), Larry Clark (organ), Dave Day (banjo), and your bass prowess. Can you please explain how you adapted to each other’s styles and preferences? The essence of the Monks could perhaps be seen as that truly captivating hybrid sound you unleashed, which became the blueprint for punk, psych, krautrock and garage music.
ES: Gary Burger was a country/folk guitar player, with no professional experience before the army. Dave was an Elvis fan — with some experience playing three chord songs. Larry was a taught piano player (Chopin, Brahms, etc.), who loved the song ‘Green Onions’ and could play it just like the record. Roger was a country swing drummer from Texas, who may have played some gigs before the army, and I was a person who played different instruments and had spent about two years working in a Nevada based jazz quartet (“E Pluribus Quatro”). The individual members of The Torquays had nothing in common with each other, regarding musical influences and tastes. And this is what eventually became the basis for our hybrid sound.
We played month-long engagements for a year and a half as the Torquays, playing whatever was the hit songs of the day. In that year and a half, we only had three nights off. For me, it was the opportunity to travel, to see the world — or at least Germany. We returned often to the Odeon Keller in Heidelberg, and there we did a couple of our own recordings, written by Gary and Dave, but they were conventional tunes, not particularly interesting to anyone looking for something new.
When our managers discovered us in Stuttgart, we realized that in order to find our own sound and perform our own songs, we would have to compromise our individual musical tastes. Each person had to change some element of his style to make the mixture more cohesive. Gary could not play country. Dave could not play Chuck Berry licks over and over. And I could not play jazz progressions. We deconstructed the songs, minimized the words and chordal elements and changed the normal 12 — 8 bar passages to odd counts, like 15 bars or other odd length progressions — with key changes to break up the minimalist repetition. We did this to put tension into the music.
When the audience seemed at ease, while we performed; talking to each other and not paying much attention to the group onstage, it was a sign of failure. We knew we had to do something to keep the audience’s eyes focused on the stage. Tension and controversy were discovered to be the best approach for having people remember the group. As mentioned earlier, this insight was gained from being onstage for hours — watching people. After a while you begin to experiment with the audience. A summation of this experience is also in the book.
At the time, we never knew that our music was groundbreaking in any way. We only knew that whenever anyone heard us, they knew who it was. It was our sound. We “owned” our music, as some musicians might say. And it was not easy to own something that left people perplexed and sometimes angry.
Almost forty years later, following publication of my book ‘Black Monk Time’, we monks found ourselves doing various interviews and being featured in new articles. It was as if the group had come back to life. To my surprise I was told that The Monks had some effect on the “Krautrock” movement, which included Faust, Tangerine Dream, Can, Kraftwerk, and many more German artists who played a new form of progressive rock music in Germany in the 1970s. Suddenly there were a number of artists who released monk songs on different record labels — including Das Furlines; The Lunachicks, Mark E Smith’s The Fall; Kelley Stolz; The Graves Brothers Deluxe; and London’s The Nuns — and other groups that I am unaware of.
Can you discuss for me your fascination with jazz music, Eddie? What were the first records you heard that opened a doorway into jazz? As a bassist, were there certain musicians you looked up to in a big way?
ES: I began playing Dixieland style music, Louis Armstrong, etc. after seeing all the groups that came through the local casinos where I lived in Nevada. It was the prevalent style. And I did my first recording when I was fifteen years old — playing live.
When I was a teenager, there was a late night radio program that featured modern jazz — and when I heard Dave Brubeck for the first time, I was intrigued. The music was more complex and wasn’t easy to understand on the first hearing. The songs contained layers of counterpoint, counter melodies and sophisticated rhythms which offered a diverse listening experience — and the improvisation made the music seem more personal. It got me — and from there, I discovered Duke Ellington who did some very complex and interesting arrangements, just as Stan Kenton did. From that I got into the Eastern U.S. jazz music with performers like Miles Davis and John Coltrane — the more avant-garde the better. I felt I was exploring new thresholds (some of today’s contemporary musicians in the rock scene are doing that same thing now).
In time I was copying the sound and style of Miles, even turning my back on the audience, when I performed onstage, to show how hip I thought I was. Of course, it was kid stuff, but I was hooked. I never intended to play rock and roll music, but then being in the army and discovering that rock music is generally about what you cannot get — like satisfaction, I found it to offer a release from the problems of the day. When we invented our monks style, I felt more satisfied, as if this is what a jazz player would do in the same circumstances.
After the Monks, I returned to the trumpet and a jazz based style, playing cities like Chicago, Boston, Minneapolis, and recording in Nashville. That group was known as Copperhead, later named Minnesoda on Capitol Records. It was a 180-degree change from the style of the Monks — my reaction after feeling failure.
Your favourite live band were the Tielman Brothers, hailing from Indonesia. You saw them playing live many times and shared the stage with them on occasion. What was it about this band that made such a deep impression on you?
ES: We never shared the stage with the Tielman Brothers. While we were in the army, we did go to Hanau many times, to see them perform at the Jolly Bar. They were there often and in Hamburg as well. I knew little about them, but Gary and Dave were avid Tielman Brothers admirers. The Tielman’s style was like Cliff Richards — tightly synchronized guitars, at a low concise-mixed volume. You could hear every instrument’s part as the drums played in the mix, not over it. Gary would always marvel about Andy Tilman, the lead guitarist, by saying, “Look how long his fingers are.” Andy was a very precise player, as you can hear on ‘Java Guitars’, but on the recording/s, you can’t hear the stereophonic effect between the guitars. The Tielman Brothers were much better live than they were on recordings.
Can you please recount for me the first time onstage as the Monks, in Heidelberg, Germany? I really enjoyed this part of your book as it was a significant turning point for you all personally, where many people were not ready for such a dramatic transition? Also, the fact each member had shaved tonsures into the tops of their heads and were wearing black clothing with rope ties must have stopped a lot of people in their tracks.
ES: As soon as we left the barber in Frankfurt, after getting our tonsures, we knew that our lives would be different. We saw it on the street, immediately. Old women smiled at us, not the same as when we had long hair. Young people would not make eye contact, always averting their eyes if we said anything directly to them. Our image was a challenge to us, as we suddenly realized that people reacted to us as some kind of authority (priests — religious figures or serious serious guys) — but when we were drinking beer, talking rough and eyeing the girls, we were also very aware of the shocked faces that watched our behavior. Of course the black clothing and the rope ties had something to do with it as well. We were always conscious of being watched, no matter where we were.
When we were the Torquays, the Odeon Keller was always packed in Heidelberg. Everyone loved the conventional show and top pop tunes. We were an easy group to like and everyone seemed to be our friend. But the first night we showed up as the Monks — and Heidelberg was our first gig as the Monks — there was a very shocked reaction from our old friends. No one danced. No one applauded. They just sat at their tables and stared at us. The most often asked question was, “Why?”
They could not understand that we wanted to do our own music, not someone else’s — and especially there was the question, why the “I hate you,” stuff and “Why did you get that kind of haircut?” We spent a miserable month there and I don’t think we ever returned, after that. The owner, Herr Friedman, was pissed. “I do not want the Monks. I want the Torquays.” And of course, we could not turn back. The Torquays no longer existed. The further south, in Germany, we went, the more extreme the reactions to us were. In Hamburg we were like irreligious heroes, like we were making fun of serious matters and the naughty people of the St. Pauli District of Hamburg considered us as one of them. The Beatles crowd in the Top Ten would sing “I want to hold your hand” while the Monks crowd would sing, “I want to fuck your hand.” It wasn’t nice was it?
Please discuss the beat scene in Hamburg during the mid-60’s, Eddie? It was described as the Mecca for music, and you resided quite a lot in the legendary Top Ten Club. I loved your description of Hamburg in the book: “I felt the dirt and decided that I would till it.” I would love to hear about your memories of Hamburg and indeed the musical scene during this time?
ES: In the 1960s, Hamburg, Germany was the origin of many rock musicians’ careers. As New Orleans had an effect on early American jazz, the same could be said for Hamburg, the city that provided an environment for upcoming rock groups. Some of these groups dominated the 1960’s popular music worldwide. It could be said that Hamburg was the training grounds for the oncoming British Invasion.
The main music scene was along the Reeperbahn (a wide street filled with neon lights, strip clubs and restaurants). This is where a narrow street, Grossfreiheitstrasse (“Big Freedom Street”) contained more of the same — including the famous clubs; the Kaiserkeller, The Star Club, and The Indira Club. A few yards south of the corner at Reeperbahn and Grosse Freiheit was the popular club known as The Top Ten Club.
The Beatles and other emerging groups played in these clubs as did the Monks who followed the Beatles in 1965. This district, known as St. Pauli, was also known as a home to prostitutes and hustlers who plied their trade on the streets. It could be dangerous place for those who wandered into the area, unaware. According to one Beatle, it was where the Beatles spent their apprenticeship. According to another Beatle, “We improved a thousand fold in Hamburg and when we returned to Liverpool, no group could touch us.”
The Top Ten was formerly known as the Hippodrome (Reeperbahn 136); designed as a circus like structure with naked ladies riding horses around a dirt-floored ring. In 1960 Peter Eckhorn turned it into a fashionable beat club, the same club the Beatles played three years earlier before we monks arrived. Like the Beatles, The “Anti-beatles” slept on the second floor, in the same small two-room area with dismal bunks and lockers, the same bunks and lockers described by the Beatles. When we were there, there were bullet holes in the lockers put there as a warning by the owner, to keep the volume down.
According to Tony Sheridan who recorded ‘My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean’, with the Beatles, “It was terrible, now that I look back. We washed our shirts and socks so the place smelt like a Chinese laundry. And I’m afraid we used to tease the life out of the old lady who [took care of] us.” And he was talking about the elderly woman who worked in the men’s restroom, referred to as “Mama” in various Beatles’ biographies — the same woman referred to, by us monks, as “Oma” (grandmother).
As the Monks discovered, like the Beatles, our Hamburg female companions were prostitutes, strippers and dancers who appeared at the club in various versions of sexy attire — before and after performing their own venues. Those of us, who spent time there, do agree it was one of the most naughty cities in the world.
According to rocker, Gerry Marsden, frontman for Gerry and the Pacemakers, in the nearby Herberstrasse brothels, located on a blocked-off street where women sat in windows, one would find experiences offered nowhere else in the world, and you better watch out. As the book ‘Black Monk Time’ stated, many of these women were friends of monks. Nightly in the Top Ten Club, Oma would supply Preludin to our drummer, Roger Johnston, to help him stay awake on stage. Even the waiters in the clubs would offer a pill when they saw a musician unable to perform because of too much drink or exhaustion.
You could buy anything in Hamburg, no matter if it was legal or not. It was a place where a musician might come, get hooked on the environment and everything it offered, and never return home — like Beatles’ first drummer, Stu Sutcliffe who stayed there and died of a brain hemorrhage; or like singer, Tony Sheridan, who used to stand in front of the stage when the monks played the Top Ten, making fun of Dave Day playing the banjo (as described in my book). Sheridan never left Hamburg and died there in 2013.
Hamburg was the stomping grounds of many groups: Cream, Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers, Earth who became Black Sabbath, The Pretty Things, The Liverbirds, Kingsize Taylor and the Dominoes, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, members of groups in King Crimson; The Indonsian group, The Tielman Brothers; and even some well-known Americans: Jerry Lee Lewis recorded a live album at the Star Club. The Americans who came there included; Bill Haley, The Everly Brothers, Fats Domino, Ray Charles and even Brenda Lee. How could any rock group claim they had appeared at all of the world’s most important rock music scenes if they hadn’t been in Hamburg?
The band’s near-mythical studio album, ‘Black Monk Time’ was recorded in Cologne. I can imagine it must have been difficult to record your songs to tape, in a studio environment, after the extensive nights of touring clubs and venues? The primitive technology and the band’s attempt to replicate the fuzz-drenched revolutionary sound from the live setting to a studio environment must have been riddled with difficulties?
ES: We were playing in Cologne, at Storyville. It was a relatively short gig each night (four hours) so when we finished at 1:00 am, we packed our gear and drove to a nearby town where we set up our equipment and recorded until about five or six in the morning. It took three nights (early mornings) to complete the LP. After recording we had to pack up our equipment and take it back to the club, the next night repeating the whole cycle. We were exhausted.
At the time, everything was done on four tracks — multiple track recording and remixing were not done, so everything had to be done as perfect as possible. Because our music required volume, it was hard to individually separate the sound of the instruments. Aggressive sound waves clashed in the studio making a lot of rumble and noise. Our engineer ran a loop of recording tape across the control room to a door handle approximately thirty feet away. The cycles of this tape going through one track of the recording machine was adjusted to put the clashing rhythms in sync. It worked and everyone congratulated the engineer who first said it would be impossible. Our producer, Jimmy Bowien, was a very smart man who encouraged recording studio experimentation.
Please talk me through the album’s opening track ‘Monk Time’? It is clear it quickly became the cornerstone of the Monks’ songbook. The lyrics are bustling with a social commentary that even today, immediately sends shockwaves to your very core.
ES: Our lyrics and music was a combined effort. If only one person wrote each song, the music would not have been the same. We had to analyze what we were saying, especially to a non-English speaking audience, creating lyrics with irony, humor, or word play to make the meanings universal. One person could not do it, therefore the shared credits. ‘Monk Time’ created the most contention between us. We were ex-GIs and the last thing I wanted to do was appear unpatriotic. I was against, “Why do you kill all those kids in Vietnam?” and we argued about it for days.
When Walther, our manager tried to make peace, he suggested, “Why not add the words, ‘mad Vietcong’?” This helped me reconsider the meaning — and I finally agreed to do it — because yeah there were mad Vietcong. ‘Monk Time’ was an overt anti-war song and we did not like the Vietnam War. It was obvious. Our other songs were more social protest, or statements of irony; Be a liar everywhere, shut up don’t cry.
Or Higgle dy Piggle dy — Way down to heaven which loosely translated means arses and elbows, we’re on our way down to heaven. The song, ‘Wie Du’, was comprised of wordplay. We do as you, We do, Wie Du, Wie Du Wie Du – means, “We do as you, We do, We You, We You We You.”
Looking back on the album, do you have a particular favourite song from ‘Black Monk Time’, Eddie?
ES: ‘Shut Up, Don’t Cry’. It was fun to experiment with and invent a new style of minimalism — just as any jazz based person would like doing if he were playing rock today. Nothing has changed — lots of people are experimenting with new pop songs today. I like it!
Soon after the album’s release, the Monks toured extensively throughout Germany, including slots alongside Bill Haley and the Comets, and the Storyville club. What are your memories of the ‘Black Monk Time’ tour? I recall a moment in your book, supporting Casey and the Governors at Zirkus Krone, and having no soundcheck. There must have been many high and low points during this pressurized time of attaining (much-deserved) recognition, particularly concerning album sales?
ES: The tours were tests of courage. The further south in Germany we went, the more people we met, who hated us. We were attacked on stage by irate audience members a couple of times. Some of the British groups, when they first heard us said, “Are you crazy?” My friend, Ian Wallace, who later played drums for King Crimson, was one who asked me that same question. Casey Jones was another, who would smile and you knew what he was thinking — crazy yanks! And yet, no matter where we went, we got attention because we demanded it — except for the first concert we played with Casey Jones. We weren’t ready for that. As long as I could think I was doing a new form of music, I enjoyed it, no matter what the criticism was. When music turns into business, it begins to feel as if it is no longer music. With corporate accountants measuring the earnings, we began to find ourselves under pressure to make money — a new priority when it came to writing a song. And it took away the magic for me. I experienced this same thing, years later in Nashville, in the 1970s – as if formula music is the only kind of music a person can play if he or she wants to be on a major label. The tunes become deliberately designed with the right hooks, words, and most popular expressions. There are templates and formulas. There’s more of that today, than ever — and I never liked it and never wanted to be a part of it. Even as I could understand the algorithms in both music and math — economic formulas were not the reason I wanted to play music.
There is a very powerful line in the book ‘Black Monk Time’ towards the end: “We’ve been monks for a long time, and we don’t seem to be making any headway”. Can you touch upon the feelings the band were going through during this time? It must have been especially hard considering the promises the record label executives were giving you at the time of ‘Black Monk Time’s recording and subsequent release?
ES: This was when everyone in the group began to question why he was there — as if there might be some better place to be. Three of us monks discovered the group no longer existed, the day before we were supposed to fly to Asia. We were on a rare two-week vacation when two monks left Germany. I got the information in a letter. There was no one to blame. When it all fell apart, all I could feel was a sense of relief. We were tired. When I went home after being gone for seven years (trying to explain my experience to my family at home) I tried to play this music for my mother. She was a good piano player, and when I put the Monks recording on the record player, she ignored it, like she didn’t hear it. Before I had gone to Germany, when I played drums and trumpet, all the jazz stuff —she’d say, “Great! Do that again!” It wasn’t the case with monks’ music.
When I played the ‘Black Monk Time’ LP for an uncle who played western music in a local Nevada casino, he turned the player off, and said, “You used to be a better musician than that! Why did you do that?”
When I returned to my hometown in Carson City, Nevada, I considered myself a failure. Old friends joked about it among themselves — and after that I never talked about The Monks to anyone, except one night when I was sitting in a bar, forty years later, drinking a beer and this guy was sitting next to me. We got into a conversation and he told me he had served in Viet Nam. I told him I was in Germany and he said, “Yeah, I was sent to Germany from Vietnam. I had a German girlfriend and we went to Hamburg once, where we saw this group in a nightclub. They were singing some bullshit song about “Why do you kill all those kids in Vietnam”. They were dressed like monks and I hated them — I wanted to kill ‘em.”
I drank my beer and I didn’t say anything. It’s a small world, I thought — and after some minutes of silence I quietly said, “I was in that group.”
He turned to me and stared. It was a minute or two before he spoke. “You were one of those guys onstage?”
“You were dressed like a monk?”
“Yeah. We were known as the monks.”
“When I listened to that whole bullshit about Vietnam and crap, I had just gotten back from Vietnam. Yeah, I hated you then and I still do.”
“I didn’t like those comments much, myself,” I said rather contritely. “It could have been done better.” I shrugged and added, “But as you turn around and look at it now — thirty years later — when Robert McNamara came on TV and apologized about the war, I suddenly felt that maybe we weren’t wrong. Not that being right was the important thing — the sad thing is that 58,000 American kids died along with all those Vietnamese kids — and for what?”
He shrugged, “Yeah, I thought about it myself, and you’re absolutely right. After all these years,” he stopped for a moment, before adding, “You’re right, but I still hate you.”
I saw him a couple of more times after that, and we never mentioned it again. In fact we did become friends.
After all those years, the Monks disappeared in the “black hole” of the 1960’s as Leonard Cohen described it later, and then something happened. Not thinking about it for twenty-five years, I was reading an interview in People’s Magazine about a female group for New York, Das Furlines.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. The article described a strange group, known as the Monks who disappeared without a trace. There were people who claimed these monks were the first punk band, when people didn’t know what punk was. They were a group of GIs who went AWOL and while the military police was searching for them, they showed up on German TV singing, “I hate you but call me”. It made me laugh.
Quite frankly I liked that scenario. It was a fitting end, when one looks back at it. Yes, some things said about The Monks didn’t happen, and some things did. Be a liar everywhere. Shut up don’t cry!
At the time I was studying writing with well-known writer/educator Gil Ralston (aka Gilbert Alexander) and he encouraged me to write the book, ‘Black Monk Time’. And after I wrote it, these two guys showed up at my house, knocked on the front door and when I opened it, they asked if I was Eddie the Monk. I just about fell over.
After they left, I immediately called Gary Burger in Minnesota. When he answered the phone, I said, “You won’t believe this but two guys showed up at my door and are going to do an article about the monks because they read the book and they loved our music—the Monks have people who like them.”
“Fuck you,” Gary said and he hung up. Maybe he thought I was messing with his head. I don’t know. Of course I laughed about it. Suddenly something felt right. As I learned from spending hours onstage, if you want to be an artist you need to feel the ripples of tension going through the audience. All of a sudden I was feeling it, like I did in the good old days. I was lost and now I was found. Something felt familiar. It is good to know that something is causing pushback. If you get a little pushback then you know the key to some hidden truth might be found right there.
You feel the resistance and it says you’re raising a reaction. If you’re getting a reaction, then you’re doing something! Wow! We weren’t failures after all! Okay — now I felt better!
Forward several decades, the Monks have gained a cult status among the discerning music collector. Light In The Attic re-released the record and included many precious rarities and unseen photos. It must have been extremely gratifying for you, Eddie, to realize how much (deserved) recognition and universal acclaim ‘Black Monk Time’ has received, some forty plus years on?
ES: To say it took special talent or effort might be an overstatement. I like to believe that what happened was the result of curiosity. Being in a different place, as in a different country. Looking for something that was not obvious — as some people might declare, “Looking for the lost chord.” With perseverance, time, and experience, a person does stumble on something that makes him sit up and say, “Whoa! What was that? I’m gonna do it again.”
Curiosity killed a cat, they claim, and it also can expose a rat. Most groups generally don’t last longer than three years. Once the limits, of what they can do, are reached — repetition sets in. Musicians who are interested in self-expression move on in a different direction, when they cannot get past the boundaries of their latest innovations. If the chemistry is right between individuals, a new discovery is waiting to be uncovered. That’s the fun of working in a curious group. The monks were daring individuals, otherwise they would not have stayed in Germany to see where the experience would take them. Okay to hell with that! It sounds too damned philosophical. And who am I to be talking like that, anyway?
[Note: After finishing the above interview with Eddie Shaw, I received the news that Gary Burger, guitarist with The Monks, had passed on. In sending on a message of condolence to Eddie, I received the following reply]
ES: I did use a couple of passages from a not yet released Ebook titled, ‘The Resurrection of Black Monk Time.’ It’s a 120 page addition — to be the second part of the first book — it contains photos and notes of the monks doing their reunion tours. I was just about finished with it when Gary died.
His passing came as a shock because I didn’t know he was ill. The email news came to me from stranger a couple of days after he died. For sure there will be other monks leaving, sooner or later. When one monk passes, another will come along. Monks are always going somewhere. And hey, we’re all monks! And of this particular family of monks; it’s three down and two to go. And so what?
What the hell is that supposed to mean anyway? Cross out that last statement and replace it with, “Everything is alright. Shut Up! Don’t cry!”
‘Black Monk Time’, Eddie Shaw’s memoir of The Monks is available now, published by Carson Street Pub Inc.
‘The Early Years 1964-1965’ and ‘Black Monk Time’ have both been re-issued and are available now on Light In The Attic Records.