Chin Music

How one little record shop climbed to the top of the reggae world

"Randy's was the place," remembers Lloyd Campbell. "Studio 17, we used to call it. That's where everything used to happen at the time." Campbell grew up in Kingston with the Chin family and lives today in Pembroke Pines. He works in VP's Miramar office, where he oversees his own small label, Joe Frazier.

It's difficult to overstate the importance Randy's small empire held in early 1970s Kingston. The main downtown bus stop for travelers arriving from out of town, a bustling nerve center called Idler's Rest, was next door to Randy's. Producers would show up as early as 8:00 a.m. to find session musicians kicking it on the street corner, and hire them to record tracks upstairs. "Everything that happened in the music business, bad and good, happened there," recalls Miss Pat, who had emerged as the store's -- and Randy Chin's -- primary fixture. "It was a very popular spot, every day there would be Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Gregory Isaacs, Dennis Brown ..."

"Oh, we're talking, like, the Skatalites, the Maytals, Ken Boothe, Lord Creator -- a host of artists coming in and out of the store," continues Clive Chin. Saxmen Tommy McCook and Roland Alphonso, trumpeter Johnny Moore, and trombonist Rico Rodriguez were among Studio 17's best-known session men. When they joined the legendary Skatalites, Vincent gladly became the producer. He performed similar functions for Ken Boothe, John Holt, and the Maytals trio (before their affiliation with "Toots" Hibbert).

It was a productive time. Niney the Observer recorded singer Dennis Brown there, Bunny Lee taped Delroy Wilson, and Lee "Scratch" Perry cut some of his earliest sessions with Bob Marley and the Wailers. By the early 1970s, engineer Erroll "ET" Thompson had added more modernized equipment to the studio, Clive became the de facto producer-on-premises, and the house band (called "Randy's All-Stars") included Wailers bassist Aston "Familyman" Barrett, Wailers keyboardist Tyrone Downie, drummer Sly Dunbar, and another young keyboardist named Horace Swaby, better known as Augustus Pablo.

Son Clive spent little time in the retail store, instead gravitating to the studio, where he learned to run the boards alongside the few other engineers of that era. "I grow up in the business, y'know," he says. "I got out of school in the early '70s and went straight into my father's business establishment." Soon it was Clive who was running the show upstairs at Randy's.

But by the late 1970s, once Kingston's large, ultramodern Studio One opened up, Randy's upstairs room saw less and less business. Bob Marley was becoming an international success, putting Jamaica in the spotlight, but Randy's wasn't responsible for much of his music.


Although Studio 17 had waned in influence, Patricia and Vincent were increasingly busy downstairs with Randy's Record Mart, which was constantly thriving and thrumming with foot traffic as well as steady global mail-order business. Along with their three young children, Christopher, Vincent "Randy" Jr., and Angela, the Chins made the store a second home, remembers Lloyd Campbell. "In those days, anywhere in the world that wanted a reggae record, you had to send off to Jamaica to order your records from Randy's!"

Unfortunately in 1977, Michael Manley's electoral victory spooked businesspeople all over the island, who already feared his socialist leanings and cozy relationship with Cuba. "It wasn't that we didn't like the country," explains Clive. "My heart and soul was in the music business there, I knew I was playing a major role, and I felt betrayed that I had to leave at such a precious time."

But in 1978 the Chins left for Queens. By the next year, the studio and record store in Kingston, unable to survive without the family's presence, both shut their doors. But Jamaica -- the one in Queens -- soon emerged as a reggae hub in its own right. Favoring the tactic of using their first initials, Vincent and Patricia brought Randy's Records to New York as VP Records.

VP's first store rented for $375 a month, Clive remembers, at 170-03A Jamaica Ave. "Print that," he insists. "Me run that for eight years." After that, he took a break from the record industry and got into catering and Caribbean food. In the meantime, Angela and Miss Pat had moved the retail store into a bigger location while Vincent, Randy, and Christopher turned their attention toward VP, the label. After licensing their past recordings for U.S. distribution, VP Records officially launched in 1993. "It was tough when we came here," recalls Miss Pat. "People didn't know much more than Bob Marley. But Clive was into the older type of recordings and Chris took on the newer."

Sensing that the dancehall sensation taking place back on the island would translate well to hip-hop aficionados in the States, VP began signing Jamaican dancehall artists in earnest: Beenie Man, Shaggy, Sizzla, Capleton, and Buju Banton all recorded for VP under Chris and Randy's supervision.

By then Vincent had less and less to do with the day-to-day operation of the label. He'd never developed a taste for dancehall. When he decided it was time to retire, he selected South Florida. It was close enough to Jamaica to make returning to see relatives simple, and besides, none of the Chins had ever gotten used to New York winters. When Vincent and Miss Pat resettled in Pembroke Pines around 1997, Howard and Angela headed south as well and opened their own branch of VP in Miramar.

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