The Music Diaries | The birth of VP Records
VP Records has been in the spotlight over the past few years for their role in the distribution and dissemination of Jamaican records on the international circuit.
Originally operated by the husband and wife team of Vincent and Patricia Chin (VP), the entity is deeply rooted in Randy's Records, a business that began with a small shop at East Street in downtown Kingston. Vincent adopted the name 'Randy' from an American late-night show called Randy's Record Shop, which was sponsored by a US record shop of the same name. Enamoured by the programme's musical content, he named his record shop and record label after it.
Born in Kingston, Jamaica, from humble beginnings in 1937, Randy Chin, or simply Randy, as he became affectionately known, saw the genesis of his business taking shape in 1959, when he opened his first shop along East Street. As a teenager, he had previously worked with entrepreneur Abe Issa in the jukebox business. Upon parting with Issa, he took with him some old discarded jukebox records, which gave his dream an energetic kick.
By 1961, he had relocated to a more spacious location at 17 North Parade in downtown Kingston, which became the very popular Randy's Records. It was the repository of the American R&B and Jamaican ska records, which satisfied the insatiable appetite of record collectors and sound-system operators. Randy, more than likely, had records you could not find anywhere else. And that's from my personal experience as a record collector at the time.
In due course, he erected a top-of-the-line recording studio above his premises, which catered to the needs of several aspiring artistes. Almost simultaneous was the adoption of his new role as a record producer. Success stories of artistes such as The Maytals, Alton Ellis, Ken Boothe, Stranger Cole, John Holt, and many others was due, in no small measure, to Randy Chin's studio 17 and his productions during the 1960s.
Among his earliest productions, were Goodbye Pretty Baby by Basil Gabbidon, Rum Bumper by John Holt, Mouth A Massy by Alton Ellis, and two pieces in the R&B mould by Alton and Eddy titled My Love Divine and Let Me Dream.
But perhaps the recording that launched Randy's career as a producer was the calypso-flavoured Independent Jamaica in 1962. It was more like a fortuitous happening. The singer, a Trinidad-born youngster named Kenrick Patrick, better known as Lord Creator, was passing through Jamaica with a group of musicians on a Caribbean tour in January of 1962. Randy just happened to be in the audience on a night when Creator performed, and thrilled by the artiste's ability to compose songs impromptu, Randy requested Creator to write a song about Jamaica's Independence due in August.
Using an article written by Gleaner columnist Raymond Sharpe as a guide, Creator composed Independent Jamaica. It became the most explicit narrative in popular music about Jamaica's lead-up to its Independence celebrations and a number-one song on the Jamaican charts for several weeks. A short excerpt tells some of the story:
"Manley called up a referendum, for you to make your own decision.
So the people voted wisely, now everyone is happy that there is no more federation."
The recording became one of the first to be issued in the United Kingdom on Chris Blackwell's fledging Island Record label.
Creator also recorded for Randy's with ska hits such as Don't Stay Out Late and Man To Man, with backing by the incomparable Skatalites band.
For the remainder of the 1960s and leading into the 1970s, Randy recorded several successful recordings for various artistes, including several of Bob Marley and The Wailer classic recordings for producer Lee 'Scratch' Perry.
With his wife, Patricia, playing a vital role, Randy moved his operation to New York in the late 1970s and renamed it VP Records. Along with Trojan Records, VP remains the leading distributor of Jamaican recordings in the world.
Randy died on February 2, 2003, at the age of 65. He belongs to a long line of Chinese-Jamaicans who played crucial roles as producers in the development of Jamaica's popular music. Others included Byron Lee, Leslie Kong, Joseph Hoo Kim from Channel One, Justin Yap from Top Deck, Charlie Moo, and Ivan Chin from the mento era.