Dave Martins – the story behind “Not A Blade of Grass”

Tradewinds – Dave Martins -“Not a blade of grass & Is we Own”

Dave Martins – the story behind “Not A Blade of Grass”

NOT A BLADE O’ GRASS

There are all sorts of strange tales about my song Not A Blade O’ Grass.
Some I’ve heard second-hand, but some folks, believe it or not, have
actually come to me directly to categorically assert that they know
exactly how the song came about.  A couple times, I’ve been told, “Burnham
pay yuh to write dat song.”  One fellow, fully blocked, told me that Mr.
Burnham had even suggested some of the words.  In fact, while Brother
Forbes certainly used the song for his own ends, he had nothing whatsoever
to do with its creation.  For that, you have to go to the late Pat Cameron.

Here’s the story, unabridged:               

Tradewinds were in Guyana on tour in the ‘70s while the Venezuela border
row was brewing. I had done a long interview with Pat at the radio station
in High Street; chatting off the air afterwards, she said to me, “Dave,
Guyanese follow your music; you should write something about this
Venezuela story, man.” I said to Pat, “Girl, I don’t write those kinds of
head-on songs, and this is a delicate subject. Somebody else should do
it.” But Pat Cameron was a persistent lady.  She followed me out to the
car continuing to make her case, so I drove off with her notion in mind.
On the way back to the hotel, I was thinking about the border issue and
its impact on Guyana, and for some odd reason my mind ran to a famous
speech by one of the Indian chiefs resisting the white man’s invasion of
the American west. The Indian spoke about his people’s love for their
land; that they would not give up one river, not one buffalo, not one
valley, not even one blade of grass.  In a flash, it hit me; that was the
way to write the border song – it should talk about Guyanese love for
Guyana and not mention Venezuela at all.

I got back to the Pegasus, borrowed an acoustic guitar from Bobby Hunter,
locked myself in the hotel room, and shut off the phone.  Some songs can
take weeks or months to write; I wrote Blade O’ Grass in about an hour.
That’s the first interesting aspect; I had not written a song that fast
before, and I haven’t since.  The other aspect is that I didn’t fully
grasp the reach of what I had written.  I knew it was a concise piece, and
it was emotional, but those ingredients don’t always result in a great
work, so I left Guyana pleased with the song but with no inkling of what
was to follow.

Back in Toronto, with Pat Cameron’s premise in mind, we went into the
studio and recorded the song, as a single.  In addition to the Tradewinds
guys, I got my daughter Luana to do the flute part and we played the song
with a slow drum beat.  Remember that we were a Caribbean band playing
mostly win’ down music, but it just felt right to do it at that slow
tempo. I pressed a few copies, 45rpm recording – remember those? – and
sent them off to Freddie Abdool, our man in Guyana .

If you’re a Guyanese, you know the rest.  The song took off like a
savannah fire. At one point, it was the first song played on the radio
station every day, and people began referring to it as “Guyana’s second
anthem”.  Like any successful song, Blade O’ Grass had gone straight to
the heart of something Guyanese felt; it was a song they could sing and
not offend; it became a craze. Two weeks after it was out, I got a call
from the Guyanese Consul in Toronto (Vic Persaud, if I recall) saying that
the Mr. Burnham wanted to buy 100 copies of the song, and I of course
agreed to provide them at cost. I should check on this part of the story
some time, but I never got to know precisely how the Kabaka distributed
the recordings.  I do know that when we came to Guyana around Mash, again
on tour, he invited the band to the Culture Centre for a private session
in the meeting room upstairs. In our chat, he told me he loved the song –
his favourite line was “not one cuirass” – and at one point he turned to
Viola and suggested she “make some curry for the boys”, but that’s another
story for another time.

When you write a song, as I mentioned recently with Hooper and
Chanderpaul, most of the time you never know where it’s going to go.
Blade O’ Grass immediately went to a special place and in a special way,
and it has become a song for Guyanese like no other. Thirty-plus years
after it came out, Guyanese know the words and even the arrangement – they
will “lala” the introductory flute lines and they will stand up and sing
the chorus word for word.  Many times when we perform it, I move the band
away from the mike and let the crowd sing the chorus; it’s their song in
their language about their place, and they own it.

They will sing some of my other songs – Cricket in the Jungle;
Honeymooning Couple; You Can’t Get; Boyhood Days; etc. – but not like
Blade. That one they stand together, arms around each other, and send it
up like an anthem. To see a crowd of people, sometimes far from their
homeland, in that state from a song, is a very special experience.  Almost
every time it happens it gives me goose bumps; a couple times it has
brought water to mi eye.

A final piece: when the song was raging, on one of our trips here, the
Government asked Tradewinds to play at the Square where Philip Moore’s
wonderful Cuffy monument stands. The song was like gasolene and match with
the crowd – you only had to play the intro line and they were off – so
there was this eruption when we started it, and there were thousands
ringing the stage, many of them singing with us.  It was live on radio; it
was euphoric. As we got to the second verse – “We love the open country of
the Rupununi…” – I spotted a kinky-haired youngster in front, about 10
years old or so, singing his heart out with us, so I pulled him up on
stage, lowered the microphone and got him singing the chorus by himself.
When he got to the end he sang, “Not one cuirass; we guh bus’ dey ass.”
There was an enormous explosion from the crowd; they must have heard the
roar all by Bourda. People were jumping up; a few were literally rolling
on the ground.

So to Pat Cameron, “Whatever part of Heaven you are, take a bow – you had
a hand in this.”

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Comments

  • DMITRI ALLICOCK  On August 3, 2012 at 1:02 am

    What a great story and song. Dave Martin and Pat Cameron, two of the best children produced by our dear land of Guyana.

  • Rosaliene Bacchus  On August 3, 2012 at 1:37 am

    Dave Martin, thanks for sharing the history behind “Not a Blade ‘o Grass.” I remember how it rallied us as a young nation under attack from Venezuela. Great song!

  • Deen  On August 3, 2012 at 2:14 am

    Dave Martin is not only a great Guyanese singer, songwriter and musician, but obviously an artful storyteller. He is blessed with such talents and it’s wonderful that he shares them with us. Thanks Dave Martin.

  • travelconnexxionsClaude Ho  On August 3, 2012 at 3:00 am

    Dave Martin you’re a true Son Of Guyana. Long may you live and continue making relevant music.

  • Bikurguy  On August 3, 2012 at 4:01 am

    What a great story!! Thanks Dave for a great song, but mostly for a great career. Wiishes for much more success.

  • needybad4u - Leonard Dabydeen  On August 3, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    Some things leave an indelible mark in our lives. Dave Martin’s NOT A BLADE OF GRASS is one such thing – a Guyanese song we will always cherish and sing.

  • Kamala Persaud Gupta  On August 4, 2012 at 9:03 pm

    Great Guyanese like you will live on forever, keep it up, since you’ve given so much happiness to us, may your life be eternally happy. xxxxxoooo

  • towa towa  On August 5, 2012 at 2:53 am

    Thanks Dave:: You’re de MAN.

  • Gail Cameron langevine  On August 5, 2012 at 1:08 pm

    Thank-you for sharing the story behind the song and for honoring my mom! I had no idea, and if she knew she would not have said . Thank you!

  • Ron. Persaud  On August 5, 2012 at 6:51 pm

    I attended a show at the Cultural Center. The MC was Ken Corsbie (I think). The national anthem signaled the start of the program and there was a lukewarm stir as about half of the audience stood up in a half hearted response. As we sat down, the MC chided us and announced that we would just have to start over.
    As the opening chord was struck, everyone sprang to stiff attention and listened to…. Dave Martin’s “Not a blade of grass”!
    My opinion is that we Guyanese do not like to laugh at ourselves nor do we take kindly to being the butt of practical jokes; but that night everyone, including Mr. Desmond Hoyte had a hearty laugh at our own expense.

  • perreira12@gmail.com  On August 6, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    What a song, and I still get “goose bumps” when ever I hear it play. This song came at a critical time in our Nation’s history, when as a people we all needed to show our solidarity to our country and not be bullied by Venezuela’s expansionism. It was the right thing to stand with our President as a united force and I applaud the late Auntie Pat (Pat Cameron) for her loyality to country.

    Regrettability, Venezuela’s claim to a large part of western Essequibo, is still at a stalemate because of its refusual to accept the Arbitrial Award of October 3, 1899, which settled the disputed boundry claim between the two countries.

    Burnham stood up to Venezuela and I hope this government do not allow itself to be bullied by Chavez.

  • Gerry  On June 10, 2015 at 5:52 am

    Once again Venezuela is throwing a tantrum. Maduro has even drawn a new map, making us a landlocked nation. Again we shout, not one curass, not a blade of grass.

    • Dmitri Allicock  On June 10, 2015 at 8:48 pm

      NOT ONE BLUE SAKI!
      My Guyana such a sweet name
      Venezuela! You have no claim!
      Now redrawing the sea dispute
      Venezuela! You are such a brute!
      Take your paws off Guyana’s oil!
      Tension soaring & our blood boils
      Not one blue saki or one rice grain
      Communist Maduro, you’re insane
      Destroying own people with repression
      Expanding cancer and naked aggression!

  • mike  On June 10, 2015 at 2:26 pm

    Greed Greed nothing but greed and deep,nationalism. Go Dave you de man

  • linafree  On June 11, 2015 at 10:37 am

    Reblogged this on freedombyanymeans and commented:
    not a blade o grass!

  • Oliver. Williams  On June 15, 2015 at 4:28 pm

    Well done. This is a true account of Guyana through the Trade Winds era

  • de castro  On July 6, 2015 at 2:48 am

    Nationalism is a cultural exposition not a political footstool.
    Sing on david ….would love to hear a rendition of “song of freedom”
    Freedom of the hearts minds and souls in Guyanese language.

    Please please sir david make it happen.

    Kamtan

  • Bella de clou  On September 13, 2015 at 1:03 pm

    Hi Dave,
    It gives me great pleasure, to let you know that I consider “Not one blade of grass ” a beautiful song, it tells a story of courage and determination. I was born in the Pomeroon and very proud of my heritage and culture, you have given the Guyanese people especially the people of Pomeroon something to be proud of. I must admit I listen to all of your songs and they fill my heart with joy and excitement. You are a great singer and songwriter. I salute you Sir David keep up the good work
    Good Bless.
    Bella De Clou

  • Bella de clou  On September 13, 2015 at 1:29 pm

    Hi Dmitri,
    How are you today,
    Once again I am fill with courage and hope, you never fail
    To show how much you love what you do. Every poem you write is so vibrant and full of beauty. You are someone, I admire and respect. I agree with you”Not one blue Saki”
    God Bless,,,..Bella de clou

    • Tony da costa  On September 13, 2015 at 7:02 pm

      Hi Bella, Tony is my name and I also am from Pomeroon and I also enjoy the songs done by Dave for they remind me of home.

  • de castro  On September 14, 2015 at 3:40 am

    Ironical that every time V claims flare up “not a blade of grass” popularity
    is revived.
    Maybe it should replace the national anthem.

  • belladeclou9bella  On October 16, 2015 at 1:30 pm

    Hi Toney
    Nice meeting you here, what a small world
    I am from jacklow pomeroon.
    I left the pomeroon as a teenager.
    My family is the Bairds and Gonsalves
    I am living in Toronto Canada.
    Thanks for reaching out to me
    I do appreciate it,
    My email belladeclou9@gmail.com
    Thanks Bella

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