Mar 03, 2013 News
“All of us have thought that to be inclusive is best. One needs to be oneself. It is only when you are these things that you become truly valuable to yourself and to the world.”
By Adam Harris
He is undoubtedly Guyana’s most famous artiste. He has soared to the heights of the music world and today he is an icon. He may not appear as active in the music world, simply because he works at his own pace and engages in other music business endeavours rather than churning out albums as others do, but he is nevertheless as influential as at any time in his very long and distinguished career.
He was the hottest thing in London after the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, the dazzling performer on South African stage and the only Guyanese whose music was to form a question on the American television programme, Jeopardy. He is also the father of the Barbadian music industry and today his company controls a significant part of Trinidad and Tobago’s musical output.
Born Edmond Montague ‘Eddy’ Grant in the East Coast Demerara village of Plaisance on March 5th, 1948, he could not have known that he would be what he is today. From three years of age he began to live in Linden (then Mackenzie), a community that was to play no small role in fashioning him for what he was to become.
“I have very good memory of childhood because for me childhood was enjoyable. That childhood started in Plaisance then to Linden (Mackenzie)/Wismar then back to Plaisance. For education purposes both places were important in life.”
A Mrs. Parkinson was his first educationist and that was in Linden. It was a “kind of pre-school.” As he put it, his first stint in acting, singing and first of everything took place under the auspices of Mrs. Parkinson.
That school was over a bicycle repair shop his father managed. At the time the Grants were following family. An uncle, William Grant, and his family were strictly Linden people. They had a lot to do with the founding of Demba.
Eddy remembered that Linden was everything that it is not today. It was a rough pioneering town. He said that it was clean. At that time Eddy’s family could in no way be considered affluent. “It’s not a scenario which under normal conditions one would be proud of.”
Many people lived in one little house. There was the Berbice posse because his father was from Hopetown, West Coast Berbice. The family lived on the verandah. “That was our home.” Before they would leave Linden there would be three brothers and the parents. The only child to be born in Linden was brother, Rudy.
Every Berbician who came to Linden was given space and Eddy cannot forget those days because as he put it, “History is very significant. A person who doesn’t understand his history is doomed to failure in life.”
People think of Plaisance when they think of him, but there were other communities that fashioned him. He was little more than four or five when he returned to Plaisance. It was time for him to go to school. And it was there that he displayed the level of genius that was to be displayed for the world to see. He skipped the first class called L’il ABC, then skipped Standard One to Standard Two, then Standard Four to Standard Six.
He was the youngest in that class, but he never knew it. He couldn’t take any examinations because he was too young. Years later he was to question the age of some of his classmates, one of whom was the great Guyanese artist, Dudley Charles. Plaisance was the place of piano lessons for him and his brother, Derrick. The teacher was Mrs. Prisca Philadelphia.
“So much of what she taught me I regret not paying too much attention to.”
His father and mother were in England and sent the fees. The teacher would rap Derrick on his fingers with the ruler and after awhile the elder Eddy could not take it. They played truant, skipped the lessons, and spent the money which was a fortune to them.
The longest rope has an end. They were found out and paid with their ‘tail’; the whipping administered by an uncle who maintained discipline in the absence of Mum and Dad.
There was a lot to Plaisance with the open spaces—yards were not fenced as they are today, the fruit trees and of course, the fact that a child was the responsibility of every adult in the village.
Piano was only to feature later in his life’s work but the trumpet certainly did, almost from the time he could stand, and guitar was soon to follow.
His father, Patrick, was a musician who played in one of the dance bands of those days, ‘Nello and the Luckies’. The radio would feature those bands back in those days. Eddy recalled his father dedicating tunes to his wife and children. “My father was a god to me.”
There was an interesting story that Eddy recalled in chilling detail. He liked playing with matches. One day it started a fire that destroyed their home in Linden. At the time one of his father’s friends, ‘Tin Tin’ was visiting. Tin Tin was the drummer. His suit was in the house. “I saw a big man cry because there was just no way he was going to get a suit to play the dance that night.”
But even then his father’s friends would see Eddy’s musical talent. They would say to his father, who was a pharmacist, that he would one day be a musician, but his father thought otherwise. “No way. He is going to go to be a doctor,” his father would say.
“For a time that became endemic in me. I wanted to be a doctor. There was no person under the sun that I loved as much as my father at that time. My father personified everything that a man should be… He was the apple of my eye, the person I looked up to. I got a lot of my values from him.”
That love was cemented when his father fetched a “serious” rocking horse from Curacao to his son in Guyana. Eddy said that these days there are postage packages.
His father was a trumpeter and Eddy would take out the trumpet from under the bed and blow it. “I don’t know how I knew to blow it… You could imagine the noise I made.”
Of course his father would get up and grab it then threaten his son with a beating. “My father never beat me. I kept taking the trumpet out all the time. When I went to the United Kingdom it continued.” Eddy was 12.
He recalled trying to copy Louis Armstrong and the others on the trumpet. His father consented. He taught his eldest son the scale. He got into the school orchestra and played second trumpet. Then he formed a band. This was long before the Equals, that was to catapult Eddy to world fame.
Then came formal training. Alan Breed really encouraged all the boys in the orchestra. They were to win school competitions. A Mr. Wright helped him become a trumpeter.
Eddy’s entry into the guitar was interesting. There were the Shadows and some others who were being copied. He wanted a guitar and his father told him that he would have to make it. And make it he did.
In addition to being brilliant in school, Eddy was good at everything he tried. He was brilliant as a science student and brilliant as a woodwork student. A week ago, in response to a question of what kind of surgeon he would have been, he said “a damn good one.” Everything he did he did very well.
Ringbang, the philosophy that Eddy Grant created, is his life. He sees it as the only philosophy since Marcus Garvey, “the greatest single human being of the last 100 years.”
Ringbang is a concept of self and a solution. “All of us have thought that to be inclusive is best. One needs to be oneself. It is only when you are these things that you become truly valuable to yourself and to the world.”
It will not be long before Eddy launches a Ringbang line of clothing and electronics. It is already in his music and the music of the Caribbean.
“When I speak now of Ringbang and what it can do for our people, it could do for everybody. It’s like Zen; it’s like karate. Why do we not acknowledge that which comes from ourselves?”
Eddy started about Ringbang in the early 1990s, but it dates back even further. He was not known in Guyana for years, because there was no television. Bertie Chancellor put his hands on one of the records that were tearing up the world at the time.
Eddy Grant said that Bertie Chancellor played that record simply because the singer was a Guyanese. “They need to sack all the DJs who do not play Guyanese music.”
It was this philosophy that is responsible for the powerful state of Barbados music. Eddy Grant saw that it needed promotion.
“I came into Barbados and opened the channel to make it wider and to convince certain people that it was possible for them to compete with Trinidad.” In those days Barbados music was bad.
The rest is history. Eddy and ‘Gabby’ took the music to new heights.
“From the days of Barbadians not even listening to their music back in 1982, to standing in the rain to hear it, that music is holding its own. The same can happen in Guyana.”
Eddy claims that he was no singer, but back in those early years in England he went to a man named Keller who taught vocal training. But that was after Eddy had left the Equals.
“He (Keller) looked back to see this Black man with mud all over him. He asked ‘What can I do for you?’” He said that that the man told him that God gave everybody a voice. “The question is how are you going to use your voice?”
The first song they did was the Stylistics song ‘You make me feel brand new.’ The lesson was not to imitate Russell Simmons or anyone else.
“I paid him his money and said to him I am going to be a special singer. He said that’s what we want to hear. On my way home I realized that you can’t use what you do not have. That what you have you must use one hundred percent.”
Eddy Grant went on to great heights. He has been singing everywhere in the world, making hits after hits, in the process making all the money he has—and it is a lot.
He used what he got to shake the world. “We cannot shake the world if we come as somebody else…You have to come as you are. In the end it’s what makes me me…Be yourself.”
“When you have done that, you would have contributed to the growth of this country, the wealth of this country.”
There is so much more to Eddy Grant, but then again…He started in school, graduated to clubs, the first of which he was asked to play on the night when there was hardly anybody. It was the All Star Club in which Stevie Wonder and Joe Tex and Solomon Burke sang.
That quiet night was to become one of the lead nights with Eddy Grant and his little band playing—The Equals.
“I always wanted to record.”
The records came. Rehearsals were done in the bedroom of his home. A singer who happened to live next door heard the band. This man took them to Edward Kassner who owned President Records.
“Everything I touched became a song.” Eddy then told a friend that he was going to be famous. He was still a teenager and he did become famous.
‘Black skin blue-eyed boy’ was to be the first soca song ever. The year was 1969 and Eddy was 21. That was Ringbang music. To this day people still call Ringbang music, soca. The fact is that Ringbang permeates the Caribbean and Eddy Grant is a national icon and unquestionably a special person.
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