Herbert Dreilich
Lead Singer of German Folk-Rock Group Karat Has Died
By Bill Vordenbaum

On Sunday December 12th, Herbert Dreilich, lead singer of the German folk-rock group Karat died of liver cancer at his home near Berlin. While most people in the United States have never heard of Karat, they became a phenomenon in East Germany in the seventies. By 1979, their popularity had crossed over into West Germany. Their hit "Ueber Sieben Bruecken Musst Du Gehen" (You Must Go Over Seven Bridges) was covered by West German pop star Peter Maffay, after East German officials refused to allow Karat to tour in the West. After Maffay made the song a smash-hit in West Germany, Karat became an ambassador of music, culture, and art for East Germany. They also won awards at the International Dresden Folk Music Festival, and sold the first and only gold record of any East German rock group in the West. To date, Karat has sold over 8.5 million albums worldwide.

Herbert was born in Austria (which was then a part of Nazi Germany) in 1942. He studied abroad in England and bought his first guitar at the age of 16. He returned to (East) Germany with his family shortly before the construction of the Berlin Wall. Although Herbert was "trapped" behind the Iron Curtain, his love of music and his creative talent continued to grow. In 1975 Herbert, along with former members of the group Panta Rhei, formed the group we now know as Karat. Herbert became the lead vocalist and played acoustic guitar, Henning Protzmann provided backing vocals and played bass guitar, Berndt Roemer was the lead guitarist, Michael Schwandt became the drummer, and Ulrich "Ed" Swillms played piano and keyboards. On their first release (Karat I), Hans-Joachim Neumann and Ulrich Pexa added vocals as well.

In 1978, Karat released the album "Albatros" (Albatross) which would later become the CD "Ueber Sieben Bruecken." This was their breakthrough album. Songs such as "He, Mama" (Hey, Mama) and "Blues" showcased a broader, more experimental sound for the band where blues and hard rock influences were revealed. "Musik zu einem nichtexistierenden Film" (Music to a Nonexistent Film), is an instrumental which could have easily been on a major movie soundtrack. "Das, was ich will" (The Thing that I Want), with a steel guitar showed more of a country music influence. "Gewitterregen" (Thunderstorm) featured a zither, which made the song reminiscent of some of the psychedelic music of the Beatles. "Albatros" is an album-rock classic, with hints of Zeppelin, early Genesis, Dire Straits, and even Gordon Lightfoot. This song fades into "Wenn das Schweigen bricht" (When the Silence Breaks), which is another rocker. The last song on the disc is their smash-hit "Ueber Sieben Bruecken Musst Du Gehen." This song is reminiscent of "Let It Be," and became a symbol of German reunification in 1989.

"Schwanenkoenig" (Swan King), was Karat's third release. The song "Magisches Licht" (Magic Light), reminded me of some of the cooler Pink Floyd keyboard oriented songs. The title track (Schwanenkoenig) is a splendid ballad which builds to a crescendo, before slowing again at the end -- almost as if it were simulating a typical day in the life of a swan. A track which was added on the CD is "Eh, dieser Sommer" (Hey, This Summer). This is a reggae-style song which reminds me of "Dreadlock Holiday" by 10cc.

Karat's fourth release became their best selling and was certified gold. "Der blaue Planet" (The Blue Planet) is by far the most progressive of all their efforts. "45-01" is an instrumental which rivals anything Kraftwerk has done. "Marionetten" (Puppets), is a well produced eighties style techno-rock effort. "Falscher Glanz" (Fake/deceptive Glance), reminds me of the Beach Boys later release "Kokomo." "Jede Stunde" (Every Hour) is another techno-rock favorite with a harmonica solo. Good stuff! "Blumen aus Eis" (Frozen Flowers) is an up tempo song which deals with an untimely discovery of imminent death. The song "Der blaue Planet" again uses the zither, along with more experimental techno-pop sounds which make it one of their finest. Ulrich "Ed" Shwillms gets to sing lead vocals on "Der Spieler" (The Player). "Gefaehrtens des Sturmwinds" (Companions of the Storm Winds) uses backward masking in a positive way. This one reminds me of some of the more progressive music U2 put out in the mid-to-late eighties. "Wie weit Fleigt die Taube" (How Far Does the Dove Fly), is a poignant song where a child asks the question of his parents, "How far does the dove fly through bombs?" It begins with an ominous keyboard part which simulates air raid warning sirens, then jumps into an energetic guitar solo which lasts almost three minutes. In my opinion, this is one of the best albums I have ever heard!

I was lucky enough to see Karat perform when I was an exchange student in West Germany in 1982. It is one concert I will never forget! Not only did they do a fine job playing live to an audience of about 500 in a small town in northern Germany, they closed with "Let It Be" (sung in English) by the Beatles. They received a standing ovation. I can think of few concerts I have ever seen that rivaled that one -- maybe Paul McCartney at the Astrodome in 1993. I wish the surviving members of Karat and their families all the best. Herbert will definitely be missed!

While there is no official website for Karat, there are two interesting sites. Both sites are in German, but you can click on "Translate this Page" for an English version: