Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Black Monk Time (book) - Eddie Shaw

Although I have ranted'n'raved about the monks innumerable times on this blog, apparently, this book precedes my blogging, so I had not written about it before now. I just took another trip through this tome as I tripped through Europe and so here I am.

Eddie Shaw was, of course, the bassist for the monks (lower case "m", although I tend to forget that) and became a writer 20 years or so after returning to America to tell his tale. His wife contributes her portion of the story, as well, and so you get a pretty well rounded feel for these two volatile youngsters as they try to discover themselves and their love in a strange country (Angelika/Anita having come from East Germany and Eddie, of course, from America).

Most readers here know that the monks were formed by GI's living in Germany, who decided to continue the band and stay on after their tours of duty were completed. Starting as a more "normal" beat band, the Torquays, the group eventually began experimenting (as groups would do during long stints in clubs, playing multiple sets a night) and created the primitive, noisy, fairly manic sound of the monks. Managers helped define and refine their sound and image and convinced them to play solely original music (which they thought was the wave of the future) although they had some odd ideas of publicity stunts, like a dinner meeting with college intellectuals who looked for deep meaning in the monks, and a proposed tour of Vietnam as the war was raging (which helped cause the breakup of the band).

Eddie goes into plenty of detail of their time in the dingy, German dive bars and theaters, as well as their recording ventures - all of which is highly entertaining and relate-able to any musician. The monks played with big names like the Kinks (Shaw says they were snotty pricks) and Jimi Hendrix (!), who was from the same Washington town as Gary and who had just released "Hey Joe" and was on his way to superstardom - a big difference from the monks.

The last couple of songs that they recorded (that were not released until the eventual CD reissues) were two "soft wave" (their description) tunes, including "He Went Down to the Sea" which showcased Eddie's trumpet playing and in which Gary sang a note so powerfully that he literally permanently damaged his vocal cords!

The afore-mentioned tour of Vietnam was supposed to help revitalize the band, but there were some serious (understandable) concerns and the band split up instead of going. Everyone went their own way and Eddie picks up the story some 20 years or so later, with everyone having gone through some serious times of trouble, but they ended up picking themselves up. After the book came out, the band did reform for a few American shows at garage festivals - and they were phenomenal! - before the untimely deaths of Roger, Gary and Dave.

A great read for any musician or anyone interested in the "glamorous" lives of rock'n'rollers on the road.