Tuesday, June 21, 2005

An Audience With Clive Chin

Today I had a rare music journalism experience–a conversation with Jamaican producer Clive Chin of Randy’s Records, co-founder of VP Records with his father Vincent “Randy” Chin, and Patricia Chin. You can read more about Randy’s Records label at Pressure Sounds, home to a great collection of said label's highlights .

As Clive Chin sipped lemonade on the patio of his New York home and conversed via telephone, he took me back in time to his successful years in the early and mid-‘70s at his 17 North Parade Road downtown Kingston store and studio. Many of these memories and reflections are presented in the excellent new DVD documentary on VP, simply titled VP 25th Anniversary Concert Live In Miami (VP Records). In addition to live concert footage of Sizzla, Beres Hammond and Tanya Stevens, the “extras” include VP fan tributes (ala the Adidas/XLR8R book Bedroom Rockers), and a very fine 45 minute biographical documentary, shot in 2004 in Kingston, with loads of interesting archive photography throughout.

Randy’s is one of those monumental, historic labels and studios in Jamaican music history. Bob Marley, Lee Perry and Joe Cocker all recorded there with Clive Chin as engineer alongside perhaps Jamaica’s greatest studio engineer of the time, Errol Thomson. ET passed away recently, just as he was making his triumphant comeback into the reggae business via the Hard Times riddim (featuring the international hit by I-Wayne, “Living In Love”). Randy’s studio, store and label produced hits aplenty on the Jamaican and British reggae charts, and was a cornerstone location in downtown Kingston where artists and DJs of all stripes would congregate.

The funny thing about my interview with Clive–I never got to ask him any of the questions I had written in advance. These were questions specifically designed for a short answer piece we’ll be running in the September issue (#90) of XLR8R Magazine as a review of the VP DVD. Instead, Clive and I began by discussing the weather in the Bay Area and New York, the weather lead us to hurricanes, and to that most awful of hurricanes to hit the Caribbean in 1989, Gilbert. Clive Chin wasn’t there in Jamaica for Gilbert; long before he has emigrated with his father, Vincent, to Jamaica, Queens, New York, to reestablish his label, store and other businesses (including Clive’s Jamaican restaurants).

Throughout our meandering 82-minute conversation, we hit upon several key revelations. One was sparked by a recollection that Clive describes in the VP documentary DVD–that of the oncoming violence in 1977 and onwards in Jamaica, and how the Chins were in the middle of both literal street gun battles between rival political gangs, and how then-Prime Minister Michael Manley’s official embracement of Socialism as his nations economic and political policy affected the lives of businessmen like Chin. I can’t reveal this part of the interview now. It’ll either be in issue #90, or posted later here on the blog. But needless to say, it was a different take on Manley’s policies than what I had heard or read to date.

Some of Clive’s stories and memories–like that of sitting in Skatalites trombonist Don Drummond’s lap (during one of his father’s many circular trips around Jamaica in his job as jukebox technician)–are rare and astounding. Other opinions, like his thoughts on Buju Banton’s track “Boom Bye Bye” might surprise you. Hopefully I’ll be able to include all of these moments on the blog or in the mag soon. In the end, Clive Chin was a warm, approachable, expansive and generous interviewee. It was an experience I put up there with my three most meaningful artist interviews all-time.

So, for now, hats off to Clive Chin, producer, studio owner, restaurateur, pioneer. And soon come: more on this fascinating interview and the questions it raises.