by Terry Joseph
Not many calypsonians choose to ride horses down the Capital City’s main street, stage one-man protests for greater airplay, climb statues, swing on ropes from the top of the Grand Stand or include a monkey as part of song promotion; but then no other calypsonian is quite like Crazy.
Dubbed The Loveable Lunatic early in his career by radio presenter Dave Elcock, Crazy has lived up to both aspects of the moniker. This year, he chalks up his 30season as a calypsonian, an achievement rendered all the more significant by reflection on his beginnings.
Originally known by the sobriquet Wong Ping and later The Mighty Arawak, Crazy turned professional in 1972 after a short career as a motor mechanic with Mc Enearney’s. Rejected by calypso tent managers and producers at home and abroad, Crazy begged Syl Taylor to let him sing at the Original Young Brigade, even if it meant no pay for his efforts.
Taylor, who knew him as a chorus singer, not only agreed to put Crazy on the cast but paid him well. He immediately grabbed his audience with The Electrician, a double-entendre piece that tickled the more astute. Still he could get no backer for a recording and founded the Crazy label.
Born Edwin Ayoung in Maraval Road, Port of Spain, of a Venezuelan mother and father of Chinese heritage, Crazy has enjoyed a fulfilling and lucrative career. His offstage persona is perennially jovial, but when the lights go up and histrionics become part of his presentation, the fun emanates from a different quarter.
Sadly underrated at home, Crazy enjoys extraordinary demand for his hefty repertoire on the international stage. Based in Los Angeles, California, he frequently performs across the Caribbean and the US and has a huge following in several European countries, including Sweden, Germany, France, Austria, England and Italy.
His contribution to the calypso art-form is invaluable, having invented Parangsoca, a hybrid that subsequently made fortunes for the likes of colleagues Scrunter and Baron. He also played a major role in the promulgation of chutney-soca. Interestingly, when he went to New York in 1978 and sang Parangsoca, the song was roundly rejected as rubbish. I didn’t take them on, he said calmly. I knew we were on to something and I stayed with it and look where it is today!
Crazy, 57, harbours a quiet boldness under his seemingly genteel externals. One otherwise normal Friday evening during the 1974 Carnival season, he went to offer a box of his self-produced albums to record store proprietor Hilton Rhyner. When he left, not only was the entire consignment sold out, but a new event on the Carnival calendar was born.
As the disc began playing, Crazy jumped atop the counter and began singing his songs. Curious spectators gathered and soon became customers. He then moved to the sidewalk and continued singing until there was not a copy of the album left in the box.
We thought he was really crazy at first, says Diana Rhyner, who inherited the store from her father, but after seeing his success, it inspired us to follow his lead and that is precisely how Rhyner’s annual soca jam came about.
Offstage, Crazy is philosophical about risk taking. When I went to the inaugural Jamaica Carnival in 1991, everybody expected me to be booed for singing ‘The Electrician’, since it was a slow song and all the other performers were doing jump-up music. I sang my song confident and got three encores from the 30,000 Jamaicans in the arena. If you’re going to do something new you have to understand the risk and if you take it, do it with confidence, he said.
Among the larger risks of his career was a heavy investment in a stable of calypsonians whose works he felt might have remained unrecorded without his intervention. During the nineties I spent hundreds of thousands of dollars producing records for calypsonians, 20 in all, because I felt the work was important and couldn’t be left without any form of record, he said.
Known as The Soca Posse, that group included artistes from neighbouring islands like Grenada’s Rassman and St Vincent’s Ras Mickey, plus locals Delamo, Luta, Leon Coldero, All Rounder, M’ba, Santa and Brother Marvin’s blockbuster Jahaaji Bhai.
A veteran of national calypso monarch finals, Crazy made his debut on the big stage in 1978, after a successful season with Dustbin Cover and Listen Joffre Serrette, but had to settle for second place after Calypso Rose made history by being the first woman to win the coveted prize.
Upon being selected for the 1979 final, he used part of his gains from his best-selling Super Album in another demonstration of magnanimity, throwing $10,000 into the calypso monarch purse on condition that Sparrow and Kitchener, would return to the competition.
Crazy copped the national road march title once (1985) with Suck Me, Soucouyant, a ribald song that was enjoyed mere weeks after a visit by the Pope. In the road march race he placed second on eight occasions, providing some unforgettable jams along the way.
Calypso also took him to the theatre stage. In 1980 he appeared in Trinidad All Theatre Productions’ Cinderama and in the following year Snokone and the Seven Dwens. The 1982 production Jouvert took him on tour to England, France, Switzerland, Berlin and Italy, where he starred as Chief Crazy without a horse, in a cast that included Relator, Bro Superior, Paul Keens-Douglas and the Samaroo Jets.
Like all top-drawer performers, Crazy has also had his share of embarrasing moments. For the 1983 calypso final, he had rehearsed Soca Tarzan with a monkey as his prop. I forgot about training the monkey to handle excitement, so when I swung down to the stage from a rope, the crowd noise made the monkey panic and it fled, leaving me without a major part of my act.
In 1989, onstage Carnival Tuesday singing Nani Wine, he attempted to climb atop a passing music truck and ripped the crotch of his pants, not recognising the sideshow this offered in the absence of underwear.
But some of those very antics have endeared him to audiences worldwide. Ten years before the 1989 fiasco, he climbed atop a statue of Lord Nelson in Bridgetown Barbados, drawing a crowd of thousands and turning his show that night at the Merry Men’s Pepper Pot Club into an instant sell-out.
These 30 years have been very good to me, Crazy said. I have gone to extremes both onstage and in life and come back again. I have endured a few horrors, but it has mostly been a success story. I thank God for that and I thank those who had faith in me, those who knew that the antics was just my humble way of promoting my music and looking back, I would have to say it worked every time.
Crazy’s Carnival 2002 CD release Masquerade is already in music stores and he is booked to appear nightly at the Calypso Revue.