Many people call themselves ‘solo artists,’ but few fit the tag as well as Eddy Grant. Since the 1970’s, this gifted performer has released several albums on which he wrote and performed every note of the music, in addition to recording it in his own studio manufacturing it in his own factory and issuing it on his own record label. In fact, Grant is said to be the only major artist who over a forty year plus career owns every recording and song he ever created. The totally personalised music Grant made was a deft blend of pop songwriting, dance rhythms, reggae and colorful international elements, making him an international solo hit-maker during the 1970’s right into the twenty-first century.
Born on March 5, 1948 in Guyana, Eddy was exposed during his childhood to the distinctive local fusion of African and Indian music indigenous to Guyana along with the music of the surrounding countries such as Suriname and in particular Trinidad and Tobago. As a pre-teen, his musician father moved the family to Kentish Town, North London. In the stark, post-war late fifties /early sixties suburban environment, Eddy was exposed to the rock and roll of Chuck Berry and the nascent pop music scene. This early combination of ethnic and commercial pop influences culminated in Eddy founding The Equals, probably the finest and certainly the first multi-cultural pop/rock outfit to achieve international acclaim. With Eddy as songwriter, lead guitarist, arranger and producer, The Equals topped the chart with their classic “Baby Come Back” and went on to achieve three more major top ten hits in the following eighteen months with their Caribbean-styled pop.
It is not by accident that a significant component of Eddy Grant’s music over his career is Reggae. In that session working on “Rough Rider”, Eddy broke ground by being the first producer to use strings as an integral part of the ska/rocksteady sessions. These were followed much later by producers who saw the possibility to “add on” strings as an after thought hoping to please British Radio. In his case there was no such consideration; purely an innocent “experiment in sound”. Eddy stood by as songs were being “strung-up” left right and centre; some more successful than others. When he got involved with synthesizers he still managed to create what he later called his “Reggae Symphonies”.
Eddy Grant continued the process of experimentation he’d started in the late 60’s, to merge the influences of early pop, rock and soul with the calypso music of the Caribbean and the African and Indian rhythms of his childhood, to form a unique hybrid – the influential sound he called “Kaisoul” which someone else called “Sokah” and which finally ended up being dubbed “Soca” by a member of the Trinidadian media. Grant recorded what is generally recognised by the cognoscenti as the very first soca record, the anthemic “Hello Africa” in 1972. It remains a classic in many parts of the world inhabited by calypso and soca aficionados. However, Grant is quoted as saying, that although his experiment started some years before, to his mind, everything was really crystallised in the recording of the classic dance floor filler “Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys” which was first released and became a hit in 1970.
Eddy enjoyed immense commercial success in the first half of the eighties. When the pressures of his solo career again threatened to compromise his newly defined game plan, Eddy moved back to the Caribbean. He opted not for his native Guyana but as a compromise with commercial reality, chose Barbados where communications with the outside world were more highly developed at the time. Eddy bought and restored the historic plantation home Bayley’s in St. Philip, Barbados and built his Blue Wave Recording Studio Complex.
It was from his base in the Caribbean that he recorded his breakthrough album, “Killer on The Rampage”. This record blended social-commentary themed lyrics with a complex but pop-friendly sound that deftly mixed international influences and pop hooks. It became a hit when the songs “I Don’t Wanna Dance” and “Electric Avenue” were released as singles. The very danceable tune, “Electric Avenue”, talked about tensions in the streets over a pulsating instrumental track that mixed new-wave synthesizers (with which Grant had been experimenting for years) and a funky groove. It became a #2 hit in the UK following the #1 hit “I Don’t Wanna Dance”, a hit in every country except the USA where the radio DJ’s refused to stop playing the first release “Electric Avenue” (which was #1 on the Cashbox chart and #2 on the Billboard Hot 100). The extraordinary success of both singles helped to make the parent album a worldwide success.
In 1984, Eddy Grant entered the world of film soundtracks when he wrote the theme song for the hit adventure film, “Romancing the Stone” starring Michael Douglas. This Top-30 hit was a typically eclectic blend of pop and reggae elements that also included a wailing, rock-style guitar solo played by Grant. Meanwhile, his Blue Wave Recording Studio Complex soon became a popular destination for rock stars like Sting, Elvis Costello, Bonnie Raitt and The Rolling Stones (who used it to prepare for their 1989 gargantuan “Steel Wheels” tour and their “Voodoo Lounge” album and tour). For the record, the first international recording star to record at Blue Wave was Marcia Barrett of Boney M.
After an absence of four years, Eddy Grant returned to the international pop scene in 1988 with “Gimme Hope, Jo’Anna”. Since “Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys” through “Living on the Frontline”, Eddy has been recognised as a vociferous promoter, through socio-political commentary, of the culture and achievements of contemporary black people. In the song “Gimme Hope Jo’Anna” he cleverly puts across an anti-apartheid message by wrapping it in a funky, catchy Caribbean-pop melody, making it a massive international success in almost every country in the world except the USA, where it was effectively banned from mainstream radio and TV.
Grant’s enthusiasm and devotion to his musical heritage has endured. His ICE RECORDS and ICE MUSIC companies have purchased a great number of Classic Calypso, Soca and other Caribbean recording and music publishing catalogues along with other intellectual material. Grant has created what is arguably the world’s largest collection of Classic Calypso, Soca and Ringbang music copyrights. These include the record and song catalogues of Calypso legends like the “Mighty Sparrow”, “Roaring Lion”, “Atilla the Hun” and “Lord Kitchener” among a multitude of other great Classic Calypsonians from the Golden Age of Calypso. Grant has done this in order to personally preserve, and introduce to a wider audience, this historic and important musical heritage which he describes as the last English-speaking folk genre in the world. He has also successfully fostered leading contemporary Calypso and Soca artists such as Gabby, Calypso Rose, Alison Hinds, Mighty Duke, Superblue, Black Stalin, David Rudder, and Grynner, and thanks in no small part to Eddy Grant’s patronage, soca music now enjoys an expanding popularity in all corners of the world.
Forty years plus later, Eddy’s experimentation with music continues. Eddy has brought in every groove and genre possible to Reggae and the other grooves of the Caribbean. With the constant debate of who did what with regard to the conceptualisation of soca, it was put to Grant by some of his associates in Trinidad, that if indeed he was THE ONE, surely he could do it again. Grant immediately set about creating a new genre RINGBANG that he loosely defines as a “bridge between all the rhythms that have originated from Africa so that they become one, defying all geographical boundaries.” RINGBANG also carries with it a philosophy which recognises and affirms value in Caribbean people and culture.
Now after only a few years, the “RINGBANG” beat has been embraced by all the young (and even some of the old) artists of the region. To support this belief system, he even started a magazine called “RINGBANG”, the first totally Caribbean magazine representing all Caribbean music and lifestyle. Looking back, maybe it is this self-confidence that Eddy was trying to communicate to all those producers and artists as they arrived in the UK in the 60’s to be slaughtered by a hostile, uncaring music business. Back then though he was seen as too young, so no one listened.
Today, Eddy’s words and vision have stood the test of time. Grant’s passionate interest in African rhythms, reggae and Soca, and his individualistic style has had a lasting influence on a range of other artists. His classic works remain as popular as ever today and have been covered by artists as diverse as Prince Buster, Jaheim, UB40, Pato Banton and even The Clash who covered his “Police on my Back” for their celebrated “Sandinista Album” while also being used extensively in a multitude of television commercials worldwide.
His influence too pervades the lives of many other well known artists and producers including reggae legend Bob Marley. For example, when Bob Marley and the Wailers first hit Africa, he (Bob) expressed surprise at the popularity and success that Grant was already enjoying on the continent. When Marley left the UK disillusioned and returned to Jamaica, he recounted to a friend that he was inspired by Grant’s accomplishments and was going to do exactly the same thing…. build his own studio, work at his own creative pace and exercise greater control in his business affairs. Today, the Bob Marley and Tuff Gong legacy are testimony to the example set by Eddy Grant in a time when others thought it was not possible for a Caribbean/black artist to be successfully in charge of his creative and music business career and to do so in the Caribbean.
Eddy Grant’s individual discography is extensive and time-honoured and his latest album “Reparation” was recorded and mixed to completion at his Blue Wave Recording Studios. “Reparation” was written, arranged and performed by Grant and contains thirteen brilliant tunes ranging in musical styles – Ringbang, Reggae, Pop, Rock and Gospel. All instruments are played by Eddy (except for the gospel piano of Andre Daniel on “Jesus Got A Face”). He also sings lead and backing vocals on all tracks except “(Gotta Be) Positive, “Ringbang Man”, “Long Night”, and “Love Weself” where he is accompanied on backing vocals by Indra Rudder. The backing vocals on “Jesus Got A Face” are those of The Cavite Choral Choir.
Despite his many commitments, Grant continues to produce his beloved Classic Calypso artists like Gabby, Calypso Rose and The Mighty Duke along with his new finds Indra and Viking Tundah. Although he is always focused on his work as a record label head, Grant performs on occasion and his excursions from his Caribbean sanctuary in the past have included live performances at such events as the Sport Aid Stadium show, ground breaking concerts in the former Yugoslavia, Hungary, Cuba and South America and headlining the Farewell to the GLC concert at the Thames Embankment and the BBC/WGBH World 2000 Millennium Day Broadcast and Ringbang Celebration which was carried live via satellite across the globe.
Eddy has also received numerous citations and awards in the UK and elsewhere for his contribution to music. He has been interviewed extensively in mainstream publications and on major network programmes like the BBC’s ‘Hardtalk” with Tim Sebastian. In 1991, he stepped into another role when he hosted the first Caribbean Music Awards at Harlem’s Apollo Theater in New York City. In 2000, he was the guest of Prince Charles for the Party in the Park charity concert in aid of the Prince’s Trust. He also performed at the benefit concert in Hyde Park. In 2005, Eddy had the distinct honour of being the only living person to have four postage stamps of his image and that of his brand Ringbang issued in his native Guyana.
Without a doubt Eddy Grant is an Original, a true Caribbean Icon and whether as a performer or businessman, thinker or philosopher he will continue to be an important and integral part of the Caribbean and international music scene for a very long time.