On the heels of the 40th anniversary of his breakthrough “Killer on the Rampage” album, Eddy Grant is being honored with an induction into the Camden Music Walk of Fame. Located on London’s Camden High Street, the Walk of Fame launched in 2019 with The Who as its first inductees. Also being added this year are Janis Joplin, Harvey Goldsmith CBE, UB40, Gordon Mac (founder of Kiss FM), Paul “Trouble” Anderson, The Sugarhill Gang, Buzzcocks, The Kinks, Shalamar and Billy Bragg.
Grant has had a highly prolific career spanning nearly six decades. Born in Guyana, Grant moved to London in 1960 and as a teenager formed the pioneering multi-racial pop/rock outfit The Equals. When he left that band, he strove to become completely self-sufficient as a solo artist. This entailed opening his own recording studio, launching a label, and even setting up his own record manufacturing facilities. When he relocated to Barbados in 1982, Grant set up the studio Blue Wave, whose other clients have included The Rolling Stones, Sting and Elvis Costello.
Though he was already well-established, Killer on the Rampage (1982) is the album Grant is best known for internationally. It contained the hits “I Don’t Wanna Dance” and “Electric Avenue,” with the latter given a push in America through extensive music video plays on the recently launched MTV.
Grant’s most recent album is 2017’s Plaisance, which is named after and dedicated to his hometown in Guyana. Over a Zoom interview, he discussed the Camden Music Walk of Fame, “Killer on the Rampage” and other topics.
Congratulations on being inducted into the Camden Music Walk of Fame. What are your thoughts on both the award itself and being a recipient this year?
Eddy Grant: Well, isn’t it always good to be appreciated? Listen, there are how many millions of musicians? Good ones and great ones and in-between ones. So when you look at the facts and the figures, one has to recognize that for someone to get that kind of award, it’s one in a god knows how many millions.
Do you have any thoughts about the group of recipients this year? Are there any others who you feel either a connection to or an appreciation of?
Eddy Grant: Well, I feel a certain affiliation to Ray Davies and The Kinks, by virtue of the fact that after the Kinks left [who would become] my managers, we joined. So, I came in on the coattails of Ray Davies as a writer and as a band. And the fact is that Ray’s band was set up in the same area that we were set up, which is the Muswell Hill sort of area.
With the 40th anniversary of Killer on the Rampage, could you share some thoughts looking back on it? Were there any specific goals or differences in the creative process, as opposed to your previous work? What was your mindset like when making that album?
Eddy Grant: My mindset at the time of Killer on the Rampage … there were a number of things. One is that it was the beginning of the digital era. People and companies, like Fairlight and Synclavier, were making attempts at creating instruments that would bring about a whole different way of recording. Of course, it didn’t happen [for me], but by then I was already into it. Kind of a waste of money and a certain waste of time, but giving you an interface to the future. And so therefore you can think, yeah, this has arrived so that I can do music in a certain way. I’d been looking for this certain way for years because horn players couldn’t keep time [with my music]. This sort of thinking was driving me towards digital technology and when it was actually brought to me, it was the time of Killer on the Rampage. Killer on the Rampage was not a digital recording. It was still very much into the analog, but with a sensibility as I’m making it that it is coming towards a new generation of music making.
Following up on that, as the technology has come a long way, how do you feel your views on digital tools have evolved over the years?
Eddy Grant: The use of digital technology, believe me, we have no idea where it is going to end up, and the degree of confusion that it will cause. But that’s been happening since the beginning of time. I appreciate every new instrument or new technology that’s brought to the game. And of course, I use everything with a certain kind of taste. In other words, you don’t blast your recording with it, you use it when it needs to be used. And other than that, you know, the world is not a digital world. The world is an analog world. We are to make it a digital world, but there are things that are not good in a digital world, for humanity as we know it. So, one has to go with one shield up and one sword up, you know?
So you’re able to negotiate whichever way it twists. If it comes to a war, well then you’ve got your shield and your sword. This is where we are at. We are at the final frontier of analog life, so to speak. But it doesn’t frighten me because I want to use it. I want to use it to the maximum, but within the context of my life and the way that I think, and the way that I reason. That mustn’t be altered, because that is me, and not until I die will it not be me.
Following up again on Killer on the Rampage, obviously, you had a long and successful career prior to that. But the early ‘80s were a pretty interesting time musically. Could you speak about your feelings on the overall music scene at the time and your place in it?
Eddy Grant: I’m in music and music is in me. I appreciate the best and the worst in everything. I can see good in bad, and I can see bad in super good. So when the eighties turned up … remember I had to go through the seventies. It was really a rough time, but fortunately, by the end of the seventies, I had already made a mark as a solo artist and changed the way that music was being made. That is for the historians to look at, but in fact, across the music spectrum, I had changed the way that music was being made and that songs were being written.
You have to remember that until quite late, there were no people writing songs of conscience. From the time of Woody Guthrie and Lead Belly and people like that, people who weren’t doing this. You know, Dylan had come along and was basically copying Woody and so on, and it hadn’t moved much further than that. John Lennon had come and he was making, ‘Give Peace a Chance,’ but I’d already made ‘Give Love a Try’ [with The Equals]. So I was in there with a group of people who were paying attention to what was happening in society. And I really saw no reason to change that mode of conduct. Because I thought that it would be good for us, good for people, good for the world, you know. I’m not trying to be grand, but that’s really how I thought. And the music industry wouldn’t allow me to think that way. And it wouldn’t allow me a way in having already come out from The Equals. If it hadn’t been for [Ensign Records founder] Nigel Grange, and our relationship as friends, and his admiration for the music that I make, I wouldn’t be here today.
So when I accept the award of a walk of fame or whatever it is, I have a lot of people to think about because they were shoulders for me to step upon to get over the wall. And so I continue, I don’t change my way of thinking. I don’t change my mode of writing. At the end of the day, you like it or you don’t like it. I mean, my brother asked me when I wrote ‘Gimme Hope Jo’anna,’ Ed, why, why? You know they’re not going to play it. Why? You’ve got so many other great songs that you could choose from. Why? And I said, quite simply, this is what I’ve been doing all along. Do you think I wrote “Living on the Front Line” because I was gonna get rich and successful? Not at all. It is what’s in me, and so therefore it comes out. It comes out, and I am quite prepared to not have a hit record when I make a record.
I often see people discussing not finding your music on streaming services. I understand how these services are not very artist-friendly, but I’m curious if you are concerned about potential audiences who only go on streaming services to find and discover music? Or are you concerned that they go on streaming services and all they find are cover versions of your songs? As an artist, what do you see as the pros and cons of that mindset?
Eddy Grant: You’ve got it 100% right. This is not something that I wanted to happen. I had [early] meetings with the guys from Apple, so I knew what would happen. I thought about how it would impact me, but not me alone. Remember, I represent a catalog of artists, old artists, and I couldn’t see how what these guys were telling me was going to make sense.
How was it gonna move me along with this parcel of old things that I’ve got? If I’m not careful, these guys will end up buying me, which is, of course, what they have ended up doing with all of the older artists and so on. They make them afraid, and then they have to chuck their hand in. But as I’ve explained to people, including the guys from Apple and so on, I don’t see my ownership of these things in the way that most people see ownership. I see it as custodianship, and whatever it is that is done in the long run has to win. Now, it’s like the guys who owned Chess Records. They were forced through whatever to sell Chess Records to the guys at All Platinum, who I know, the Robinson family. With all due respect to Joe Robinson and Sylvia, their setup wasn’t made for Chess Records. Chess records just happened to be something that they could afford, and they bought it, and it eventually got taken over by MCA, and it’s disappeared. And I just didn’t want that to happen on my watch.
But the actuality of what has happened is that I didn’t understand that what these guys were doing was setting up a whole new way to dispossess those who were the little guys, including artists and writers, to dispossess them of power within the music industry. Steve Jobs had the technology to convert warehouse loads of analog into pocketfuls of digital. And he had enough balls to say to them, ‘Well, you are going to rot if you don’t let me have it. And if you let me have it, you’ll get so many points or whatever it is.”
And he won. Then came Spotify, and Spotify did more or less the same thing, but again had no concern about the guys like me. And I’m saying, well, even if it’s 1000th of a percent of Spotify, give it to me, and you’ll have my stuff. Anyway, the long and the short of it is that I totally miscalculated, to be honest, their power. They came up with a concept to say, okay, we understand what Eddy Grant is saying, and there’s gonna be a lot of guys having websites and able to sell their music directly with PayPal. But what they did that was a master move is that all of them have these packages. Well, of course, I don’t have Led Zeppelin, and I don’t have The Beatles, and I don’t have this and that and that. They could put together thousands of tracks, which is like one big compilation, and you could pay 10 bucks a month and subscribe.
So I am on the outside now. I’m a little guy, and I’ve got eddygrant.com and icerecords.com. But I can’t offer you anything else but what I’ve got, which of course, if you are a fan, that’s what you want. But more importantly, my platform doesn’t join with theirs. So when my fans go to iTunes or Spotify, they can’t see me. I’m not in the trolley trail. They see a copy of me. They see somebody’s using it in some peculiar way. And so then, they come to me and they say, “Ed, this is what’s happening to you.” And then once I got to understand what it is that was happening to me and my company and so on, then I said to my kids and those who work with me, I said, “Okay, fine. Well, we’ll go in with them because there’s now no real alternative if I care about my fans.”
I also did a more in-depth interview with Eddy Grant in 2019, read it here.