If you’re in your mid-twenties or younger, an older person will almost certainly warn you of the dangerous path your age group’s music is taking. Tall tales of the “golden years” and calamitous claims of Generation Y’s impending cyborg metamorphosis get really old, really fast, but it would be much worse to let time-honored traditions slip through the cracks in our collective consciousness. While that may sound as easy as some decent research and deep listening, it’s much larger in scope: it’s willfully immortalizing entire cultural movements. Sometimes, to do that, you have to physically rescue artifacts from impending extinction, ones that cannot be imitated or replaced.
Last month, I had an opportunity to hear from a man who did just that: famed reggae producer and Studio 17 stalwart Clive Chin. The son of Randy’s Records founders Vincent and Patricia Chin, Clive has recorded with most of reggae music’s greats, starting with Augustus Pablo’s Java and going on to work with Dennis Brown, Carl Malcolm, The Wailers, Black Uhuru, and countless others. Since moving from Kingston, Jamaica to New York City, Clive had been keeping tabs on an archive of recordings in the old, flagship Randy’s Records storefront, 17 North Parade. Recently, he succeeded in having the lost masters shipped to the U.S. for reissue on VP Records’ 17 North Parade imprint. During an interview moderated by SiriusXM radio DJ Patricia McKay, he gave a heartfelt lecture to a packed room of roots reggae fanatics at the Frost Theatre of the Living Arts, in Williamsburg. Below is an excerpt from the event, where he touches on his history in the recording business, his personal motivations for re-releasing the archives, and how they just don’t make ‘em like they used to.
Ladies and gentlemen, Clive Chin!
Pat McKay: It’s feels so good to celebrate someone who has stayed in the background to create-- and take care of-- the substantive body of work that we’re going to talk about. We’re going to talk about why [Clive Chin] has the authority to talk about Jamaica’s music history, and, in Jamaica’s 50th year of independence, nothing’s been more important towards building a better awareness of Jamaica and Jamaicans than its native music. You know musicians and reggae artists’ names, but you may not know cabinet members’ names. And we like it like that.
We are with the amazing Clive Chin, who is an archivist now, as well as a producer. I would like you to talk about your foundation in the music-- when and how you became aware of music in Jamaica and Jamaican popular music.
Clive Chin: Well, it all started from my growing up in a musical family. My dad, Vincent Chin, and my stepmother, Patricia Chin, pretty much engineered me along with my siblings. We didn’t spend time at home, babysitting and all that kind of stuff, or playing around; we didn’t have any Internet, we didn’t have any video games. So, based on the culture of the family itself, we had chores to do, we had assignments to do. My father started out in the jukebox business by the way, changing and collecting the coins, the money, from the jukeboxes. But he was working for a prominent Jamaican [...], and [this person] had all these jukeboxes that were stationed mostly in rum bars and nightclubs. Back in the ‘50, those were the entertainment part of the business. They had big bands playing, but the big bands were mostly for the tourists-- you know, back then when the tourist industry was really booming. Europeans, Americans, whoever from all over.
The records that he used to change were records that were deleted, that didn’t have use anymore. “Change ‘em, put in fresh stocks of records,” so he would tell my dad. “You can have them; I’m going to throw them away anyway.” So, he packed all these records up into the garage back where we were living out in East Kingston. Jukebox records were a stepping stone for my dad. From there, I believe that he had all these records packed up in a garage until they started falling over, and a good friend of his by the name of Dudley Excell said to him, “You know, why you don’t sell these records?” The whole idea of a record store came into play. At that time there were no record stores. No, actually, there was one record store by the name of Time Store down by King Street. Time Store is a department store and they had a section. It was just like going into--
Clive Chin: Yeah, or Wal-mart--places that have a CD section or cassettes. So, he decided he was going to open up a store, [Randy’s Records]. The first store that he opened, he had rented from a friend of his-- Vincent Young, I think his name was. So he started there, and it was too small for them. He wanted a bigger spot. And it really was not a good location. They needed a prime location, and it so happens that 17 North Parade became a prominent destination-- you know, the flagship of the business. That was in 1960. He acquired that, and the rest is history. Then he started doing recordings with all these big giants in the music business. I’m talking about the Skatellites, Alton and Eddie Perkins, John Holt, Ken Boot, Toots and the Maytals, Lord Creator...
Pat: So, we want to talk about these lost archives from 17 North Parade. In the ‘70s, there was this exodus of people from Jamaica. Your dad and stepmom were among the folks that left, and a lot of this music was left behind. How did you manage to recover it? You’re like the caretaker of this amazing body of work. Being a child in Jamaica, going to the China shops, those were the only places to find Jamaican popular music. It wasn’t played on the radio; it wasn’t on the television.
Clive Chin: Soundsystem used to play it.
Pat: We had that and dancehall type things. But Jamaica is so stratified by class: uptown people didn’t listen to music that downtown people either listened to or made. So really, his dad’s contribution allowed all of Jamaica to celebrate what it owned-- what was made there, by other Jamaicans, in a Jamaican voice. These archives went unlistened for thirty years. Why unveil them now?
Clive Chin: Perfect timing. It’s the 50th anniversary of Jamaican independance. I mean, let me explain why they actually came up to the United States in the first place. After leaving Jamaica in ‘77, we went back and forth for awhile but the fact is that when the studio actually closed down in ‘78, the tapes were left in a room that didn’t have proper ventilation. They were left in a room that had no ventilation, period. They were vulnerable for theft because we had a big storm back in ‘87 called Gilbert, and that damaged a lot of equipment that was left in the studio. The downstairs-- the studios were upstairs 17 North Parade-- was actually a retail store, and there was a lot of looting going on in downtown. People were just breaking into stores, and, fortunately people didn’t really get to go upstairs; they took everything from the downstairs. So that kind of opened my eye a little bit to say, “It’s time for me to make some arrangements to get these tapes out.” But the time didn’t come until ‘99. So, from ‘87 to the ‘90s they were still there, but I would go down and make sure that they were still on order.
I made a list of everything in biographical order and in the way they were recorded. There were four different formats. We had the quarter-inch mix-down tapes, [and] we had a four-track machine when the studio was first opened in ‘68. We got a one-inch eight-track just around the early ‘70s , and we started doing separate tracks. We updated the equipment as time went on. In the mid ‘70s-- this was around ‘76-- we acquired a 24-track, which is the one-inch. It was only a 16-track head, meaning that we could only record 16 tracks. So, we had four different formats of tapes. Now, a good bulk of those recordings never see the light of day; they were never released. What one must remember is that Randy’s Records wasn’t just a label but also a distributor, and [Patricia] had her eyes on everybody’s label out there. She had her eyes on Bonny Lee, Jackpot, Scratch Perry, Observer, Derek Harriet, Musical Chariot, Winston Riley, African Museum... And then there was Federal with their label, Dynamic, with some other subsidiary. Total Sounds was in effect at the time. Micron-- I mean, the ‘70s was the mecca of the Jamaican music.
Pat: And also the growth of Randy’s as a distributor.
Clive Chin: And the growth of Randy’s. So, a lot of recordings that were recorded at the time had to be “big tunes” if they wanted to see release. But, there were still big tunes that Vincent had to overlook, and those big tunes were the ones that we had to put on the shelf. [Patricia] had a love for gimmick songs. She loved songs like “Soldierin,” [...] “Fatty Bum Bum.” I mean I love it too, you know, but I really loved the Roots tunes then. But, to all the good Roots tunes, they would just say “Mhmm, let that one stay. Put this one out.” And sometimes she used to commission our own songs. Jimmy London could sing things like, “A Little Love” or “Til I Kiss You” by the Everly Brothers.
But coming back to the whole lost archives... [In] ‘99, I was approached by two young gentleman from out of Seattle. One was called David Rosenkrantz, who was the curator for an upcoming project called Island Revolution funded by the Microsoft founder, Paul Allen. [The idea was] to go to Jamaica and search through all the archives, and uncover whatever musical instruments they could find. They could buy them, rent them, borrow them, whatever. They needed it for this museum they had out there, in Seattle. And apparently, my name was on the list. [...] I said, “Alright, let’s see what you guys are up to,” ‘cause I am always curious when they just come out of the woodwork like that.
They explained to me exactly what they wanted to do: they wanted to redesign the studio, meaning they wanted to take photos of the interior, and they wanted to duplicate it. They took pictures of the tiles, they took pictures of the wall, of the equipment. They took pictures of the tapes, and just about everything. They did a full circle inside of the studio, spent a whole day. So after they did that, they went to Alpha, did the same thing. Now, upon doing that, I said to them, “Listen, these tapes I have here: what about making arrangements to have these tapes transported up to the United States?” [...] So that was the stepping stone for me to get them up. Because there was no way I could have transported that amount of tapes.
Pat: Of all your siblings, why do you think this responsibility fell on your shoulders? Were you closest to your Dad and his music?
Clive Chin: Well, Pat, I had more interest in the old school than Chris [Chin] or Randy [Chin]. Chris started to concentrate on more of the dancehall stuff. He played his role and he did his job well. He got guys like Shabba Ranks and Supercat and-- you know, the big guys. But I don’t feel he had the real love for the early stuff. He never showed that. I was more involved in the production entity.
Pat: There is some music [that you] produced. Is it music that we’re gonna hear on the lost archives when those are released? Are you going to release a single from the lost archives?
Clive Chin: We started digitizing them back in October of last year. The reason why I decided to do that [...] you know, I lost my first boy last August in Jamaica. I was actually in Europe when I got the news about him-- passed away, got killed. Joel [Chin, Clive’s son] was instrumental in getting those tapes transferred. He literally hounded me and said, “You know dad, those tapes in my basement, when you doin’ them?” And they were actually collecting dust. And I kept moving them from one side of the wall to the next; they were stacked on each other and I didn’t have the interest in it so much anymore. And he was so determined to have me do something with it. He said to me, “What if you can’t give me a couple tracks and let me put some of these artists on...”
He was working at the time, he had just started working with Sizzla, Luciano. Joel was an A&R for VP Records, and he had Sizzla voiced on a Java rhythm, same time as when the song “Why Must I” came out, in 2003, and again with Luciano, with Fattis, on the same Java rhythm, come back again with Kelly, on the Java. And I said “Take some other rhythms, there are so many other songs you can use, why just Java Java Java?” He really loved that track, but he said alright, and this is a true thing: last year, while he was down here he gave me four tracks, and he said, “Dad, I need ‘To Late to Turn Back,’ I need ‘Till I Kiss You.’” There were two other ones I can’t remember right now; I wrote them down, and I say, “Yes, I’m gonna get them for you.” And he say, “You sure? Because these artists, I’m really in on them; I’m ready.” And when he’s ready, he’s ready. That’s one thing about him, he’s a very determined person who gets his thing perfectly done.
And I [procrastinated]. I got invited to this lecture at a festival called the Reggae Guild, in Belgium, and I decided I was gonna do it when I get back, ‘cause I couldn’t find the tapes. I mean, I knew where the tapes were, but I had to transfer them, for him to get the .wav files. I couldn’t just send him just the plain rhythm-- that wouldn’t make any sense. So, to cut a long story short, this incident-- it really affected me, it still affects me today. Today’s his birthday, actually. So, I had to find something to do to keep my mind occupied. And I said, “You know something, the best thing I can do is to work on these damn tapes that my boy been tellin’ me.”
By the time I got up to New York, we had a service for Joel at a church over in Queens, and a co-worker by the name of Chris Mannix approached me [when] the service had ended, and he said to me, “Clive, this is a bad time to ask you dis, but would you come down to a studio and work on one of your tracks?” They’re doing this dub project that he’s involved in, on the East Coast, called Dub Rock. [...] And I did take up his offer, and that’s how I met Billy at Kendall Recording Studio-- also Jim, his co-owner. [...] I invited him over to the house that afternoon after the session, and I said “Billy, I want you come down to the basement and see what I have here.” And when he came down and saw what I had, his eyes opened up, and the first tape he pick up was a tape called The Creator Tracks-- Lord Creator Tracks-- and he look at the box, and it’s like he didn’t want to put it down, and I saw a big smile come over his face.
Pat: So these are Lord Creator tracks that haven’t yet been released?
Clive Chin: Uhhh, yes. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.
Pat: Wow. ‘Cause I think there are a couple on the Fifty Years of Jamaican Music box set.
Clive Chin: Yeah, but those were the early stuff.
Pat: There’s more?
Clive Chin: Yeah, mon. When Creator came back into the business-- he actually was incarcerated for eighteen months...
Pat: That never happens to reggae artists. [Laughter]
Clive Chin: Yeah. eighteen months. They put him away for a little bit of smoke, you know? But when he came out, he was very much into what he was doing, he did two tracks called “Come Down 1968” and “Such Is Life”. Tommy and the Supersonics were the band behind that. Not the Skatallites. That time it was rocksteady. Like fading all the rocksteady, ‘cause only lasted about a year. Started in ‘67 and went to ‘68, if I’m correct. I used to party a lot, I used to love the rocksteady era you know? I think that was even one of the best times in the reggae music, to all them big rocksteady songs. But yeah, this recording was done in ‘71, and it was couple songs that he re-recorded. He recorded over “Evening News” and he recorded over “Don’t Stay Out Late” which was a big song for him you know back in ‘63, and he also did a Kris Kristofferson cover of “Sunday Morning Coming Down”, which I’ve heard was originally written by Willie Nelson.
Pat: So what is on this playlist that we had earlier, Billy? Is there, is there any-- “Evening News” would be wonderful. Yeah. Yeah.
Clive Chin: And by the way, we got the horn section, Billy organized the horn section by some guys he knows out of uh, I think it’s uh-- ah that’s right. Ellington Orchestra
Pat: So the horns from the Fela Broadway show, and from the Ellington Orchestra. Nice, nice.
Clive Chin: But I told Billy you know. I said I’d love for the guys to play the horn section back in the ‘58 style. In other words, the original one mic and six musicians. Perfect.
Pat: We gotta hear it Billy, please!
Clive Chin: Yeah man, give ‘em a taste.
Pat: When you’re reminded of this music that was parked for all these decades-- and you describe how Billy looked when he saw those first recordings-- what’s it like for you? Does it bring back good memories, or--
Clive Chin: Yeah, it brings back good memories and I’m so happy that I can share the music. It’s all about sharing really. ‘Cause the whole idea in recording them in the first place, is--
Pat: To let them get heard.
Clive Chin: Yes, exactly. And I feel that the timing could never be any what better than now. I personally feel there’s different genders of music right now. It’s like, we have been through four different stages of the music, you know? Every ten years, it changes. Everything here is changing you know? We have this thing called the dancehall now, which to me is alright but you know, it can never match the glory of the early recordings. I mean, I gravitated on some of the best recordings from Jamaica. Seeing a set of musicians line up in a studio makes me happier than just seeing a man run a keyboard and just lickin’ a beat and a drum box here. That’s not creativity that’s computivity. You know I mean? When you create something you create something immensely it’s like, you know, cooking a pot of soup or stew. Don’t ya put seasons in? Ya man. You’re tying your pepper your pimento, you know, your leek or whatever kind of vegetable you know your tomato, your corn...
Keep your eyes peeled for the lost archives of 17 North Parade on VP Records' own 17 North Parade imprint.