Good Vibrations

Posted by Nick Papa on 3. Nov 2009

BEIJING, Nov 3 - Clive Chin is the seminal son of Randy's Studio 17, the Kingston (Jamaica) recording studio that singlehandedly crafted the reverberant tones of legendary reggae acts the Wailers, Black Uhuru, Dennis Brown, and others in the 1960s and 70s.

At an early age, Chin began working at Randy's Record Store, his father's shop in downtown Kingston. Later, Randy's evolved into what can best be described as the Death Star of reggae recording studios: Randy's Studio 17.

Randy's Studio 17 equipped a rather potent, hand-crafted death ray of sonic superiority, turning all it touched into reggae and dub doubloons.

Reeking of alchemy and not meant to be understood by mere mortals, Randy's approach to reggae and dub recording garnered much attention via the commercial success of artists like The Wailers, Jamaican roots reggae artist Augustus Pablo, and singer/percussionist Charlie Malcolm.

Regardless of this success, the Chin family decided to pack its bags and shift operations to New York City in the late-1970s. Thus begins the second chapter of the Chin family saga with the founding of VP Records, a reggae and dub label home to a wide variety of artists, including the mega-popular Sean Paul and Shaggy.

VP is still slingin' fine reggae and in fine Randy's tradition, has opened kickin' record stores in both Florida and Jamaica, New York.

Yep, that's actually a city in New York.

By this point, the savvier folk among us may have already picked up on the fact that Chin is a rather Chinese-sounding last name. That's not too far from the fact, as his grandfather emigrated from China to Jamaica in the early-twentieth century.

Chin's appearance in Beijing this weekend will be his first, a small factoid that is sure to spike the collective punch of those of us still caged within the aviary of anthropology.

The story of the Chin family is an interesting one.

From China and Jamaica to Randy's in Kingston and VP Records in NYC, the story is long and interwoven with many key events and figures in reggae's development.

We got a chance to catch up with Chin for a round of questions before he heats up the capital city with a Friday night gig. He discusses here working with legendary reggae artists, the family business and what he plans on doing upon touching down in the Middle Kingdom.

WLIB: Where does the story begin? When did the Chin family arrive in Jamaica, and from which part of the world?

Clive Chin: My family arrived in Jamaica from Guangdong at the start of the 20th century.

WLIB: When, where and how was Randy's born?

Chin: Back in 1959, my father Vincent Chin began to sell records out his very first record shop located at East and Tower Streets in downtown Kingston.

WLIB: And it slowly evolved into a studio, right? What motivated this change?

Chin: There was a need for recording, manufacturing and distribution facilities in the island as the record industry was just getting started and becoming very popular. The recording studio became a very busy operation as more producers began to try their luck in music.

WLIB: The sounds produced at Randy's set the standard for reggae and dub recordings of the 1960s and 70s. Can you describe what made the "Randy's Sound?" Where did it come from, and what are its distinguishing characteristics?

Chin: We used custom-made tube amplification and outboard equalizers and limiters that were unique to the studio. The bass sound at Studio 17 was very warm and one of a kind.

WLIB: We've seen photos of a teenage Clive Chin behind a mixing board, most likely recording one of the numerous influential reggae acts passing through Randy's. What was it like to be a teenager with perhaps the best front row ticket to reggae music that ever existed? I mean, come on: The Wailers, Black Uhuru, McCook, Alton Ellis...

Chin: I guess it can be said that I was blessed with the opportunity to work with an elite set of artists and musicians of the period. It really was a very special and unique time in the history of recorded music.

WLIB: When did Randy's shift operation to New York and become VP Records? What's the story there?

Chin: We came to New York in the spring of 1977 to establish an American outpost. Because of the political unrest in Jamaica, we decided to move our operations there. New York was one of the main cities in the United States that was experiencing a large number of Caribbean immigrants, so our move there made excellent sense.

WLIB: Did the Randy's sound influence production at VP? More specifically, how has the reggae sound changed since the 1970s? How would you describe the current state of reggae?

Chin: The history of Randy's has been embraced and acknowledged by VP while at the same time staying at the cutting edge of current developments in Jamaican music. The sound has lost a lot of the creative aspects that made our music in the 1960s and 70s so special.

WLIB: Can you talk about your Chinese heritage? Do you still have distant relatives over here?

Chin: My Chinese heritage came from my grandfather (My father's dad). I still do have distant relatives in mainland China, but have lost contact with them over the years.

WLIB: Is this your first time to China? If so, what are you expecting? If not, what's this trip all about?

Chin: This is my first trip, and I expect to have a lot of fun. I'm also very excited about returning to my roots, and spreading reggae music and its culture to the people of China.

Clive Chin will perform on Fri, Nov 6 at Bed Tapas & Bar. Show kicks off at 10:30, but will be preceded by an informal talk on Jamaican reggae history at 9:30pm. 50 RMB gets you in and includes one free cocktail.

Bed Tapas & Bar is located at 17 Zhangwang Hutong, Jiugulou Dajie, Gulou. From the Gulou metro (Line 2), take Exit B and walk south on Jiugulou Dajie. Take the fourth lane on your left.

旧鼓楼大街张旺胡同17号, 鼓楼桥南300米

Call 8400-1554 if you get lost.


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