Music legend Eddy Grant talks about making Killer On The Rampage, tasting success in The Equals, and his Caribbean heritage.  

Blessings often come in disguise. An event that may initially seem catastrophic and turn your life upside down can bring about a transformation that is ultimately beneficial and positive. That’s what happened to Eddy Grant back in 1982. The Caribbean-born singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist – who began his career in the ‘60s hit-making pop band The Equals before embarking on a successful solo career – decided to leave London, where he had lived since he was twelve, to set up home 4,200 miles away in Saint Philip, Barbados. He left behind his wife and children, who were set to join him on the island at a later date, while he renovated an old, historic house and completed a state-of-the-art recording studio. Besides his clothes and some personal effects, his baggage also contained cassette tapes of new songs he had been working on for the much-anticipated follow-up album to 1981’s Can’t Get Enough, which featured the UK Top 10 hit single, ‘Do You Feel My Love.’ 

Eddy had been feeling optimistic and excited about making a fresh start away from England and reconnecting with his Caribbean roots but on immediately touching down in Barbados, he discovered that British Airways was unable to locate his bags. His luggage had mysteriously disappeared en route. Not only had he lost the songs he’d been working on but also some priceless family photographs. It felt like his darkest day. And when the airline offered him $400 in compensation, it felt like an insult. He refused their money.  

“I was in a bit of a quandary,” says Eddy, now able to laugh at what was then a desperate and difficult situation. To make matters worse, RCA, the major record label responsible for licensing, marketing, and distributing Eddy’s music, seemed wholly unsympathetic to his plight. “They were giving me some problems because they thought that I had just scarpered with their money,” he laughs.  

Though his stress bucket was full to the point of overflowing, Eddy refused to buckle and rose to face the numerous challenges he faced. “There was so much going on and all kinds of issues,” he explains. “Building work with lots and lots of people doing work, and, of course, creating the songs. So I was engaged in every aspect of what was happening.”  

Once the studio was up and running – it was baptised Blue Wave and quickly earned international renown – Eddy spent virtually all his time there. The creative process was made more complicated by the fact that as well as having to start a new album from scratch – he decided against recreating the music that had been lost on the cassette tapes – Eddy also had another artist he was contracted to produce: Boney M’s Marcia Barrett. 

“She was going through the turmoil that other bands go through and was looking to make a solo debut record and chose me to produce it for her,” Eddy recalls. “So she was there with me as well in Barbados. She’s recording in the day, and I’m recording in the night. I was doing both sets of work so I wasn’t sleeping. Neither was Frank Agoratt, my engineer, who was working with me at the time.” 

But instead of feeling exhausted, Eddy was upbeat and energized. “It was a very exciting time,” he explains, “and a time for which I’m grateful because I know that I made something that was different … and it’s set me on a road of continued difference.” 

The music flowed from Eddy in a gushing fount of non-stop creativity, resulting in his biggest-selling LP, Killer On The Rampage, which is now reissued digitally for the first time. He remembers the creative process vividly. “The first song (I wrote) was ‘I Don’t Wanna Dance,’ the second song was ‘Electric Avenue’ and the third song was ‘War Party,’” he says, describing three tunes that were all different from one another. 

With its contrasting moods and juxtaposition of protest songs with romantic numbers, the highly eclectic Killer On The Rampage reflected Eddy’s many influences; from the reggae-powered ‘I Don’t Wanna Dance’ to the Grammy-nominated ‘Electric Avenue,’ which fused electro minimalism with new wave attitude. And then there was the urgent synth-driven R&B of ‘Funky Rock And Roll,’ the sizzling Afro-Cuban groove of ‘Latin Love Affair’ and the feel-good sunshiny pop of ‘Too Young To Fall.’  

“I’m a kind of a conundrum,” confesses Eddy, explaining the shape-shifting nature of his music and the way it distills and seamlessly assimilates elements from different genres. “It’s because I’ve come from a country that has many cultures. I’ve traveled through the world of music, having come out of classical music and traditional jazz, and then (blues singers) Chuck Berry, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters, and Howlin’ Wolf. And then (calypso singer) Mighty Sparrow. I’ve come from a very eclectic, musical background. And so it’s only right that all those things would be enmeshed in whatever it is that I’m trying to create at any time.” 

With its melting pot of influences, varied sonic ingredients, and assorted textures, the kaleidoscopic Killer On The Rampage gave Eddy his only chart-topping UK single in the shape of ‘I Don’t Wanna Dance.’ “I enjoyed the feeling of having a number one hit record in England the time before with (The Equals’) ‘Baby, Come Back,’ so it was quite a long time before I felt that feeling again,” explains Eddy. “‘I Don’t Wanna Dance’ was so perfect for the time. It did magnificent work for me around the world, apart from the United States of America, where the DJs and the people who played music just wouldn’t give it a chance. But I’m convinced that maybe this time (via the reissue of Killer On The Rampage) America will give ‘I Don’t Wanna Dance’ a chance and it will be a number one record there too.” 

The digital album comes with different artwork from the cover that graced the first UK vinyl pressing. The photo was taken during the same photo shoot at Barbados’ Bathsheba Beach, which Eddy describes as “a lovely place.” He adds: “The photographer Simon Fowler had seen this location and had me standing with my trainers in the ocean. I had to walk to that rock,” he laughs. “It was very surreal. If you look at the shot, it’s as though I was cut and pasted. People ask me, are you standing on that rock and how did you get there? I had to walk through the water to get there.”  

The replacement cover photo (pictured right) was only used in the US and Hong Kong. Eddy wasn’t enamoured with the UK cover picture (pictured left), which showed him from an angle that exaggerated his size. “(Comedian) Lenny Henry took the piss out of me so seriously, when it came out,” he laughs. “It became a part of his show. It showed me as being bigger and I was not really that big. The camera embellished it.” The alternate portrait is a vast improvement, I tell him; he looks leaner and hungrier, and there’s more intensity in how he looks into the camera. It’s like he means business. “I did mean business,” he retorts. “It was a matter of life and death. People were saying, ‘How could you, now that you’ve become so entrenched into the English music scene of the ‘80s, leave England for an uncertain music location like Barbados? I mean, Barbados is fine for a holiday and all of that, people said, but it’s not a music destination.”

Killer On The Rampage is noticeably late coming to digital platforms, which Eddy acknowledges, confessing that though he admires and embraces the digital revolution – “I spent the best part of 50 years hoping and praying for something like that,” he admits – the reason for the delay is that the streaming phenomenon is “enmeshed in all kinds of chicanery.” Companies like Spotify and Apple Music seem to hold all the cards and independent artists like him end up having to accept “a bad deal” just to have a presence in the digital marketplace. It led to a strong difference of opinions between Eddy and the digital companies and lengthy dialogues ensued but ultimately, Eddy felt, with some reluctance, that he had to compromise to please and serve his fans. “It put me on a trail of intransigence, if you like, which has ended now because I understand the position of my fans within the fight,” he says. “Now, I have to think positively for them. I can’t think about me and my peculiarities. So I contacted my daughter, who looks after my business, and I said, ‘Hey, we’ve got to join the bandwagon.’”

Killer On The Rampage took Eddy Grant back to the Caribbean but he wasn’t originally from Barbados. He was born 565 miles away in Plaisance (pronounced “Plez-ance”), a small settlement in Guyana on the northern coast of South America. “It’s the foundation of who I am with all its peculiarities and idiosyncrasies,” he says of a country that was a former Dutch and British colony and at one time was the second poorest nation in the world. The country’s economic prospects are much better now, thanks to its abundance of natural resources like gas and oil, but when Eddy first lived there, many dreamed of a better life elsewhere, like his father, Patrick, described by Eddy as “an ace trumpeter in one of the most famous bands in this country’s history (Nello and the Luckies).” 

Eddy’s father uprooted his family and took them to England in 1960. “To arrive in wintry England was like a body blow from Mike Tyson,” says Eddy, whose environment changed from warm, sunny weather and lots of natural space to a cold, damp, cramped concrete basement in Northwest London’s Kentish Town. “We had total freedom in Guyana,” he recalls. “As children, we were able to play in the rivers or the canals and climb trees, and then suddenly (in London), we were encased in a basement of dubious value. It was a massive, massive culture shock.” 

Immersed in music from a young age, Eddy had largely been brought up on a diet of Caribbean calypso music in Guyana, but in the UK he was exposed to other styles. His first attempts at playing music began with him attempting to blow notes on his dad’s trumpet, which led him to take lessons at school where he studied classical trumpet, although he was also attracted to Trad Jazz, which was all the rage in the UK during the early ‘60s. “I was more into the jazzers – Chris Barber, Humphrey Lyttleton, Kenny Ball, Monty Sunshine, and Acker Bilk,” Eddy reveals. Thanks to his father, he also got hip to the movers and shakers of the American modern jazz scene. “When my father’s friends would come around, I was hearing Miles Davis, Sonny Stitt, Coltrane, Jimmy Smith, and Shirley Scott. It was like heaven.”

But young Eddy didn’t see a place for him in that illustrious musical milieu. “There weren’t any kids playing trumpet,” he states. “Miles was so far away from me and where I was living, and what was happening. He was in a corner that was not popular. Nobody made a living from jazz, apart from Miles, I suppose. (In the UK) you couldn’t play jazz and survive so I really wanted to be a part of the pop scene. And to do that, I had to be playing guitar.”

Eddy asked his father for a guitar but was told: “You’re good at woodwork so make one.” As an incentive, his dad made a promise, which he kept: “If you make one, I’ll buy the amplifier and the pickups for you.” With help from his woodwork teacher, Eddy made a playable instrument. “It was beautiful,” gushes Eddy. “I spent a lot of time with it, every waking moment, just like I did with the trumpet, so I learned it very fast.”  

Armed with his custom-built axe, Eddy soon made friends with fellow guitar-toting teenagers from school. One night in 1964, his life would change forever. “I was invited to a jam session up in Highgate by a friend,” he says. It was held at drummer John Hall’s house filled with lots of budding musicians, both white and black. But for Eddy, there were far too many of them and to make matters worse, all they were doing was making a terrible noise. “I said, guys, ‘Let’s try and make music.’ So myself and John were responsible for stopping the noise and there being order.” 

The group was trimmed down to a quintet; three guitars, which was unusual, plus bass and drums. They needed a name, which an inspired John Hall came up with. Remembers Eddy: “I asked him, ‘What are we going to call ourselves?’ He said, ‘Why don’t we be The Equals?’ I said, ‘Why? Because it’s black people and white people?’ He said, ‘No, because each one will have a say.’ I thought that was marvelous for the time.” 

After impressing as a support act to visiting US performers, which included Bo Diddley and Solomon Burke, The Equals signed with producer Edward Kassner’s President Records in 1966. Their second single, ‘Hold Me Closer’ had as its B-side ‘Baby, Come Back,’ which in 1968, following some chart success in Europe, was reissued as an A-side and topped the UK pop charts. Remembers Eddy: “‘Baby, Come Back’ was one of the first songs that I can remember writing and I suppose like all the songs happened quite accidentally. I was still at school and living at home and had gone into the West End to Selmers to get my amplifier fixed. In those days, I had no money so I walked and ran a lot. At some point, on Anson Road, I started to jump, like hopscotch, from one square on the pavement to the next. So as I did that, I began humming this riff. When I got home, I realised there’s a song coming so, I put it together.”

The UK’s first major interracial group, The Equals racked up nine UK hit singles and two charting LPs between 1967 and 1970, but the wheels began to come off when the pioneering group was involved in a car crash on the way back from an awards ceremony in Germany. All five members were injured but Eddy suffered the most, being thrown out of the car onto a barbed-wire fence; although his injuries stopped him from touring with the band, he still wrote songs while recuperating. Then, to compound matters, in 1971, he suffered a heart attack. He was just 22. “Life throws you under the bus sometimes, so that you can crawl out the other side,” he says, reflecting on that traumatic period. But just as one door seemed to be closing, another one opened, or as Eddy put it: “When you come out on the other side, the sun is shining.” 

Given what life had thrown at him, Grant felt all at sea. His touring days looked over and in terms of his music career, he didn’t know where his next destination lay. “There was a degree of uncertainty as to where I would pitch my next tent,” he says. “Because I was not the lead singer in the band – that position was taken by Derv and Lincoln Gordon at various times – I didn’t know where I was going to end up or land.”   

But before he left The Equals, Eddy had already formed a record label called Torpedo in 1970, releasing several reggae singles by other artists. Although the imprint was short-lived, he moved into production two years later, establishing his own recording facility, Coach House Studios, at his Stamford Hill home. In 1975, he released his self-titled debut album – which saw him experiment with Soca and calypso music – and in 1977 his second LP Message Man (released on a new label he called Ice) found him blending reggae with provocative socio-political rhetoric. In 1979, Eddy scored his first UK solo hit single with ‘Living On The Front Line,’ from the album Walking On Sunshine, which also contained the anthemic title song, a funky dance floor groove revamped in 1982 by Rockers Revenge. Later in the ‘80s, he wrote and recorded the title song to the Hollywood movie, Romancing The Stone, cementing his place as an international megastar. 

Since his ‘80s heyday, Eddy Grant has continued to make music, his most recent album being 2017’s Plaisance, a homage to his birthplace in Guyana, the country he has now returned to live and which honoured him, its most famous son, by putting his image on its postage stamps and granting him a Lifetime Achievement Award.     

Though Eddy Grant’s back catalogue is stuffed with memorable musical gems, the undoubted pinnacle of his recorded output is the hit-laden Killer On The Rampage, which marked a defining moment in his storied career and was born in unusual – some might say exceptional – circumstances. 

“It was a diversion from so many things that I’d been comfortable with before,” says Eddy, reflecting on his 42-year-old magnum opus. “I had been comfortable being in England, having my own little studio in Stamford Hill, and fighting insurmountable odds: Socially, musically, and in terms of opportunity, and so on. All of those things went out the window when my baggage was lost. You just cannot imagine how naked I felt.”

He adds: “There was a certain doggedness involved in me making Killer On The Rampage. It required that because I was without a home, a place to rest, musically and geographically. There were all kinds of issues. So, it’s all there in the music. Killer On The Rampage was a total recharge and restart. It was a catapult to another level.”

Killer On The Rampage is available to stream and download now.