Grant stands amongst an elite group of artists as one who has
not just merely moved successfully across the musical spectrum,
but has actually been at the forefront of genres and even created
one of his own. From pop star to reggae radical, musical entrepreneur
to the inventor of ringbang, the artist has cut a swathe through
the world of music and made it his own.
Born in Plaisance, Guyana, on March 5, 1948, the young Edmond
Grant grew up on the sound of his homeland, tan singing, an Indo-Caribbean
vocal style whose roots lay in south Asia and are the backbone
of modern chutney. Then in 1960, the Grant family emigrated to
England, taking up residence in the working-class Stoke Newington
area of London. The young teen's musical horizons swiftly expanded,
embracing R&B, blues, and rock that percolated across his new
In 1965, Grant formed his first band, the Equals, and long before
the days of Two Tone, the group was unique in being the first
of Britain's multiracial bands to receive any recognition. The
West Indian contingent comprised Jamaican-born singer Lincoln
Gordon, with his twin brother Derv and Grant both on guitar, while
the rhythm section of bassist Patrick Lloyd and drummer John Hall
were native-born white Englishmen. Like most of the teenaged bands
roaming the capital at the time, the Equals cut their teeth on
the club and pub circuit and finally inked a label deal with President
Records in early 1967. Their debut single, "I Won't Be There,"
didn't crack the charts but did receive major radio support. This,
alongside an expanding fan base wowed by their live shows, pushed
their first album, Unequaled Equals, into the U.K. Top Ten. At
the request of his label, Grant had also been working with the
Pyramids, the British group who had backed Prince Buster on his
recent U.K. tour. Besides composing songs for the band (and one
for Buster himself, the rude classic "Rough Rider"), Grant also
produced several tracks, including the band's debut single and
sole hit, "Train to Rainbow City." In 1968, the Equals scored
their own hit with "I Get So Excited," the group's debut into
the Top 50. Although their follow-up album, Equals Explosion,
proved less successful than its predecessor, as did the next single,
the quintet's career was indeed about to explode. "Hold Me Closer"
may have disappointed in the U.K., where it stalled at a lowly
number 50, but in Germany, the single was flipped over and "Baby
Come Back" released as the A-side. It swiftly soared to the top
of the German charts, a feat repeated across Europe. Later that
spring, a reissued British single finally received its just due
and reached number one. Even the U.S. took notice, sending the
single into the lower reaches of the Top 40. Sadly, this turned
out to be a flash in the pan. The Equals' follow-up single, "Laurel
and Hardy" died at number 35, its successor did even worse, while
their new album, Sensational Equals, didn't even make the charts.
New hope arrived when "Viva Bobby Joe" shot into the Top Ten in
the summer of 1969, but its follow-up, "Rub a Dub Dub," just scraped
into the Top 35. Understandable, considering the Equals roller
coaster of ups and downs, Grant now turned his attention elsewhere.
In 1970, he started up his own specialty record label, Torpedo,
concentrating on British reggae artists. He also utilized the
label as a home for a brief solo career under the alias Little
Grant, releasing the single "Let's Do It Together." But the artist
hadn't given up on the Equals yet, and good thing too. Later that
year, their new 45, "Black Skinned Blue Eyed Boys," slammed the
group back into the Top Ten. And then, the unimaginable happened.
On New Year's day in 1971, Grant, all of 23 years old, suffered
a heart attack and a collapsed lung. If lifestyle played a part,
it wasn't because he drank, took drugs, smoked, or ate meat, it
was due to Grant's only vice — a hectic schedule. He quit the
group at this point and the Equals soldiered on into the shadows
without him. He sold Torpedo as well and with the proceeds opened
up his own recording studio, The Coach House, in 1972. Grant continued
to produce other artists and release their records through his
newly launched Ice label, but his own musical talents were seemingly
left behind. It wasn't until 1977 when Grant finally released
a record of his own, the Message Man album. It was three years
in the making and a stunning about face from his previous pop
persona, even if "Black Skinned Blue Eyed Boys" had suggested
a change was imminent. Tracks like "Cockney Black," "Race Hate,"
and "Curfew" were politicized dark masterpieces laced with aggression
and anger. But the album also included some lighter moments, including
"Hello Africa," which featured a sound that the media hadn't even
invented a word for yet. Grant dubbed it "kaisoul," an amalgamation
of kaiso (the traditional word for calypso) and soul. Caribbean
legend Lord Shorty, the acknowledged inventor of this new crossover
hybrid, labeled it solka. Neither term stuck, however, once the
Trinidad and Tobago press came up with their own label — soca.
But regardless of what it was called, the style was just one of
many hybrids that Grant was entertaining. Message Man may have
proved a commercial failure, but that didn't dim the artist's
vision for one second.
Two more years passed while Grant wrestled with its follow-up
in the studio, composing, producing, and performing virtually
the entire album himself. The end result was 1979's Walking on
Sunshine, one of the greatest albums of the decade. While the
B-side featured a clutch of seminal musical hybrids, the centerpiece
of the album's A-side was "Living on the Frontline," a dancefloor
classic that blended tough lyrics with an electro-sheen, a sense
of optimism and a funk-fired sound. Released as a single, the
song roared up the British chart, while becoming a cult hit in
U.K. clubs. Inexplicably, the album itself didn't chart at all,
nor did its follow-up, 1980's Love in Exile. However, in the next
year, Grant finally cracked the market wide open with Can't Get
Enough, which finally breached the Top 40. His singles' success
had continued uninterrupted across "Do You Feel My Love," "Can't
Get Enough of You," and "I Love You, Yes I Love You." A phenomenal
live album, Live at Notting Hill, was recorded in August 1981
during London's Notting Hill Carnival. The following year's Killer
on the Rampage slew its way into both the British chart and the
American, where it landed at number ten. The album spun off "I
Don't Wanna Dance," which topped the chart in the U.K., while
the exhilarating "Electric Avenue," from his next album Going
for Broke, landed at number two on both sides of the Atlantic.
Nothing else would equal these dizzying heights. Three more singles
followed by the end of 1984, but none managed to break into the
Top 40. In the U.S., only one, "Romancing the Stone," actually
made the chart, charming its way into a respectable berth just
outside the Top 25. That was his final showing in the U.S. On
both sides of the Atlantic, 1987's Born Tuff and the following
year's File Under Rock were passed over by the record buying public.
However, the British gave the artist one last Top Ten hit in 1988
with "Gimme Hope Jo'anna," a highlight of his 1990 Barefoot Soldier
album. Unfortunately, its 1992 follow-up, Painting of the Soul,
went the way of its last few predecessors.
By then, the artist had long ago left the U.K., having emigrated
to Barbados a decade earlier. Even as his own career had taken
off back in England, Grant was spending much of his time mentoring
a new generation of soca talent. He opened a new studio, Blue
Wave, and lavished most of his attention on it, which explains
the gap in his output between 1984 and 1987. By the time "Jo'anna"
had fallen off the chart, Grant was well on the way to creating
his own mini-empire. Besides giving new stars-to-be a helping
hand, Grant also moved into music publishing, specializing in
calypso's legends. Over the years, Ice has thrilled the world
by making the back catalog of multitudes of stars available, Lord
Kitchener, Roaring Lion, and Mighty Sparrow, to name a few. And
almost uniquely amongst Caribbean artists, Grant has maintained
control over his own music, and Ice, of course, has kept it available.
Across Grant's solo career, the artist has continued to experiment
with different styles in ever-changing combinations. Pop, funk,
new wave, reggae, Caribbean, African, and even country have all
been melded into his sound. 1992's Painting of the Soul was heavy
with island influences, while the next year's Soca Baptism is
a collection of covers, from hits to obscurities, all dosed with
a modern sound.
By this time, Grant was hard at work in the evolution of yet another
hybrid style — ringbang. Many of the genre's elements are easily
found in the artist's earlier recordings, from African rhythms
to military tattoos, alongside soca itself and dancehall rhythms,
many of the latter influenced by Grant's own previous work. The
new style debuted in 1994 at the Barbados Crop Over festival.
Since then, the style has continued to intrigue, but has yet to
create the international success that it's always threatened.
Much of this can be laid at Grant's own door, through a simmering
dispute with other artists and the legal ramifications of the
genre's trademark. A vociferous supporter of artists' rights,
Grant first ran into trouble in 1996 when he demanded his label's
artists receive adequate copyright fees from Trinidad and Tobabgo's
Carnival. A heroic stance that infuriated the festival's organizers,
this was quickly overshadowed by the public outcry over soca itself.
As far as T&T was concerned, the inventor of soca was island native
Lord Shorty, who announced its birth in 1978 with the Soca Explosion
album. However, Grant insists otherwise, crediting his own "Black
Skinned Blue Eyed Boys" as the first-ever soca record. Needless
to say, his public proclamations of this fact continue to infuriate
T&T and other Shorty supporters. But politics aside, the greater
factor may be in ringbang's trademark. Once Grant filed it, the
word could no longer be used by other artists without express
permission. A perusal of any soca, calypso, or chutney hits collections
shows the importance of the use of the genre term to the actual
song, and just how many titles feature the term. By preventing
artists from using the word ringbang, few outside the Ice stable
were willing to explore the genre. Even so, Grant managed to organize
the Ringbang Celebration 2000 as part of T&T's millennium festivities.
The event, which went off without a hitch, created further ill-will
due to its price tag, a whopping 41 million (U.S. $6.5 million).
The artist himself performed two songs at the event.
In the new year, he recorded a new version of one of them, "East
Dry River" while in Jamaica, appropriately enough in a ska style.
The previous year, the artist released the Hearts & Diamonds album.
Grant continues to make an impact on both sides of the studio,
with his music always an intriguing concoction of sound and his
studio work equally innovative. Ice itself is equally instrumental
in the music world, both in its preservation of past legacies
and its attention to new artists. — Jo-Ann Greene