If you would make an attempt at telling the story in some format of Jamaican music in its initial stage, you wouldn't pass without mentioning a place called Randy's; founded by a local entrepreneur named Vincent Chin, Randy's was a studio, a distribution outfit and a popular record store situated at North Parade in Kingston, simply THE center of musical creativity in the music's most vital period from the late sixties to the mid seventies. It was here Lee Perry recorded the famous 'Soul Rebels' and 'Soul Revolution' albums by The Wailers in 1969 and '70, it was here Bunny Lee recorded a lot of his early hits, and it was here Augustus Pablo rose to fame with what was voted 'Top Instrumental of 1971' with 'Java', an undisputed classic in these times. This particular track was produced by the eldest son of Vincent, Clive Chin, who was also a close friend of Pablo and a schoolmate from the sixties. Later Clive produced Pablo's first album, titled 'This Is Augustus Pablo', arguably the most rated of the late melodica master's classic catalog of albums, even more so than the monumental 'King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown' in some quarters. It was also at Randy's the late engineer Errol 'Errol T' Thompson was to become the highly regarded 'master of sound' he is looked upon today, although his stint at - and partnership with - Joe Gibbs produced some of the all-time classics of the so called 'rockers' era, the 'African Dub' series quickly springs to mind of those for example. The way I see it, Randy's has since they closed its doors back in 1978 (the success of Channel One contributed greatly to this) become a bit overlooked historically, especially the pioneering work of Vincent Chin in the ska era, and even Clive's position had taken a 'backseat' somehow, despite being one of the most interesting and innovative of the producers from the early seventies onwards, joining the ranks of highly rated people like Lloyd Matador, Keith Hudson, Niney and Lee Perry. But Heartbeat's reissue in the mid 1980's of 'This Is Augustus Pablo' redressed this situation a bit.

Clive Chin (Photo: Majid Mozaffari)

Another album to feature Errol T and Clive at their best was the obscure 'Java' LP, which only saw a few hundred copies pressed on its original issue back in 1972, but was finally given a 'second life' out of the UK in 1989 on the classic Impact label, a Randy's subsidiary. We've had several Randy's albums out since then on imprints such as Pressure Sounds, Soul Jazz and Blood & Fire, most of those featuring hard to find productions by Clive himself. In conjunction with 'Il Profesore', Steve Barrow, he supervised the release of some of his father's greatest recordings with the Skatalites and Lord Creator to be made available again in the late nineties. This came out through VP, the distribution company created by Vincent and his wife Miss Pat after settling down in Queens, New York in the late seventies. As most of you know, this is now seen as the largest distribution company of reggae music anywhere in the world. Today, semi-retired from the producer's chair, Clive is focusing on dusting off the vast catalog of material the Chin family recorded back in those days for re-release. He even got sudden success with Jimmy London's 1972 recording of 'A Little Love' in England in 2003 due to a commercial for the London council using this track as the backdrop for a campaign. I'm quite positive this is just the tip of the iceberg of what we've been given over the past ten years regarding Randy's product; a lot more to expect in other words. There is a Part Two to follow of more of our conversations later this year. My thanks to Clive for the interview in Feb., '04, also Bob Schoenfeld, Donovan, Tim P, David Corio, Michael de Koningh, and Steve Barrow.

Miss Pat & Vincent Chin.

Vincent Chin.

Q: Your father's humble beginnings in the business was a small shop in Kingston, I believe. How did it all start out for him?

A: Well, how he actually got involved with starting the shop in the late fifties, is that he used to work with a company back in the mid fifties as a young, young teenager. Ca' you know my grandfather he had a ice-cream parlour back then, but then it was a very small ice-cream parlour and it's just him and his wife, and y'know he has six children, all pretty young. My father was, what, the third in line after, y'know, his elder brother Keith, second brother Victor, eldest sister Rita, and two younger sisters, Daphne and Molly (as well as a relative who owned the 'Chin's' mento label in the early fifties). So he actually started working out independently as a young man now, I guess he was probably about fifteen at the time, workin'. I remember his boss' name was Issa, Joe Issa (a family of Syrian descent and dominant in the dry goods/electronics field during the 1950's up to the '70's), and I think it was... You know, Alton (Ellis) could really get some input on this, because I was talkin' to Alton when I saw him in London, and Alton said to me, "You know, Clive, me and your father worked at the same company, yunno". And I said, "Really?" He said, "This is long before I even sing fe your father, and he was my co-worker".

But my father's duty with Issa was to clear the juke-boxes. You know, go around and change the records and take out the money. Every month that has to be serviced and it's all these boxes over the island, pretty close to probably about two-thirds of the boxes I guess, all around the island, from north to west, south to east. And he used to collect the used records, the ones that he took out, the replacements, and rather than discarding them him used to stockpile them at our home in Vineyard Town. One of his friends, good friend, said to him, "Vincent, wha' yu doing with all them record in here? I mean, you have so much a them pack up in your garage, you should do somet'ing with it". And that is what kind of propelled him to open up a shop. He sells these used records, but then just selling used records was just something on the side, as a second income. But then as a young man he want to get more involved into it, and by doing so he go into blues dance and mingling around East Kingston with his school-buddies, and it was what brought him to the music business. And he had a great love for music, I believe it was in his blood. 'Cause I even remember him practising the trumpet back in the sixties. Johnnie Moore used to give him lessons.

Q: Yeah?

A: Yea, 'Dizzy'.

Q: Oh yes, he's touring with the Jamaica All Stars now I think. Vincent was a big lover of jazz?

A: He was a very big... you know who was his favourite trumpet player, American jazz player from the American blues bands? Clifford Brown. He used to admire Clifford Brown and Miles Davis. You know, he got acquainted with instruments and he met quite a few prominent musicians through the affiliation with the Rastafarian movement, because he was part of the movement back in the fifties.

Q: Is that so, your father?

A: Yeah. He used to go to the Count Ossie Rasta camp up at Wareika Hill. A lot of people don't know that but this is something that he told me personally, 'cause I saw a brand on his left leg. I said, "Dad, how you got that mark?" And he said, "It's a mark of membership". But he didn't have to be dread, the hair didn't have to be dreadlocks. But he was dread within his heart, so him smoke a lickle an' so on. You know, everybody do them lickle t'ing. But...

Q: By the way, before anything else, when was the first Chins coming to Jamaica, of your family? Chin is a pretty common name in the Chinese community down there, but... The reason, I suppose a better life, jobs, played a part there, a large part. But have you 'investigated' this, made any sort of research at all, traced your roots down to wherever they came from in the motherland, China?

A: I traced my heritage, especially my father's side. My grandfather came from mainland China back in the late 18th century. He came there as a labourer. He did not come to Kingston, he came to Havanna, Cuba, where he lived for I pretty much think... oh God... tickle my brain! I know when he came to Jamaica, thus when he was in his early twenties. When he came to Havanna he was in his teens, so he must've spent probably a good eight to ten years in Havanna. Because when he came to Kingston, and met my grandmother - which is an Irish-African descendant, he spoke no English. He could only speak Spanish, and Mandarin.

Vincent & Clive Chin (Photo David Corio)

Vincent & Clive Chin (Photo David Corio)

Q: You have a pretty mixed heritage then.

A: Yep. So, he had a lot to learn, and he had a lot to communicate. But he was a carpenter by trade, my grandfather. His name was 'Willie' - William Chin-Sang. How the 'Sang' got off of my name only God knows. But every Chinese descendant that came to Jamaica had a name taken off, whether it was (emphasising it) Lee-Fatt! Cu-Lee! Ho-Sang! Ca-Wu! Or Yap-Sing! Called Yap.

Q: (Chuckles)

A: No, I'm telling you, Peter, is a serious t'ing. I looked into this deeply and it all amaze me, and said "Why did we not have our name Chin-Sang?" But my grandfather did not reveal, and I asked him several times before he passed away back in the eighties, and he wouldn't say. But when he passed away, on his death-certificate was 'Willie Chin-Sang'. I think the only family member that was called Sang, was uncle Keith. Right. But the rest of us was all Chin.

Q: Those were the hard days. Must have been difficult for him, up until the end, to reveal anything in detail about those times.

A: No, you see, you must remember they came as peasants, yunno. They came to the New World and to look for betterment in life, to a greater life. So he didn't want to remember any about the past.

Q: Better to leave it behind, like.

A: Right. But I was fortunately enough that a couple of his letters that he had gotten from his sister from mainland, we traced it back and we found out that we still have family in mainland China. Never met them, but we are corresponding with them. And I'm still hoping that one day I will have the opportunity, as the third generation, to meet them. That would be so beautiful (laughs)!

Q: Right. So what was the next step for your father, when the shop had been there for a while?

A: After the involvement with the juke-boxes, and the involvement with the Rastafarian movement, he met Johnnie Moore, he met Rico Rodriguez. And he also met Lloyd Knibbs, (Lloyd) Brevett. All these guys came from the east. When I said the 'east', I mean Eastern Kingston. Also Count Ossie, a very good friend of his. Although you might not have heard too much of the early recordings but sounds like 'Bam O Shei' - King Jobe & His African Drums, or 'Smooth Twistin'' by Rico & Johnnie Moore. These are all '59 recordings on the Randy's label.

Q: So this is prior to things like 'Oh Carolina' by the Folkes Brothers, which was made for (Prince) Buster in 1960 or the following year?

A: Yeah! Yeah man, long before. My father started recording in 1959 at Federal Recording Studio.

Q: When was Federal opening up their facility, late fifties,'57 or thereabouts, or perhaps earlier?

A: Yeah. No, I believe it was around late '58, or '59.

Q: Yes, because prior to this Stanley Motta and the mento people recorded at the radio station.

A: That's right, that is correct. Some of my father's recordings was done at the radio station, what was at RJR, Radio One, under the engineering flagship of a man by the name of Keith 'Sticky' Parks that recorded 'Rico Special'. And these are all factual things I'm tellin' you, because I was present. The first time I've ever been to a radio station that had one mic, an RCA mic, to capture the sounds.

Q: All in one.

A: All - everything, yeah.

Q: Those were the days. Were you taught music from an early age, or this came about much later on?

A: No, I was sort of like what you would say I was sort of drawn into it just being present, and I did go to music school in the sixties but never graduated on a professional level.

Q: What did you...?

A: Well, the piano. I took music lessons by a teacher by the name of Miss Hoggart at choir school, and I stayed there for two and a half years, before moving out to Kingston College. But you know in those days we were very young, and we wanted to be very fugitive, be very mischievous. So nothing wasn't very serious with me as a young lad, never really taking anything seriously, 'cause I feel that probably that wasn't something I wanted to master at the time. But the attraction was there and all the entertainment was there, and it was free. It was not something that I had to pay for, so it came naturally. I think my skills was more, like, in seeing things happen more than getting me educated for it, y'know.

Q: Moving back to your father again, you said some of his first recordings was the King Jobe group? Or was Lord Creator there from early on?

A: No, his first recordings were actually...

Q: So how come he decided to try his luck in recording music, instead of focusing on the shop?

A: Because there was a need for...

Q: Local music.

A: Local music. I believe, the fact is that Chris Blackwell started in the late fifties with Laurel Aitkens, then Coxson Dodd with his sound system wanting to have local music, then Duke Reid. All of this is for the fact that the demand for local music was really at its peak, and not just imported R&B, or blue shuffle. So, if you listen keenly on the early stuff it all had the American influence, but there was also influence of African, influence with drums and percussions as well. You know, the chanting and the Nyabinghi drums.

Q: A dire need to express that genuine Jamaican feel.

A: Yeah. And you know he was surrounded by a lot of these talented Jamaican guys. You know, he would go into Wareika Hill after working, and he would be surrounded by all these guys, I mean Rico Rodriguez, Johnnie Moore, Knibbs, Brevett, Don Drummonds was there as well, Count Ossie. Also, there was a pair of singers, I remember them very clearly, Peter - Bunny & Skitter. You know, Bunny & Skitter used to come to the yard every weekend, those two guys they never left each other.

Q: There seems to be some who believe this particular Bunny was the one also in the Skully & Bunny duo? Or Simms & Robinson.

A: No, no.

Q: A different Bunny.

A: It's a different Bunny.

Q: I suppose they were in the same bracket as the 'first nine acts' in Jamaica; Jackie Edwards, Alton & Eddy, Owen Gray, Bunny & Skitter, Lascelles Perkins, Higgs & Wilson, Laurel Aitken, etcetera?

A: Ahh, that's right. Because you never really had a solo singer in those days, you always had them in duet or triplets.

Q: Why is that?

A: I don't know. You know, the question lingers, it's a very crucial question. I always try to get it out of Alton, because I said to Alton, "Why you never sing solo?" And he looked at me strange, and said, "Because it was a thing of the time". Because if you listen keenly to even 'Mouth A Massy', which is a big tune - when I say 'big tune' it was a big tune in this time, and he said to me, "Clive, when I go to Europe people cry for me to sing that tune, and I have to sing it". And I said, "But Alton, I hear somebody else with you, who is that other person?" He says it's John Holt, and I say, "Jeeesus Christ! But I never credited John Holt on that tune". He says, "No, you can't credit John Holt, John didn't write it - I wrote the tune". But I said, "But I still feel that I should've mentioned his name, because on 'Rum Bumpers' I mentioned your name". You know? But it's always two male vocalists, or a male and a female vocalist. They were never singles. You know? Isn't that amazing? Did you ever thought of that, why they weren't solo singers in the fifties? Because I feel it was a pattern. You know, Roy (Panton) & Mille (Small), even Ken (Boothe) and Stranger Cole, y'know, it's a pattern. Derrick & Patsy.

Q: Always recquired a back-up, someone to carry harmony.

A: Yeah! Right, y'know what I mean. One carry the lead, one carry the harmony, or they carry in unicy, y'know what I mean?

Q: Yeah.

A: It's amazing. Bwoy! You know, they should write a book on that. Ah! (giggles).

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