Chin Music

How one mom-and-pop record shop climbed to the top of the reggae world

"I tell you how Miss Pat used to pick the hits when she was in the shop," begins Campbell. "Now, Miss Pat was not a great dancer, but whenever you'd take a record into the store, and you'd see Miss Pat make her a little dance when she's laying it on the turntable -- you could bet your sweet life that's a hit song! If Miss Pat doesn't dance to the song, well, it might happen, and it might not. But when you see Miss Pat dance, we'd know right away that was a hit song. She knew it. She just knew it."

What sort of dance?

"I can't even explain it!" he says, dissolving into laughter. "She just had something about her, trust me!"

Miss Pat and Vincent Chin behind the counter at Randy's, circa 1960
Miss Pat and Vincent Chin behind the counter at Randy's, circa 1960
The first family of reggae gathers as Vincent Chin is laid to rest in Hollywood, February 8, 2003
The first family of reggae gathers as Vincent Chin is laid to rest in Hollywood, February 8, 2003

"Of course, man!" adds Clive happily. "You have to drop legs when you hear dat! Miss Pat would make you feel comfortable. It was a beautiful time. I can't really explain it either."

"I don't even remember doing that!" laughs Miss Pat today. "I would hear 100 records, and they're just playing and I'm not noticing. Then, all in a sudden, I hear one and think, 'This one sounds very good!' It just comes natural. I guess after you do it for many, many years there's an art in doing it."

Clive spent little time in the retail store, instead gravitating to the studio upstairs, where he learned to run the boards alongside the few other engineers of that era. "I grow up in the business, y'know," he says. "I got out of school in the early '70s and went straight into my father's business establishment. Growing up and seeing it happen in front of me motivated me to propel my energy and my skills into the industry. I just loved the music." Soon it was Clive who was running the show upstairs at Randy's. From the sound of it, those were productive days.

"We'd cut a rough mix, send that downstairs, and say, 'Miss P! Jus' test it deh!'" he tells. "And Miss Pat would put it 'pon the turntable on a Friday evening, and when they heard that one, these people would jump and say, 'Miss Pat, mi want dat one deh!'

"And Miss Pat would call back upstairs and say, 'Clive, cut quick!' So we'd just cut it, because the facility of the store took advantage of knowing what the buying public want, 'cause remember, we are in the heart of Kingston. So every man who come off the country bus is right in front of Randy's, and dem step in, y'know. So the minute dem step in our store and hear our new music play, right then dey can get what they wanted and carry it back out to the country. That was a unique opportunity to know exactly what tune dey want, and [Miss Pat] was the one who gave you the green light to either cut, and put out, or keep on the tape for another date."

In and out of Studio 17 at this time flowed an endless stream of living legends. Niney the Observer recorded singer Dennis Brown there, Bunny Lee taped Delroy Wilson, and Lee "Scratch" Perry cut some of his earliest sessions with Bob Marley and the Wailers, all upstairs at Randy's. By the early 1970s, engineer Erroll "ET" Thompson had added more modernized equipment to the studio, Clive became the de facto producer-on-premises, and the house band (called "Randy's All-Stars") included Wailers bassist Aston "Familyman" Barrett, Wailers keyboardist Tyrone Downie, drummer Sly Dunbar, and another young keyboardist named Horace Swaby, better known as Augustus Pablo.

For the young producer/engineer, his dad's Studio 17 was a free playground in which to learn and experiment. "We used very basic boards," he says, "simple 8-in, 16-out; nothing sophisticated, only analog. We'd just stay in there and make tune! Anything that would come to our mind, we'd just make tune! Oh, yes, we'd stay up there 24/7. The only time we'd come out was just to smell fresh air. We'd sleep in the drum room, and we'd get up, take a shower 'round the back. We'd eat breakfast, we'd eat lunch, we'd have a smoke. We didn't ever go away. We just stay there and make tune!" Agrees Campbell, "It was more of a love t'ing in those days, not a money t'ing."

But when Erroll Thompson left the studio to work elsewhere, the loss upset Vincent and dented Studio 17's business. By the late 1970s, once Kingston's large, ultra-modern Studio One took precedence as the biggest and best place to make a reggae record, Randy's upstairs room saw less and less business. Bob Marley was becoming an international success, putting Jamaica in the spotlight, but Randy's wasn't responsible for much of his music. Yet the family expressed enormous respect for the business savvy behind Marley's accomplishment, and took a valuable lesson from it: "The way I see, Island Records marketed Bob well," reckons Clive. "They knew what they were doing. They weren't hesitating. They knew what they had and they worked it to the fullest."

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