The musical legend will go down in history as one of the most influential and pioneering figures in black music ever. A resident of Barbados for many years where he still runs his beloved Ice Records, the multi million selling artist first broke onto the scene back in the 1960s when he founded the pop/rock outfit The Equals achieving four top 10 hits within 18 months, including the number one Baby Come Back. A younger generation were then treated to a musical masterclass in the 80s when he clocked up eight more major international hits in four years, including Electric Avenue and I Don’t Wanna Dance. This month his music returns to our airwaves thanks to his new show on United DJs, the new global internet radio station launched by DMC and Mixmag Founder Tony Prince. We check in with the man in the sun…
Eddy a huge welcome to DMCWORLD. Leaving your native Guyana, it was your father who took your family to north London in the 1950s. At first you found the UK a hostile country but accepted the fact that your circumstances had changed and you got on with life. What was a post war England like back then through the eyes of a boy not yet in his teens and used to the freedom of the Caribbean?
It was the strangest of times for me back then and you hit the nail right on the head describing how my early life was all about enjoying the freedom of the Caribbean. Growing up we had such wide open spaces to play in and explore, a very neighborly community where everybody would look after you and of course we had the gorgeous weather. I can remember the day we left like it was yesterday. We were playing in one of the many canals when suddenly everyone from the village appeared telling us we had to quickly go home as we were leaving. ‘Where to?’ I managed to splutter. ‘England, you are leaving to live in England.’ Back home one of the few jeeps on the island was waiting for us and before I knew it we were heading off to a country I knew nothing about. The first thing that hit me was the cold, I just wasn’t prepared for it. And of course it was a complete culture shock, I suddenly felt very alone. But then I started to meet people and these people would teach me new words, new customs, a new way of life and these people became friends. And life carried on.
What are your earliest memories of music as a child?
Although I was hearing all of the artists who were pouring out of America and England at the time, I had a very Catholic education as regards music and I loved everything my father played which was a like a Caribbean version of jazz. But then of course we discovered your father’s voice on the radio and music changed for me forever.
I know you were a huge fan, how did your love affair with Chuck Berry begin?
I now know Chuck Berry was the closest thing to god we ever had, but I just didn’t know it for a while back then! Here was a man helping push the creative juices for The Beatles and The Rolling Stones whilst all the time I was digging the likes of Thelonius Monk, Miles Davis and Coleman Hawkins – these were my gods. Sure I had heard whispers about Berry and so when a friend invited me along to a gig in London, I went along really intrigued. We were the only two black guys in the place as everyone were rockers, well no there was a third but he was an usher! But what a phenomenal night. Warming up for Chuck was Carl Perkins who just tore the place apart. I said to my friend, ‘there is no way anyone can follow that performance, people will throw stuff at him!” And then Chick came on. He didn’t do too much, just wandered on stage dragging his guitar. “Hello England” was all it took for me. Those two words have never left my memory. Suddenly it was Carl Perkins who? Chuck Berry became my leader in an instant. I wanted to have this effect on people, his music was like nothing else. We were both screaming like girls so much that at school the next day we had no voices. Now come on, I can understand girls screaming for The Beatles, but heavy rockers with chains going mad for a male singer? It was quite simply an epiphany.
Your first No.1 hit was via your group The Equals in 1968 with the self penned song Baby Come Back. However a collapsed lung and heart infection at the exceptionally young age of 23 led to the departure of the group seeing you return to Guyana to recuperate. What was that time like for you being so young, did you think your time in the music industry was over?
I really thought my time on planet earth was over, never mind my career. And the worst thing was I had no plan b so it was a shattering time for me. If you would have told me on that day that I needn’t have worried as I was going to have a successful life, I would have kicked you in the balls and laughed. It was a very serious time for me that lasted a long time. Nobody knows their destiny in life, that’s why I have always believed you must treat everyone well. If I see someone in the street asking for money, I give them a coin and don’t ask questions.
You are joining the new internet radio station United DJs which launches in March with the likes of Tony Prince, Mike Read and Emperor Rosko – all legends from their pioneering times at Radio Luxembourg, Radio Caroline and Radio 1. How did your career first break onto the radio airwaves…?
To be honest, Radio Caroline made me. The Equals couldn’t get played on the BBC and if we did it was by sheer chance. I knew someone who owned the powers that be at Caroline and after a conversation people were finally able to hear our music. So it’s amazing to be hooking up with these guys again.
And finally, tell us about your new Eddy Grant’s Ringbang Time show on United DJs, what can we expect?
I’m going to be playing a lot of music you haven’t heard before including a lot that I have been responsible for. The musical basis of the show will come from the roots of soca, ringbang, calypso and also reggaeton, the music that I was making in the 80s and 90s that the is now called grime in the UK. All of the above and a lot more. Come and listen, it’s going to be a beautiful journey…
United DJs launches April 2nd at 7am GMT. For full schedule check out…