Joachim Heinz Ehrig was born in 1951 in Weimar, Thuringia in the German Democratic Republic.
I settled from Weimar, located in beautiful Thuringia in 1955 at the age of 4 right into the blackest Ruhr Valley melting-pot (Oberhausen), Germany’s most industrialized region. They had hundreds of coal-mines there and iron industry and chemical industry, and the whole area was covered with dirt and dust, bad smells, fiery skies at night and big places with barely “nothing”. That’s where WW II had left ruins and holes and overgrowing debris. For my mother and grandma, it was blank horror, for me and my childhood friends it was a pure adventure each day. We played in ruins, on burning coal-hills and on the railroad-dams. Everything was allowed and forbidden. The Wirtschaftswunder had taken off and the Ruhr Valley was the place in Germany, where they built its bits and pieces.
The very first influence in music for me was at the age of three in Weimar. There was a Russian brigade stationed across the street. And they used to put their old radio-sets on the window-banks of their barracks with loud yelling Russian music each day. The soldiers were friendly to us kids and gave us sweets and chocolate. I still like Russian music. My first technical influence I got at the age of three, too, when my father had bought a TV-set and I went each night with him upstairs to the attic to turn the aerial into the western direction. So we could see the program from the western part of Germany, which was not allowed in the eastzone. Late at night my father had to go up there again, to put the aerial back in the dark into the “east” position.
The next important two main influences in case of music were at the age of 7 to 8: a pub around the corner of our flat in Oberhausen where those mods and rockers met each Saturday to celebrate their loud music. We kids weren’t allowed to get in there, but we could listen from outside. Later a friend of my mother gave me her old valve-radio set as a gift. When I switched it on the first song I heard was “My Little Sheela” by Tommy Roe. And I always wondered, where the music could occur in that thing between all those glooming valves and wires.
For us kids back then only the Armed Forces Radio stations presented the best contemporary music. Without AFN and BFBS nothing would have developed like it did in the German music-scene. You even could tell where many bands came from by their style. Musicians from southern Germany (covered by AFN) played more funky, while northern bands (mainly listening to British BFBS) had Beat and later Punk influences. The German stations mainly played German stuff. Of course, we know many artists from over here like Drafi Deutscher, Rex Gildo, Peter Krauss or the always misunderstood Roy Black and their songs. And we also liked many of their tracks. But the Anglo-American scene was the crucial player. It was hip to have the actual Beatles singles as the first one in class or come up with e.g. The Yardbirds, a band nobody else had heard of so far. Also CAE and AFN were the main sources for
authentic C&W music, very important for many of us young boys back then who always were fond of cowboy-films and Red Indian Romatic.
The beginnings of Grobschnitt were in a school band called The Crew.
I went to school until 1967. Lupo was sitting next to me in the last two classes. He helped me with mathematics, I helped him with English. After school we rehearsed in an old church tower. He played the guitar, I played the drums. I have still recordings of that. After we had finished school he went three years for training as industrial grocer. I went three years for training to be a chemist. After work we run The Crew until 1969. Wildschwein joined the band in 1966, he came from “outside” and from another part of the city. He just heard our rehearsals from outside the church tower, stepped in and said: “Here I am, I can sing and play guitar and I want to join your group!”
The work at Menga Studios occurred when The Crew was highly ranked in 1969 at a Beat-Festival in Recklinghausen (list attached). The first places had won a recording-session for one track at the Menga Studios, owned by a rich guy called Hans Beukenberg and his friend Hans Lißeck, the drummer of The German Blue Flames. We recorded our song “He’s Around Here” there and the staff was highly convinced that I had seen a studio before. So two years later they called me to work for them as an
engineer Touring was not on the schedule for The Crew. We played our regular places in downtown Hagen (6 to 10 pubs and clubs) and sometimes we did gigs in nearby cities. Some weeks we gave concerts in Hemer, approximately 30 miles away. This town was a “Canadian” city with PMQs (barracks) and true Canadian clubs. You probably could imagine what happened when we played “Born To Be Wild” in front of a bunch of Canadian soldiers in a place called “Whiskey a-go-go”. Gigs outside Germany were impossible. But as said, we had our “Little Canada” a few miles away...
The Crew split up in October 1969 right after a wild festival. I went on with Wutpickel (sometimes joined by Hans Reichel) and Wildschwein took a break. Lupo set up Charing Cross later together with drummer Felix and bassist Baer. In early 1971 we got together again and performed with two drummers by the name of “Charing Cross”. In May 1971 the name “Kapelle Elias Grobschnitt” appeared for the very first time, but that’s another story.
Eroc describes why English was the preferred language for the band, and the creative process for Grobschnitt.
English is a better language to sing than German. And it’s the authentic language of Beat and Rock and Soul. And - to express “messages” in English is much easier. You need less words than in German and the language is softer and much more weak. German always sounds harsh and hard, except you are speaking kind-a slang. A third argument: all bands from DDR had to sing in German. That was a must ordered their government. And we over here in the “Golden West” never wanted to be compared with these artificial groups who were pushed and paid by their government. And: most important - German language was THE domain for German Schlager and “Heimatlieder”. You know - Bavaria, Lederhosen, Bratwurst, Schutzenfest, Kuckucksuhren, Dirndl etc... And to those we had to keep distance under every circumstance! The German language started to establish in common rock music with the Neue Deutsche Welle in the early 80s. Also because many of those new young bands, who even weren’t able to hold a guitar the right way just couldn’t speak proper English.
Most of the Grobschnitt stuff occurred from endless rehearsal sessions and improvisations. We were not a song-writing band. Our biggest pleasure was hitting our rehearsal stage and start playing our instruments. We loved making and exploring music. We could play and improvise for hours and hours each day. And that lasted all those years I was in the band.
Out of my recordings of those sessions we extracted sudden themes, melodies and rhythms and then tried to finalize them and put them together. So all of us gave their best and each one was a composer in the band. When we had finished a “song” e.g. like “Father Smith” or “The Clown” it was up to me to write the text. Nobody else in the band was good enough in English. Wildschwein never had learned English at school, so I had to explain him my texts and rehearse the correct pronunciation with him.
“Rockpommel’s Land” is a good example: the whole thing was completed and then he sang la-la-la wherever he thought it might fit. And then it was up to me to find a) a sense for the message and b) write a correct text which c) had to fit perfect on Wildschwein’s (musical perfect) phrases, as far as possible. It took me 6 weeks to write and arrange the text for “Rockpommel’s Land” and “invent” all the names in it. And then I went off rehearsing with Willie. The main idea for the story of “Rockpommel’s Land” and many instrumental parts came out of Mist’s head and hands...
Eroc offers his perspective on growing up in the 1960s and how the music effected his generation.
I didn’t like Yes and Genesis. Their music was for me too complicated. Conny Plank named it “College Rock” one day. Only Volker “Mist”, our keyboardist was a huge admirer of Genesis.
For me the 60s were the most important decade. There it all started and there it all got really hot. Swing and Rockabilly in the 40s and 50s was great but rather limited. The 60s was it. And who had learned his lessons then could well start working for himself in the 70s.
Because we kids could listen to this unbelievable output of all the bands in the 60s we got a huge musical “education” without the need of teaching and learning. It was just in the air. And one important fact was that it all came out of very few “holes”. In Germany we had only one Beat-Club on TV. And when it was aired the whole youth-nation sat in front of their sets and followed with gooming eyes and ears. We scheduled our freetime after Beat-Club and similar shows on the radio. When The Kinks or The Who or maybe The Creation played on Beat-Club, it was the talk of the town next day and everyone who liked music knew each single note they had played. Today the kids can listen to thousands of stations on the web and to YouTube and have downloads around each corner. So they are not hungry any more. The 60s and 70s were the pioneer-ages for rock music.