A German Band? An American Band?

The Monks formed and performed primarily in Germany. How much did Teutonic culture influence the band's music and lyrics? How did ex-G.I.s react to this particular country? This question is addressed by four of the band members.

Gary Burger: The Torquays were an American band performing in Germany with German influences at work. Period. The Monks were an American band with even heavier German influences shaping them but that still didn't make us German. We were all born and raised in the USA. But after being in Germany for the length of time The Monks were; I, at least, began to feel like an international citizen. I never felt like a German.

German kids looked at us and what did they see? Americans. I didn't consider myself in the German camp and neither did they. I was a legal citizen of the United States and intended to remain so even though the U.S.A. seemed vague and far away at times. I don't think there was a Monk among us who didn't believe they would eventually return to the U.S. and get on with life in whatever endeavour they chose. At least I wasn't hearing that from them even though some of us had German wives.

When I look back at my Monk experience from today's perspective, I find that I have dear feelings about the German people, places and friends lost due to life's fickle vagaries (or my own stupidity) but never do I regret being an American in an American band in Germany in the 1960s ... even though America was starting to catch world's hell about Viet Nam. The Monks were protesters. Remember? Monk Time. Hey, if some of The Monks want to say they were in a German band that's okay with me, but I was in an American band all the way from start to finish.

Did the German kids understand our lyrics? Those that could speak English probably got a good drift as to what we were about but I don't think they were the majority. At that time, I don't believe that a great number of young people in Germany spoke English, even though most or all of their schools probably had English as a mandatory subject. If you listened to the German Bonds singing in English you would think they were doing it quite well and they were, in a phonetic fashion. But once you met them, you found out that they were not English speakers at all and that is how it was with most German bands at work at the time. Many sang English well, but they weren't actually fluent.

As for the lyrics, Monk lyrics do not need to be mulled over and dissected by every crackpot in town to discover the meaning. The meanings are obvious. Whether we were having fun (Drunken Maria) or being serious (Monk Time) the meanings were right up front.

Eddie Shaw: The subject of the monks is not about being American or German. If an elephant shits, is the shit African, East Indian, or Elephant? If I have to talk about this subject, all I will say is that I was there. It's a fact that there would be no monks if there had not been the five of us and our managers. The monks are American. The managers and the environment were German. That doesn't make us a German band, but we were certainly influenced by the place. Uschie Puschie is certainly an example of that--some crazy roller skating music in a German beer hall. That would have never been created in the U.S.A.

If The Torquays had not become the monks and had only written the stuff' a few of us understood and were capable of, no one would have ever heard of us. When Polydor's producer put pressure on us to go soft and we bowed down, to return to The Torquay formula, it sucked and that was the end of us, thank God. Some Germans think we are a German band, and they write it in their articles. If you understand what Charles Wilp is saying on the enhanced video on LET'S START A BEAT! (the guy banging on the big gongs), you will begin to understand that he fully recognizes the American spirit being born in a German place. I'll be the last person to criticize those German believers. Some of them are proud that much of the 60's music, brought to America by the English, was honed in Germany. There was not that much work in England. Even The Beatles point that out in their biography. Much of what they say about Hamburg sounds as if it could have been spoken by the monks. In fact some of their words sound as if they were borrowed from my book. Some people say those English groups, including us, came from the Hamburg school of music. They could have a point. There was music that came out of New Orleans. It has a certain style to it. There are many schools of music. Chicago had its style with Count Basie, etc. There's New York jazz and West Coast jazz, and California psychedelic, Motown sound, Nashville sound, Memphis sound and the British Invasion.

Many Germans consider us as part of the German rock and roll scene, which we were. In fact there would be no monks if it were not for Germany. And beyond that The Beatles and many other groups would not have gotten to the level they did, without having played in Germany. I sympathize with the Germans when they say, "Hey, this music started here." As it turns out, The Beatles became internationally known - and so did the monks. We're Americans and our music reflects it. We didn't dig up the old American blues in art schools as it was done in England. We were raised in American rock and roll, looking for a new direction, looking at the country we were in - Germany. That avant garde thing is German. Yes, they never understood "constipation." That was our own little joke. Only the Americans got it.

Dave Day: I'm sure you could call us a German band, but not in the way people would think here in America, because everybody knows that we are Americans. When I first met Gary in 1962 down at the service club while we were in the Army, we both had different styles of playing. I was more rock and roll and he was more country--but as time went on we got to think we were hot shit together, ha ha. Even before The Torquays, Gary and I used to take some cheap guitars downtown to Gelnhausen and ask if we could play a few tunes on Friday and Saturday, just for fun or a few beers, and it worked. They were mostly G.I. bars.

As time went on we picked up this German fellow who could play bass, and he was a tall dude and we got along fine with him. He started introducing us to a more elite group of Germans and more secluded places. We got away from the G.I. bars and started going out of town where it was more relaxed. I liked it. There wasn't all this swearing and fights all the time. I started getting to like being away from all the American crap. I liked their ways, their food, the shy girls--yes, those shy girls, ha! We started eating German food and talking with the people we met and played for.

Then we started practicing more at the service club and very slowly began forming The Torquays. After we left the army the band started playing (as you know) all around Germany; and, always being around Germans, we started thinking like them; and pretty soon talking like them and also yelling like them, ha ha! Eddie married a German girl, Anita, and started talking German and the rest of us started picking it up also and we were becoming "Germanized."

I figured if we were playing and living in Germany we might as well BE German. The only time we spoke English was when we were practicing. I started thinking in German and everything else just fit in. So as far as I see it, we started looking foreign and becoming a different breed of guys that didn't even think about being American or miss it as far as that goes.

Roger Johnston: The five of us came from different places--Washington State, Illinois, Minnesota, Nevada and Texas--a good cross-section of the United States. And our musical backgrounds were equally representative, ranging from country to jazz to fifties and early sixties rock and roll. And that describes us--geographically and musically--the way we were in Germany.

While living in Germany we all "went native" to a certain degree, some more than others, but as far as musical influence Germany had nothing to offer me personally. Most of the bands I listened to in Germany were English (or German bands playing English music), and all the records were either English or American. I don't remember listening to any music that originated in Germany at the time. There simply wasn't any original German rock in the early 60s or, if there was it was too hokey to listen to seriously. That changed gradually but after we were long gone back to pale beer and white bread. I'm sure I was influenced by Germany and some things German, but music wasn't one of them. Our German managers did introduce some ideas that drew on some German music but certainly not German rock music. What ideas from them we did use we adapted to our own style. For me at least The Monks were as American as apple pie laced with good old American LSD.

Most of the younger people in Germany at that time had learned English as a second language in school. I suppose they understood the lyrics, they had no trouble with the Stones, Beatles or Kinks. They were kids, they were interested in music, and they were smart. What's not to understand? Except for Cuckoo and Higgle-dy Piggle-dy. Hell, even I never understood THOSE two songs.

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