Les Grammacks:The band that took the world by storm
By THOMSON FONTAINE Sunday March 21, 2010
It is a hot summer day in 1970 and the twenty-eight members of the Adonis Sports Club of St Joseph, under the direction of Caleb Laurent, are busy completing preparations for a fundraising dance that night.
Excitement is running high through the village as the members look forward with great expectations to hear the band ‘Boys and Them” coming from Roseau.
They also know that the band will draw a huge crowd, so that entire afternoon they busy themselves with preparing drinks, food and other items for sale.
Their excitement would soon turn to dismay. That night they would wait in vain as the band failed to show up. The following morning, the youthful members, would go through the village selling their excess drinks and chicken wings from the previous night.
They also vowed there and then to form their own band so that they would not have to rely on a Roseau band in the future.
The most talented sports players in the Club were selected to begin practicing to form the band. There was a problem though. They had no instruments, but that would not stop them.
Anthony ‘Curvin’ Serrant was tapped to play the lead guitar; Anthony “Tetam” George would play the bass guitar; Elon “Bolo” Rodney would fill in on the drums, Alickson JnoBaptiste as lead singer, and Mc Donald “McKie” Prosper would do the honors on the keyboards.
They were soon joined by Georges “Soul” Thomas on guitar. Clement Fereira would serve as their manager.
In time, the group invited Jeff Joseph to join them as singer after the members noticed his singing talent when he performed the song ‘Sunday Island’ at a local competition. JnoBaptiste would eventually give way to Jeff Joseph.
The band soon hit upon the name Gramacks, which represented their high schools; Tipam and Curvin from the St Mary’s Academy and Bolo, Mackie, Georges and Jeff from the Dominica Grammar School.
For several weeks they would faithfully meet for practice with ‘Bolo” using a desk as his drums, and without any instruments of note. They however got lucky.
Curvin’s elder brother was in the Echoes band, which had long since disbanded as the members migrated. However, the amplifiers were still at his house so he was able to bring those to the band.
Gramacks soon began making a name for itself and very soon they were being invited into Roseau to be the opening act for bands like the Gaylords Power Union and Swinging Stars.
The band members were also soaking up the music that appeared to be all around them. According to Bolo, “I would stay up all night watching the bands play.”
Their big break on the local scene came in the summer of 1972 when they performed at the Harlem Festival in Newtown. The musical extravaganza featured bands from all over the Caribbean, but Gramacks clearly stole the show.
Bolo recalls the rapturous reception they received when they stepped on the stage decked out in their white uniforms complete with their ‘belle bottom pants’ and huge ‘afro’ hairdos.
In the meantime the band took out a loan from a local businessman to buy instruments but despite playing all over the island they were having difficulty repaying the loan.
At that point, Jeff was dispatched to Guadeloupe to explore opportunities for the band to perform in that island.
Already, Gordon Henderson’s Exile One Band and Liquid Eyes were well entrenched on that island and making a name for themselves with the ever evolving Cadence music. Jeff was in luck.
He successfully negotiated for his band and in short order the Gramacks band was making the short trip to the neighboring French island on April 4, 1974.
Within a few months of arriving in Guadeloupe, they pressed their first ‘45” the timeless ‘Soukouyant’ and ‘Soliel Tous Chaud’, which both became instant hits throughout the Caribbean, but the best was yet to come.
Over the next two years the group would tour endlessly between Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guinea and from time to time Paris. It was at one such performance in French Guinea that a huge fight broke out during one of their live performances.
That disturbance planted the seed for ‘Wooy Mis Debas’ (Look Trouble)’, which would launch the band into international stardom. ‘Wooy Mis Debas’ was originally recorded in France in 1976, but upon their return to Martinique, the ‘3A’ studio with which they had previously worked and engineer Robert Denny re-recorded ‘Wooy Mi Debas”.
‘Wooy Mis Debas’ took the Caribbean and France by storm and opened the way for the group to begin an extensive tour of Europe. In Paris, a local radio program called ‘Bananas’, which played largely Caribbean music gave the song extensive air play and before long it was the biggest hit in Paris.
The success of ‘Wooy Mis Debas’ did not go unnoticed, and before long a French television station worked a deal with organizers of the 1977 Tour de France to allow the band to perform during the world’s biggest bicycle competition.
Gramacks decided to perform ‘Wooy Mis Debas’ and another song in 25 cities over a period of 30 days. Bolo recalls fondly their introduction throughout the tour: “Ladies and gentlemen we call upon the Gramacks from Dominica in the Caribbean Sea situated between the two French islands…”
By that time the band had expanded to include a gifted horn player from Trinidad by the name of Bill Thomas. Bill added a great touch to the music and also went on to recruit another Trinidadian Gaby, to play the saxophone.
According to Bolo, the band saw the need to include horns because “all of the top bands from Haiti playing in the French islands at the time had horns.”
At the time Bill was playing for a local group called the V-Kings when he decided to join the Gramacks. Interestingly, several members of the V-Kings would later go on to join the Kassav band.
A key member of the current Kassav Band, lead singer Jocelyne Beroard sang backup vocals for the Grammacks while they were in Paris, and before joining Kassav.
Bill, for his part would later leave to form his own band, the Bill-O-Men with Lynford John as lead singer.
In 1977, Gramacks recorded the albums ‘Paroles en Bouche Pas Maitre’ and ‘International’ to add to ‘En Quimber’ recorded a year earlier.
For the remainder of 1977 they would continue their exhaustive tour of various European cities, and North America.
A year later the group returned triumphantly to Dominica, along with Exile One, to participate in the country’s attainment of independence. In that same year they released ‘Speciale Frere Soul’ and African Connection.
In February of 1979 they were once again on the international stage performing in Miami at the half time show of Super Bowl XIII in the showdown between Pittsburg Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys.
The group performed ‘En Nous Meme en Meme’ and ‘Tete en Tete’. Later that year the band would go on to record ‘Roule! Roule!’.
Between 1980 and 1982 the band would settle in Paris, releasing Politik Anthology in 1981. Their final album ‘Roots Caribbean Rock (1984)’ was released, and already there were signs that the original group was having difficulty staying together. In 1978 , Anthony ‘Curvin’ Serrant had left and he was replaced by his brother Bobby.
Gramacks would continue in some form in the intervening years with Jeff Joseph and Grammacks New Generation releasing ‘Make You Dance (1991)’, ‘Les Grammacks 1974-1976 (1993)’, ‘Grammacks New Generation Live (1998)’, Very Best of Grammacks and Jeff Joseph (2000)’, ‘Just Do It (2000)’, ‘Grammacks Live New Generation(2001) ’ and ‘the Best of Grammacks’ (2002)’.
In 2009, all the original band members with the exception of Jeff Joseph came together to release the album ‘Get Up’, with Lynford John as lead singer and musician Harry ‘Mo’ Moise. The band continues to remain in touch and is confident of releasing more works in the future.
You can purchase a copy of the latest Grammacks CD 'GET UP' by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Special thanks to Elon ‘Bolo’ Rodney who assisted me tremendously in providing the background information on the band. Bolo will be my special guest on Scrapbook on Saturday March 27, 2010 at 5 : P.M.