The 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.

The 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 Monks disappeared.

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 endlessly appealing.

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.

PT: 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 disappeared.

PT: 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."

PT: 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."

PT: 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].

PT: What kind of songs were you playing?
ES: We'd do Ray Charles . . . 'Baby, What'd I Say' was our showstopper . . . 'Wipeout' [sings it] . . .

PT: How long did you play as the Torquays?
ES: 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. 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.

PT: 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 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: 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!

PT: 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.

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, 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]

PT: That single cover has you wearing some striped nightshirts 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 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.

PT: 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.

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 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 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.

PT: 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.

PT: 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.

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 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.

PT: Tell us about recording 'Black Monk Time', in January 1966.
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 isn't music."

PT: 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.

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: 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.

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 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').

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. 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.

PT: 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.

PT: 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.

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.

PT: 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 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. 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 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 know what to do with [laughs].

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: 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.

For those who may not know, the Terrascope is one of the most entertaining and enlightening music magazines around today. It is put together on almost no budget by a tireless staff of music obsessed madmen and madwomen (probably like you).  The range and depth of music they cover in a single issue is astounding and inspiring, they've been long time fans of the Monks and after you leave Monkland USA you should mosey on over to www.terrascope.org