Electric Eddy

by Keith Smith
Trinidad Express
Stabroek News
June 24, 2001

Eddy Grant used to tell me about fishing an old album (Kitchener's, as I remember it) out of the Laventille dump. Say what you want about Mr Grant (and some have said plenty), there's no denying his belief in not only the validity but also the saleability of Caribbean music in general and Trinidad music in particular.

After all, his own career is proof of both. Both as lead singer, writer, producer and just about everything else with the Equals (perhaps the most successful black pop group ever) and as a solo artist, Eddy's fame and fortune have been recorded.

What, though, is more compelling than either of those is that nobody owns the smallest part of him. Which is to say that all his compositions have not only remained his but it is his recording company, ICE, that has done the recordings of those compositions.

In the sense, therefore, of being total controller of his own talent, the man is the Caribbean answer to Oprah Winfrey.

Born in Guyana, resident in Barbados, Grant is-how shall I put it? Maybe, as he himself put it, spiritually Trinidadian; that is to say, Trinidadian in spirit as you'd expect a musically-inclined boy growing up initially in this part of the world to be.

It seemed to me that on one of our limes he told me that he used to sing in front of Rhyner's record shop, Prince Street, Port of Spain, just like any other Trinidad hopeful today but I just can't believe it, Eddy having evolved into this huge star with what appears to me to be the ability to charm a hit from his Muse whenever he chooses to.

Take, for example, "Electric Avenue". Sometime during the decade of the seventies, I had met him when he was brought down by a swim club to perform at the Public Service Association's headquarters. He was already big in Europe then and I got into the gig because I thought I could help the club in its fund-raising mission and because "Hello Africa", "Neighbour, Neighbour" and "Black-Skinned Blue-Eyed Boyts" had made me a fan. (I do not know how Britain, from where he took off, labelled it but it sounded like good old calypso to me if with an understandable and indeed cannily calculating pop finish.)

I do not know if those Grant concerts were not the greatest I have ever seen, I who have seen all of the Caribbean greats and quite a few of the international ones. The thing about those concerts was that because the last thing a Trinidad audience at that time wanted to hear was a Caribbean/calypso concert (how things have changed!) and because the swim people had neither the savvy nor the money to mount what would have had to have been a brilliant marketing campaign, not many people came.

And, yet, you would have thought that Grant was performing to his usual European thousands. I remember writing, later, that the missing thousands had missed one of the great entertainment events of the time and I can now tell you, of all time. I know some of you might have seen him at the Old Year's Night Tobago Ringbang show but that was a subdued performance, soulful, but a far cry from the, well, electric performances he used to give before his cardiologists told him to stop if he didn't want to die at 21.

I suppose many a man would have stopped completely. He was, after all, already rich. He had more than made his musical mark and could have spent the next 30 years of life fishing off Bequia or hobnobbing with the nobs in Mustique. Instead of which he left centre-stage for backstage, becoming a producer of new talent and a frenzied archivist of the old.

But I am, and not for the first time, getting ahead of my own story. During the time of the PSA concerts I had asked him why, after Europe, he hadn't tried to break into the US market. I remember him telling me, without arrogance, but with the utmost seriousness, that he would do it not only on his own time but on his own terms. Some years later he was to send States-side his, shall we say, first American intervention, which, as it happened was "Electric Avenue" (1981), the song shooting up the charts falling one position short of Number One, that position, as I remember it, being held by Michael Jackson, his "Billie Jean" and, last but by no means least, his huge marketing machine.

Twenty years later, "Electric Avenue", in a remixed Ringbang version (and that remixing is a story of piracy turned on its head that I promise to tell you in good time), is sweeping across Europe and America again brightly beckons.

Now let me be the first to admit that I don't know where ringbang begins and where soca ends, but whatever the marketing strategies Grant chooses to use in the weird, weird world that is international show business, there is no gainsaying the fact that it is Caribbean/Trinidad music he is showcasing.

At a time when some of the best and the brightest among us are endeavouring to show that it is our intellectual property that is (and, maybe, has long been) our greatest asset, I can hardly think of a better man to be out there waving our flag.

Indeed, I am even tempted to believe that the current cresting of the Grant wave may just be another of those signals both here and abroad that herald the gradual turning of the tide.

More on Mr. Grant can be read here.