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The unsung hero - Randy and the development of Jamaican music

Published:Sunday | January 8, 2012 | 12:00 AM

The Chinese community in Jamaica played a very important role in the development of Jamaican popular music during its formative years. Their role was primarily as producers, and notable among these were Charlie Moo, Ivan Chin from the mento era, Byron Lee, the soca calypso king, Justin Yap, and Leslie Kong, who as a producer has the distinction of recording the debut songs of Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, and John Holt, the respective titles being Judge Not, Hurricane Hatti, and Forever I Will Stay. But probably the most important contribution made by a Chinese-Jamaican was that by Vincent 'Randy' Chin, who in later years went on to establish the now world-famous VP Records in New York.

Randy's role was critical as a producer of early Jamaican music and later as a distributor on the international market. He along with his wife Patricia established VP Records in the late 1970s - V for Vincent and P for Pat.

It all started in 1959 when Randy opened his first record shop at the corner of East and Barry streets in downtown Kingston.

Born on October 3, 1937 in Kingston, he worked in the jukebox business for entrepreneur Isaac Issa, and gained valuable experience.

This experience along with old discarded jukebox records he took with him to bolster his stock when he opened his own business. By 1961 he was operating from a new premises located at 17 North Parade in the heart of downtown Kingston. This establishment, which became the very popular Randy's Records, provided record collectors and music lovers with many hard-to-get records.

In addition, he established a top-of-the-line studio above the same premises.

The studio catered to the aspirations of many would-be artistes.

Through his efforts and the provision of his studio, artistes such as The Maytals, Alton Ellis, Ken Boothe, Stranger Cole, John Holt and others were given their earliest exposure.

Chin acquired the name Randy's from a United States (US) late night radio show entitled Randy's Record Shop, which was sponsored by a US record shop of the same name. Vincent, a keen listener to that programme, was thrilled by it, to the extent that he named his record shop and record label after it. Soon after, he ventured into the areas of producing recordings for prospective artistes.

earliest productions

Among Randy's earliest productions were Goodbye Pretty Baby by the blues shouter Basil Gabbidon, and the doo-wop-styled songs My Love Divine and Let Me Dream in 1961 by Alton and Eddy. The duo had previously scored a massive hit a few years before with another doo-wop-styled song titled Muriel for producer Clement 'Coxson' Dodd. Alton Ellis (a half of Alton and Eddy), who would go on the become one of the biggest Jamaican stars, with producers Duke Reid and Dodd. Still during the rocksteady era, Ellis also made the solo recordings Ska Beat, It Doesn't Matter At All, and Mouth A Massy for Randy.

But Randy's biggest success as a producer in those early years came from the Trinidad-born singer, Kenrick Patrick, better known as Lord Creator.

Creator was passing through the island on a Caribbean tour with a group of musicians in January 1962. Randy's next move was timely.

It was approaching Jamaica's acquisition of independence in August of that same year, and fascinated by Creator's voice, Randy intercepted him at a Kingston nighclub and requested he compose a song about Jamaica's independence. The late Raymond Sharpe, a Gleaner columnist at the time, was in attendance and provided Creator with an article on the lead-ups to Jamaica's independence. It eventually formed the basis on which the recording was built, and became the most explicit narrative in popular music on Jamaica's independence.

big hit

It was also to Randy's credit that the recording, a calypso tune titled Independent Jamaica, became the biggest hit in Jamaica in 1962, rocketing to number one on the charts. In the process, the song became the first record issued in the United Kingdom by Chris Blackwell's fledging Island Records.

Creator went on to record other top ska hits for Randy, including Don't Stay Out Late, and Man To Man.

For the next couple of years, Randy recorded on his Randy's label several successful recordings for various artistes. These included the very popular vocal trio, Toots and the Maytals, who also began their hit-making career with coxson, John Holt who recorded Rum Bumper, and Ken Boothe who recorded in duet with Stranger Cole, the original version of Home Home which was later popularised in the rocksteady mode for Dodd.

The musicians employed by Randy were no less impressive. The aggregation comprised the nucleus of the best band in the land - The Skatalites which included trombonists Don Drummond and Rico Rodriguez, saxists Lester Sterling, Roland Alphonso, Tommy McCooke and Stanley Notice, and trumpeters Johnny Moore and Bobby Ellis. Many were graduates of the famous Alpha Boys' School on South Camp Road

By 1968 Randy had opened his legendary Studio 17 upstairs his North Parade premises. Up to the mid to late 1970s, many of Bob Marley's classic recordings for producer Lee 'Scratch' Perry were still being done there. It was about that time that Randy relocated his family to New York and opened VP Records.

It became and still remains the leading distributor of Jamaican music in the world.

Vincent Randy Chin passed away on February 2, 2003 at the age of 65, but his memory will continually be perpetuated through his work with VP Records and earlier with Randy's Records in Jamaica. Today we can recognise the vital and immeasurable contribution made by Randy to the development of early and modern Jamaican music and appreciate the eternal qualities of good taste, swing, and vibes that went into Randy's recordings.

He was indeed one of those unsung heroes of Jamaican music who didn't receive the reward and recognition he justly deserved.