The Monitors

HERE’S A THROWBACK to Cleveland’s vibrant underground music scene of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. This time I bring you The Monitors, one the more popular bands who, along with The Adults, could be found most frequently playing Hennessey’s on Lakewood, Ohio’s ‘club strip’ near the Cleveland border. Consisting of Nelson Yandura on vocals, Chris Andrews (later of Shadow of Fear) on guitar, Ed Lash on bass and Rik Keihl on drums, The Monitors grew out of the original punk rock movement of 1975, but weren‘t a ‘punk rock’ band per se. But here, let them tell you.

WHAT KIND OF INSPIRATIONS DO YOU HAVE AS FAR AS MUSIC IS CONCERNED?

CHRIS: Money, drugs and women. No, not really. Actually, it was Jimi Hendrix. For real. That’s what made me want to play guitar. I got turned on to him and I said, ‘I wish I could play like that.’ No, really, that’s what made me want to play guitar was when I first heard Jimi Hendrix. I said, ‘Yeah, that’s it.’ I was always into music before that. I used to play trombone and accordion. I played trombone in Artemus Ward and I played accordion. And they were gonna put me on [Cleveland’s Sunday early afternoon television programme] ‘Polka Varieties’ even. Honest. Playing accordion. That’s when I kicked out, I said, ‘No more.’ I don’t know, I was always in to music, I got into it all the time. I started getting into Hendrix and shit like that. I said, ‘I want to play guitar.’

IS ALL THAT ON THE LEVEL OR ARE YOU JUST MAKING THAT UP?

CHRIS: No, honest to God.

ED: My inspiration was that my brother [Tom Lash of Lucky Pierre and, later, Hot Tin Roof] bought a new bass and he had his old one sitting around, so I said, ‘Why don’t you turn the strings around?’ – ‘cause he’s left-handed. He changed the strings around and said, ‘Here, have it.’ Self-taught [applause from the other band members sitting around].

CHRIS: Same here.

RIK: I started playing when I was about 15. We used to go over this guy’s house and beat on his drum set ‘cause he didn’t know how to play either. He got jealous and would never let me play it. I used to come over when he wasn’t around and used to play with my buddies. And Ed. And then the house got busted and they took all the equipment away and took it all to Lakewood Jail.

ED: We had to get our equipment out of jail. It was in a cell.

RIK: Then I just kept playing and playing. Didn’t play with any bands.

ED: Until last year. This was the beginning of 1980. myself, Chris and Rik got together and …

CHRIS: Through a mutual friend. Well, actually, I didn’t know Ed was coming along. It was sort of a package deal. Frank Kilbourne goes, ‘Yeah, man. I know this drummer. He’s real good. I’ll bring him down.’ And he brings him down. And Rik just stands there, looking around. He was afraid to say anything to me, he’s just standing there looking around and shit. Then he fuckin’ booked and the next time I see Frank I said, ‘What about this guy?’ He goes, ‘Well, he came down but he didn’t say nothing to you.’ I go, ‘Well, fuck, what’s that gonna do me?’ So then after he comes down again he goes, ‘Yeah, I was jamming with this guy who lives a little down the street from me.’

ED: Yeah, but a long time before we got together, me and Ricky would say we should get together with Chris. And he would say that he should get together with us. But then we never did anything for about six months or eight months we talked about it, never got together. So finally, one day we came down here and trued ti play some tunes. But still none of us knew any copy tunes … none of us knew the same copy tunes … we decided to throw something together of our own. The whole original idea, though, was to do all original stuff. We decided right from the beginning that we wouldn’t do copy because we didn’t know any anyway. It would be just as easy to do our own tunes as someone else’s. so we were going to try some people for singing and Chris says, ‘Yeah, I know this guy at record conventions and stuff,’ and he told me supposedly that he tried to sing with a band. So he brings Nelson and we were down here and Nelson put on …

RIK: He smelled like a cologne factory.

ED: Nelson put on Bowie ‘man Who Fell to Earth,’ and was warming up. So then we tried him out and he became quite a lyricist at that.

CHRIS: What was funny was I knew Nelson from the record conventions and I saw him at John Cale. I saw Nelson there with a friend of his and I started talking to them, just shooting the breeze, about conventions and shit like that. I said, ‘Me and these guys get a band and we’ve got to find a singer.’ I remember Nelson goes, ‘Well, I know somebody.’ I said ‘Who?’ He says, ‘Me.’ Talk about cornering yourself into something. I said, ‘Let me talk to these other guys and see what we can get together.’

NELSON: I’ve been wanting to for a long time. I did in high school. I was with a band but they were lazy. These guys aren’t lazy.’

CHRIS: Weren’t you into theatrics too?

NELSON: yeah, I did a lot of theatre in high school, after school, shit like that. When I was nine years old I won a talent contest in ’66 or something. I won first prize.

RIK: What did you do?

NELSON: I did Petula Clark’s ‘My Love’ or something. After that I was really turned on to it. They used to take me all around the school. I’d get out of classes early. I’d go down to each room and entertain at lunchtime. So I thought that was kind of neat. My mother told me one day, ‘Why don’t you quit buying records and start making records?’ so I said OK and 1980 rolled around and I said, ‘I’m gonna get off my ass. If I’m going to do something I might as well start now.’ So at John Cale I started talking to Chris. I didn’t want to be too arrogant or pushy. But we hit it off pretty good and, like, I didn’t know these guys from Adam, really. I thought Chris was kind of a freaky person. But we’re more like brothers now.

RIK: What inspired me the most were the drummers: Carl Palmer, Keith Moon, and the book I learned out of was a Carmen Appice book. This was when he was in Cactus. That’s what inspired me most. I always liked Keith Moon a lot. I always thought he was real cool. I used to jam with this guy, Butch. He used to be with the [local] band Strutter. He inspired me a lot, too, and my cousin. We used to jam at this building down on West 6th Street above [the dance club] Trax.

ED: We used to jam above this place on Sunday afternoons because that was the only safe time for us to go down there. Nobody was around.

SO NOW YOU’VE GOT A RECORD IN THE WORKS THAT’S BEING PUT TOGETHER RIGHT NOW, RIGHT?

CHRIS: The recording is done. It’s being mastered now. Down in Nashville. I just talked with the guy as a matter of fact. We’re expecting a test pressing this weekend. He’s going to send it to us and if it’s OK we’ll give him our OK and send it back to him. Then they can start pressing them. The recording and all that, that’s all done.

RIK: Kevin McMahon [of Lucky Pierre and later of Prick] producer. He helped us out a lot in the studio, as well as a couple other people. It as recorded at North Coast recording Studios.

ANY THOUGHTS OF GOING FURTHER THAN JUST THIS SINGLE AT THIS POINT? [The record was ‘Trouble’ c/w ‘Rip Your Dress’ and ended up being the only record the band ever put out.]

CHRIS: Oh, yeah. As far as recording goes, we went back in again already and we recorded just about all our songs. Not with the intent to release them yet. They’re more or less just for our own benefit. The thing we want to concentrate on more right now is playing out. We want to get our equipment together and we want to start going out of town. Like right now we’re in the process of trying to work out something with CBGBs. I’ve got a bunch of places lined up. I act as manager of the group. But I’ve been talking. I have a few places lined up in New Haven, Connecticut and I have something in the works for Baltimore this summer. I want it almost like a tour. Because we were planning to go out to Vegas this summer for a couple of weeks, but it seems more practical to go to the coast and do a bunch of different shows in a bunch of different towns because I think it would cost us a lot less. This way if we go to the East Coast here, we can drive our equipment up there, you know, it’s not that far, whereas in Vegas, we’d have to fly there. All we could take really is our guitars. We can’t take all our stuff with us. We can’t drive it out there, it’d be too much. This way we can go do some dates in New Haven, Baltimore, hit New York, then swing back and hit Pittsburgh maybe, and then come right back. Stretch it out like over a couple weeks, you know, try to do a couple dates in each of these towns.

ARE YOU GEARING FOR OPENING FOR OTHER BIG NAME ACTS OR ARE YOU JUST GOING TO PLAY IN FRONT OF LOCAL ACT? IS IT GOING TO BE, LIKE, LARGER HALLS?

CHRIS: Well, like I mentioned CBGBs, things of, like, that caliber, almost like an Agora-type of thing. Not real big halls, nothing like that, no. Yeah, just smaller concert halls. I don’t get into that big hall shit. You can’t fucking see who’s standing ten feet away from you.

NELSON: That might be good for Frank Sinatra, but not for us.

CHRIS: We’re looking for a crowd maybe 1000 – 2000 people at the most. The kind of band we are, we have to have contact with the audience and shit. I mean, me and Nelson jumping out into the audience and running around and stuff. I mean, we have to have some kind of contact with out crowd, you know. I don’t want to be alienated. I don’t want to make it seem like they’re there to see us. I mean, I want it to be like they’re there and we’re there and we’re all gonna have a good time. And that’s it.

RIK: You can just call us the good time band.

CHRIS: Cleveland’s a great town. This is where we got started from, they’re behind us. But still I want to go out … I want to go as a true test. You’ve got to realize and understand that people that come to see us,, almost, like, become our friends, okay? They’re gonna tell you … I’m not saying that they’re going to completely all and out lie to you and say, ‘You guys were great’ every time we play out, but they might not tell us the exact truth. What they think, you know what I mean? To me it’s like a test going out of town, to really see what people really think of us. We’re not going to know anybody there. That’s what I feel is a true test. That way I’ll know whether I’ve really accomplished anything or whether it’s time to go back down to the hall and practice some more. That’s what I really want to do. after that’s been done … after I go out and play in, like, New York or wherever and people like me, then I’m going to start thinking a lot more seriously about recording more, really trying to push for some sort of contract or something.

ED: I think the most important thing any of us are looking for is self-satisfaction. I don’t care if I play a hall and everybody boos us off the stage. If I think I’ve played a good set, then that’s all I’m looking for.

RIK: You’ve got appreciate your music and play it.

ED: That’s what I’m really looking for. I’m not in just to make a lot of money or have somebody I don’t know come up and say, ‘Hey, you guys were great.’ I’m looking to get better for myself.

CHRIS: I feel good when somebody I don’t know comes up after a show and congratulates me.

ED: That’s just reassuring what you think of yourself.

CHRIS: That’s what we were saying before. You go out of town, you don’t know the people and they like you, that makes you feel good. You know that people are appreciating your music and not just appreciating you. That’s pretty much what I think we’re into doing.

ED: We’re not out to make a million dollars.

RIGHT NOW YOU HAVE A LOT OF ENERGY IN YOUR SET. ARE YOU LOOKING TO INCREASE IT?

NELSON: Sometimes that’s up to the audience too. The goonier the audience gets, we’ll get goonier. Sometimes we’ve had a few people in the audience and you’ve got to get your momentum going. If the people get into it, I find we get into it more.

CHRIS: You want to try to do the best show you can. Everybody’s like that, whether it’s one person or a thousand. You always want to put on a good show because you don’t want to make a fool of yourself. I want to go up there and play the best I can, no matter who’s there because you never know who that one person might be. And not just for them, but for myself too. I don’t want to go and just play shit. Because I know I can do better than that. Even though some people don’t think so. But that’s besides the point.

NELSON: We’re the type of band that you either like us or you hate us. But some people that hate us suddenly realise they like us. Like, once we opened for this other local band, and one of our friends told me that she was in the john and there were two chicks with their fingers up their ears saying, ‘Boy, they’re terrible.’ Of course they just sat down during the next group that played and just sat there looking real cool. They weren’t into it at all. They were just trying to make the scene or something. So you either like us or you hate us. We’d like you to like us, but if you don’t like us, that’s okay too. This is ‘Monitor-Rock.’ It’s not punk and it’s not New Wave. Anyhow, that could be our problem. A lot of people don’t know how to describe our music, like, ‘Well, I heard they were a good punk band …’

ED: No, we’re not a punk band. I’d say we’re not a Bob Seger band. And I think that’s mainly because none of us are really into that music. When you’re playing all original music, you start to have your own style rather than copying anybody in particular. Although, your inspirations and people who you have followed and listened to, inspiring music and stuff, will show up a bit. But that, like Nelson said, it’s like we’re not trying to be anybody and we’re not trying to show anybody up, and I don’t think we’re competing against any other band. We’re just trying to better ourselves. The whole idea that we’re better than this band and we’re better than that band is a bunch of crap.

Well, folks, there you have it. A candid interview with four guys from Cleveland, Ohio who call themselves The Monitors. Oh, there was more to the interview, but none of it was germane to what we have here. We just sat around having a laugh about this and that.

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