Let’s take a trip down to Jamaica to see how a man and his family built a music empire. Vincent “Randy” Chin, the son of a craftsman who had arrived from China in the 1920s, was born on October 3, 1937, in Kingston, the capital of Jamaica. Upon completion of school around the age of 17, destiny placed Vincent in the employment of a man named Isaac Issa, who controlled the country’s large jukebox kingdom. Young Vincent’s work was to maintain and restock Issa’s jukeboxes throughout the island, a job which would prepare him for a great future in the Caribbean music industry.
The time was the mid-1950s. This was the era of the early sound systems in Jamaica. It was a period when enterprising young men, known as “sound-men,” would set up their sound systems at different places in the community, attracting people who would gather to listen to the latest R&B sounds imported from America, socialize and dance the night away.
These mobile discos were an important component in the development of contemporary Jamaican music and served to demonstrate how technology was modified to accommodate the time and the needs of the people. In effect, the sound systems not only offered a social outlet, but they also provided the foundation for the development of contemporary Jamaican music genres such as ska, rock steady, reggae and today’s dance hall. In addition, the distinctive creation of the Jamaican disc jockey (dee-jay) also emerged during this exciting, groundbreaking period.
Dominating this innovative component of the music industry were such visionary sound-men as Tom the Great Sebastian, Sir Coxsone Downbeat, Duke Reid the Trojan, V-Rocket, Prince Buster’s Voice of the People and King Edwards the Giant. These early pioneers drove the sound system industry on the island. However, “when the quality of the American records started to decline,” and “the source of records began to dry up in the United States,” public demand for the music/dance social outlet, coupled with the necessity of the soundmen to earn a living, fueled ingenuity. Consequently, some of the business savvy soundmen began to record their own music, pooling from the myriad of homegrown talent in their country. They also created recording studios, targeting their product, for the most part, to the local market.
Around this time, another group of businessmen also decided to commercialize the music industry. They were Jamaica’s “middle-class entrepreneurs,” many whom were of Chinese or Middle Eastern origin. These men included Ken Khouri, owner of the first big record factory on the island, as well as one of the first to record producers of local music; band-leader and businessman Byron Lee; accountant Leslie Kong; Charlie Moo, the owner of an ice cream parlor; Justin Yap, whose family owned several stores; and the young Vincent “Randy” Chin. Seeing the plethora of Jamaican talent, “this group provided a commercial platform from which the music could make the transition from local style to international taste.” The insightful and industrious Vincent, who adapted his nickname from Randy’s Record Shop (located in Gallatin, Tenn.), the sponsor of an American radio show which broadcasted R&B music, opened his first record shop in 1958.Using the old stock of discarded ex-jukebox discs of his former employer, which “he had carefully saved,” the now married Vincent, along with his wife, Patricia, began the Chin family business at its first location on East and Tower streets in Kingston.
A few years later in 1962, Jamaica, which was colonized by Great Britain, became an independent nation. That same year, the Chins moved their record store to another location at 17 North Parade (a former ice cream shop) in downtown Kingston. In 1968, the entrepreneurial family opened a recording studio above Randy’s Record Shop. This move sealed Randy’s Records & Studio17 as an essential entity pivotal to the development of the Jamaican music industry, attracting such notables as producer Lee “Scratch” Perry, who in 1970 recorded the classic “Soul Rebel.” During 1971-1972,the Chin’s oldest son, Clive, launched the IMPACT! imprint and recorded dub master Augustus Pablo’s “Java.” In 1975,roots reggae pioneers Burning Spear recorded the hit “Marcus Garvey,” and in 1976 Peter Tosh recorded “Legalize It.” In 1977,Vincent Chin moved to New York City, where he opened VP Record Distributors in Jamaica, Queens, N.Y. VP, an acronym for Vincent and Patricia, immediately provided a viable outlet for Caribbean nationals and the American market to purchase reggae records in New York City. By 1991, VP was offering a fullscale brand of services and products that included record distribution, recording, producing, marketing and public relations, as well as an apparel line, both in New York and Jamaica.
From its humble inception as Randy’s Records in 1958, the Chins’ enterprise has come full circle half a century later. To commemorate this noble achievement, VP Records launched the 17 North Parade, a vintage music imprint, in 2007, followed in 2008 by “Randy’s 50th Anniversary” reggae anthology, which includes two CDs and a DVD featuring the who’s who of ska and reggae. The album (which we will review next week) includes hits by such musical legends as Bob Marley and the Wailers, Peter Tosh, Toots & The Maytals, the Skatalites and Dennis Brown. From Kingston, Jamaica, in the Caribbean, to Jamaica, Jamaica, in America, the Chins have played a major and important role in the birth of reggae as well as the evolution of Randy’s Records and Studio17 into VP Records, the world’s largest Caribbean music brand. In addition, they have always been actively involved in community service in Kingston and New York. As such, the “Caribbean Lingo!!!” series pays tribute to the Chin family and VP Records on their 50th anniversary celebration of Randy’s Record Mart for their great contribution in the promotion of Caribbean music. To contact the “Caribbean Lingo!!!” series team, please e-mail us at: Caribbeanlingo@gmail.com.