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World Music Features

Clive Chin

By Matt Scheiner
Published August 19, 2008

Jamaican record producer and VP Records founder Clive Chin looks back on the Chin family’s lasting impact on the Jamaican music scene.

Clive Chin certainly has a lot of stories about reggae’s old days, when only a handful of recording studios existed in Jamaica, each of them easily identified by the people who worked the boards. From Clement “Coxsone” Dodd (Studio One) to Duke Reid (Treasure Isle) to Leslie Kong (Beverly’s), these were the engineers and charismatic producers who authored reggae’s storied past. Chin also speaks with great respect for the legends of the time—musicians like Tommy McCook, Roland Alphonso and Johnny Moore, better known as the original Skatalites, who used to stop by when Clive was just a lad to track sessions at his father’s studio and to hang out at his shop— the legendary Randy’s Records in Kingston.


Once Jamaica’s biggest record distributor and a landmark recording spot, Randy’s came to dominate the 1960s and ’70s with a long list of hits and a signature warm sound, but the story actually starts in the early 1900s, when Clive Chin’s grandfather, a laborer from mainland China named William Chin-Sang, arrived in Kingston. After settling in the city, he opened a small shop selling basic goods and necessities. He also had six children— one of whom would help meld and define the sound of reggae music forever.


The culture of Chinese-Jamaicans has always had a profound impact on the island, changing its Caribbean landscape for good. Many laborers came to the island to work in the fields, and later became shop owners and entrepreneurs in different trades. They assimilated easily into the fabric of Jamaican society.


“My father was actually an auto mechanic,” Chin recalls, referring to his father Vincent, who was the youngest of William Chin’s six children, “but he landed a job in his early 20s servicing jukeboxes for Isaac Issa, who was from a huge Syrian family that was prominent for bringing entertainment to the island. My father would change the records and put new records in, and since Issa had no use for the old records, rather than seeing them thrown out in the trash, my father offered to take them.”


Most of the records were American blues, jazz and soul 45s, and when they began to pile high in the Chin family’s garage in Vineyard Town, a friend suggested opening up a small shop to sell them. Vincent did just that, and Randy’s—named for his favorite radio show, broadcasting from Nashville—was born. Eventually the shop became a meeting place for local musicians to rehearse for gigs, and before long, Vincent had set up microphones and recording equipment to document the music they made.