Remembering Randy’s Records, Bob Marley, And Playing Rhythms On A Cheese Grater

Tonight in Brooklyn NYC, legendary reggae producer Clive Chin will premiere some exclusive scorchers from deep inside the vaults of Randy’s Records that have scarcely been heard since they were first laid down inside the studio at 17 North Parade in Kingston, Jamaica. “I unraveled around pretty close to 600 odd tapes that were buried in the studio during the exodus coming to New York back in 1977—So hold tight, whole heap of good tunes. When I say good tunes, solid tunes, authentic tunes. Some of them have never been released. Tunes from Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs, Max Romeo. A couple Wailers too. Just to let you know that there is plenty arsenal in the Randy’s vaults—Ha-ha-ha-ha!”
Recently featured in the documentary Bob Marley, Clive and his father Vincent “Randy” Chin worked with every major reggae artist and musician of the 1970s, and if you’ve ever heard him spinning tunes, you know that every DJ set is like a history lesson. We caught up with Clive for this exclusive interview a few weeks back, and for some reason our conversation started with food

I love cooking—the way to a woman’s heart. I am not very good on words to sweet talk a woman, lyrically speaking. I’m usually down-to-earth. I don’t beat around the bush. Coming back to the food, I love to be very creative and I don’t go by a cookbook that tells you “one teaspoon.” I go by my own measurements.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE FOOD? JAMAICAN?

No—I like international food. In order to appreciate your food you gotta appreciate what’s out there. I love curry cause it has that spice, that smack. I don’t like food that is bland. And experimenting with curry and with things like herbal seasoning, experimenting with spices you can create your own dish, your own little experiment….

JUST LIKE HOW YOU DO IN THE STUDIO?

I give you one instance. It’s like I use different instruments in my recordings to see how it plays out and it works. Sometimes other journalists have asked me about the Alton Elis track “Too Late to Turn Back.” Once Rodigan ask me why was the guitar so sharp? I told him it was a cheese grater. When I told him that he almost fell off the chair.

Alton Ellis “Too Late To Turn Back Now”

HOW DID YOU THINK OF THAT?

The guitarist on that session was having problems. You see you have some musicians that pick up quick what they need to do, and some give you a hard time. It’s like potty-training a child. I said I’m losing momentum. I’m losing the whole dynamics. So I said, “If you can’t handle it, go.” He got upset and left. We didn’t have another guitarist so we brought in the percussionist and asked him what he was carrying in his bag. I said, “Skully what you got in there? What is this?” He said “Cheese grater.” And I said, “use this and use a drum stick” and the rest is history.

A lot of my things come by envisioning. If I’m gonna cover a song I do not do it to how it was. I never do the same cover as the original. I like to change up a ting. Why would I want to perfect the original ? Do something different. Taste is something you have and you stamp your name on it. And this is very crucial for me, and it pays off for me at times you know. I never thought I done anything I’m not happy with. if I’m not happy with something I don’t put it out… I do it over or I leave it alone.

COME BACK WHEN YOU’RE READY?

Come back when you ready.

SO WHAT DO YOU THINK MAKES A GOOD PRODUCER?

What makes a good producer is the songs that he sees that has clarity, substance, and that is of the time. What I’m trying to get at is there are producers who produce music cause they have the financial backing but they don’t have the love or the crave to put it out. I’m gonna give you an instance—this is my own analysis. You have some producer called producer ’cause they finance the recording, but they are never there and they tell the engineer ‘I got an appointment’ or ‘I gotta get back to my other job.’ So they employ the piano player, guitar player, or the horn sections—whoever they may be—to oversee the recording or in other words to produce the song. And you never see that musician’s name on the record. You always see the guy who pays the money.

Now to me, I can’t call him a producer. I call him a financier or an executive. That’s probably a better classification for a person like that—like Chris Blackwell. He sends all these guys to Jamaica to produce records and come back and his name is the first on the record, but he is an executive producer. He pays the money. The guy that actually sits in the studio and make it happen—that’s the producer. Whether a good producer or bad producer, I would say—during my time in the business, in the ’70s—the majority of the producers, I would say 80 percent, were solid.

BY SOLID, YOU MEAN THEY WERE REAL PRODUCERS?

Yes, I’m talking guys like Lee “Scratch” Perry, Clancy Eccles, myself, Derrick Harriott, Sonia Pottinger—for a woman, she’s always on the session. When I say always, I mean when she come to Randy’s.

Sonia Pottinger At The Controls

There were like several other studios in Kingston at the time but in the early days there was only like two—I’m talking in the late ’50s. You had like WIRL then you had Federal. And then by the ’60s you had Treasure Isle, Studio One, Randy’s, Dynamic Sounds, Harry J. But what makes a good producer is that you have to see what is going on out there in the society, and you gravitate on that and then come back into the studio and make it happen. It’s like if you listen to some of the songs right after independence, ’62 it was a very festive time down there. So all the songs that came out were very joyful music. You had tunes like “Forward March” [sings] “Tu-tu-tu-tu-too-tu—Jamaicans are in motion!” You understand me?

Derrick Morgan “Forward March”

Then you had other songs that kicked in like Desmond Dekker and the Aces who had powerful songs. You had The Melodians, also a lot of songs that were coming out at the time were Biblical songs you know. You had songs that were coming out of the Old Testament from Psalms into Proverbs and from there into the New Testament, the Revelations—and Bob took a lot of his stuff out of that. Peter took it, Bunny Wailer took it, and so did other artists, like Jimmy Cliff took it. “By the Rivers of Babylon,” The Melodians—that was from the Bible. Toots and the Maytals, “Six and Seven Books,” that was Biblical. This is what we gravitated on as youths growing up.

Toots and the Maytals “Six and Seven Books”

Then coming into the ’70s you had the rude boy tunes. When I say rude boy, you only find guys with ratchets. You never have that big artillery. Now you have rocket launchers, machine guns, and AK57s—you name it!

IT WAS MORE ABOUT THE DRESS, THE ATTITUDE, THE FUN THINGS?

Yeah, yeah… It was about everyday life. And you had sections of the music industry at the time—you had uptown music and you had downtown music. Downtown music is for the poor class of people. Poor people music—for people who could not afford to go into these lavish hotels uptown or these lavish clubs. They could only afford to go to outside street dance where you have the sound system. And the sound system is where a lot of the downtown Jamaicans hear their music.

Uptown people had the disco. They had all these big bands that played all this disco music. Downtown people just have to deal with what they can afford to hear and what they could afford to enjoy themselves. “Poor people music,” that is where the artists of the time got their chance to be heard publicly. Because the radio stations at the time, there was only two radio stations: JBC (Jamaica Broadcasting Company) and RJR (Royal Jamaican Radio-fusion), and all they played was American pop music—American blues, country & western and American gospel. You can always hear Patti Page, Nat “King” Cole, Connie Francis, Jim Reeves—but you cannot hear any reggae.

If you want to hear reggae you have to go down to the sound system for this. They played dubplates and they have one turntable and you would have a man like Count Machuki or Sir Lord Comic, they toast over the music—that was the birth of deejaying. And that paid off well.

You never really had another way to promote your music other than sound system or the jukebox, and in order for you to get reggae into the jukebox you have to own the jukebox. Cause if it’s man like ‘hisse,’ not gonna put reggae in the juke box. He gonna put the same music—country western, gospel, jazz, doo-wop, you know. Cause my father use to change jukebox records.

THAT WAS HIS FIRST JOB BEFORE HE WENT INTO PRODUCTION, RIGHT?

I never used to see my father sometimes for a whole week.

ALTHOUGH YOU LIVED IN THE SAME HOUSE?

Yes, we lived in the same house. But when he goes on the road you have to remember, Jamaica is 144 square miles in length from, say, Portland to, say, Negril maybe—they probably add more onto it since I left by adding more rocks [Laughs]. So he would be away for a week. We would only see him at the weekends. We were young then at the time, missing my father then for a whole week. Come to think of it we didn’t have much play time.

We would go to the beach on a Sunday or the movies on a Saturday. Matinee on a Saturday—my grandfather used to take me up to the matinee but his movies were always the Chinese movies that he could understand with English subtitles. I ain’t gonna read subtitles all the way in the back seat—come on! By the way, my grandfather’s pure Chinese.

SO DID YOU EVER LEARN CHINESE?

I should! That’s why it makes me look so bad when I go to places like Beijing and Shanghai and I can’t even say two words. Obviously they know I’m a foreigner but I mean I could have at least said, “Hello, how do you do?” “It’s a nice day,” or “The food is delicious.” You know. I have to have somebody to interpret for me.

OR YOU CAN GET ONE OF THOSE LANGUAGE CONVERTERS NOW.

What’s a converter?

IT’S LIKE A LITTLE GADGET WHERE YOU CAN SAY SOMETHING IN ENGLISH AND YOU CAN TRANSLATE IT TO WHATEVER LANGUAGE YOU WANT.

Really! Boy… I think I’m gonna have to find one of that, you know. Cause I’ve been doing a lot of touring since 2000 kicked in. I’ve been invited so far to around 8 different countries and I am now looking to go to Spain in mid-August to Rototom then I leave from there and go to Japan.

NICE—THAT’S ONE PLACE ON MY LIST I HAVE TO GET TO. STILL HAVEN’T MADE IT OUT THERE.

It’s nice, it’s beautiful. I went there in ’09 and I did two shows there. One in Osaka, one in Tokyo. Both places were beautiful. I kinda like Tokyo more ’cause I didn’t spend much time in Osaka but both places were beautiful. And it was in April. I went and they had the cherry blossoms—beautiful!

AND THEY LOVE THE REGGAE, RIGHT?

Ahh… They more than love it. They master it! I came out of the Tokyo venue about 7 in the morning ’cause we started it late and when we came out I came out with my bag and I stepped out and saw all these people. I turned around to the promoter and asked him “You have another show here tonight?” The promoter said “No.” I said what are all these people waiting for then? He said “They’re waiting for you.”

“Waiting for me?” I say. “Oh my God.” And the amount of bowing I get—boy, I say I feel like a celebrity… I feel like I was Michael Jackson. I feel like I was Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr [laughs]. That was something. I really felt honored. I’ve never seen that before.

YOU ARE A REAL CELEBRITY.

No, I’m just Clive.

CELEBRITIES ARE HUMANS WHO ARE CELEBRATED BECAUSE THEY’VE CONTRIBUTED A  LOT.

I can understand my contributions but I’m so low-key and so modest. If I go somewhere I just slip in and slip out. I don’t like the paparazzi, the security. I don’t like the feeling I can’t move without having someone to bar me. I know people who like that kind of limelight, but I was brought up too humble. But I can understand what it is like because it’s just like some of these artists. Like say, Bob Marley that came from Trench Town. I mean he used to stand up outside Randy’s at 17 North Parade or sit on the bonnet of his broken-down Volkswagen waiting to go upstairs. He didn’t have people rushing to him like that. He build that up over the years. I can remember when he played Madison Square Garden in 1980. It was one of his last concerts. He was staying at the Essex by Central Park, cause you know Bob like him his sports and football stuff.

Bob Marley & The Wailers “The Heathen” (Live at Madison Square Garden, 1980)

But when he did the Garden, I tell you. He opened up for a group called the Commodores and the theatre was completely packed. The whole of the front row was bought out by Africans, mostly top celebrities a lot of ambassadors and people of high power. I’d gotten a couple of tickets from Family Man, which is his bass player and musical arranger. Gave one to my brother—I don’t know what he did with that, but I went in. And Reshma you see when Bob opened and closed the whole of the front row and some of the side row left. The Commodores probably only had half of what was inside there. They all came to see Bob. Frankie Crocker was the MC for that show. That’s when I realised how powerful Bob was.

I really didn’t get to see him while he was in Manhattan cause a lot of people were surrounding him. I think he had an interview with Gil Noble and that evening the whole floor of the Essex House was quarantined, meaning that security couldn’t go up there other than his family or business people. So I didn’t get to see him. But just to come to think of it from seeing someone and sharing smoke with someone I really want to see that [Bob Marley] movie you know… I have gotten so much compliments from just that little interview. It was over an hour. I remember it well cause it was a Sunday morning right up here on Jamaica Avenue.

WHAT WAS BOB LIKE?

He had two sides.

WHAT SIDE DID YOU KNOW?

He had the stare—the screwface [laughs]. The screwface was what really had people off of him, but if you know the other side of him—nice man, really nice. Let me ask you one thing, did I ever tell the film guys about taking a smoke into the stadium for him?

IN THE MOVIE?

Yeah, I can’t remember everyone that I spoke about, ’cause they ask me quite a few questions. Like in ’76 when they were doing the rehearsals for  this concert for the PNP, for Michael Manley, called Smile Jamaica. It was a free outdoor concert downtown, and he also did a recording called “Smile”—”Come on and smile, you’re in Jamaica…” two versions of that was done. One was done at Harry J, which I oversee that session.

Bob Marley & The Wailers “Smile Jamaica”

I was there and the other one was done at Lee “Scratch” Perry Black Ark studio up in Washington Gardens. And during the break of the rehearsals—this is before the shooting, it was in that same week—they were rehearsing for the show and I use to be there ritually for every rehearsal apart from the night of the shooting. I’m gonna tell you why I wasn’t there, that might have saved my life. My wife at the time had just had Joel and she said to me “Don’t tell me you’re going back up to Hope Road tonight, Clive and leave me in the car. Because I’m scared of all these dreadlocks out there smoking weed and there’s no light.” And it’s true there was no light in the back of the yard and just to make her happy I took her home. I didn’t go to Hope Road. We were in a rented place up by Linstone Crescent. I was leaving to come back I turned the radio on and there was the news, “Bob Marley just got shot.” I remember… Jesus! By the time I reach up there—police, everything. They say “Who are you?” I said, I’m Clive Chin. “You cannot go in there, there has just been a shooting incident several people got shot.”

I DIDN’T HEAR THAT STORY IN THE MOVIE! WHAT’S YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH CHRIS BLACKWELL? YOU MUST HAVE COME TOGETHER AT SOME POINT…

Well I didn’t really have much contact with him other than a couple of times. One time here in New York when they had their offices over on Madison in the Newsweek building. I was in the elevator going up cause I had to see someone in the building. This was late ’70s—78. And another time I met him in Jamaica when he came down to the studio. But my father knows him. My father knew him well ’cause several recordings back in the ’60s he had put out on his Island label. A matter of fact the very first Island release which was w1001 was “Independent Jamaica” Lord Creator. Song on the B side I think it was the “Remember.” Well “Remember” is the same thing as “Ma & Pa,” but “Independent Jamaica” was a huge, huge record and obviously he want to put that out because of the Jamaicans that were living in London. You know.

Lord Creator “Independent Jamaica”

I heard stories of him selling out the back of his car in London in the early days, back in the ’60s. I’m not talking the ’70s by late ’60s I guess he was up and going but I don’t really know him that well. I hear stories of him—tons.

I BET THERE’S SOME GOOD ONES AND BAD ONES.

Yeah, there’s good ones and bad ones, you know.

ARE YOU AWARE OF HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH BOB?

Um, yeah on a business level. I don’t think he was any closer to Bob than he was to any artist or musician. The story goes back that Bob and them was stranded in London in early ’70s when they got invited by Johnny Nash people. and they had no other choice but to go up there and seek help. And the story was told that Blackwell advanced them money and his business partner said, “you’ll never see that money, or neither will you see them come back.” And obviously that was different. They came back with an album.

AND THAT WAS CATCH A FIRE. THAT ALMOST MAKES HIM LOOK LIKE A HERO.

But anyway, from what I gather Blackwell did justice for Bob, you know, seeing him through to where he went. He saw more value in Bob than he saw in Bunny or Peter cause Peter was too radical. [laughs] I heard Blackwell had to run out of Kingston Sheraton hotel round poolside when Peter went up to see him there with a machete.

A WHAT?

Machete. I don’t know how true that is, and I cannot say that for sure, cause I was not there and that is just hearsay. But Peter did come down from Blackwell and it was a big cheque and Peter wanted my father to change it and my father looked on that and said, “Where am I gonna get that kind of money from to change?”

SO PETER AND BUNNY NEVER GOT ON WITH BLACKWELL?

Peter never got on that well with Blackwell. Bunny’s another person that don’t trust his shadow and because of the breaking up that made it worse distant-wise. But Blackwell stood behind Bob right till the very end and saw success you know in the process and worked with it. The thing is Blackwell used a lot of strategy because of his experience in working with guys like Robert Palmer and Steve Winwood from Traffic plus a host of other artists—Grace Jones.

ARE YOU STILL WORKING WITH NEW ARTISTS?

Yes, in fact I wanted to play you some of them… I’m currently working with a few artists. One is out in the west coast, Queen Makaina—she’s doin’ roots & culture songs. And Nikko, She’s an American but has been in England for about ten years—she’s about late 20s early 30s. Our label is called Attic Records and she has her own company.

This song was recorded in 1971 and now in 2012, this is called “Kissing”—Lord creator and Nikko. The song was written back in ’64. It was a ska tune, an unreleased track. The ska version came out in ’64 and it was remade in 1971. When I found the tapes, I decided that rather than put the whole version of Creator out, I’m gonna have Creator sing the first verse and let Nikko do the second verse, and after the solo I can bring them both in and have both of them singing together. The trick with tapes is that when you have the original masters you can always work with it. And Creator is now in his 80s and this girl is just barely turning 30.

SO YOU UPDATED HIS TUNE?

What I did was I sent the entire song over to her and said to her, “Listen to the song, the verses, and you’re gonna come into the second verse with the same lyrics, but I want you to come into the third verse as a unit.” In other words Nikko is complementing creator. In the second verse and in the third verse they all come together, so its a match-up. It’s like Natalie Cole and her father. That was the whole idea in my head at the time you know. Natalie Cole and Nat “King” Cole.

ARE YOU WORKING ON A NEW ALBUM?

I’m working on several projects. I also did a recording with Cha Cha, this young lady in Shanghai in 2010. She’s also a young Chinese female. I really fancied her voice and I decided to put her on an old ska riddim ballad with Toots and the Maytals. “They Say Love.”

Clive Chin at the Controls

@ReshmaB_RGAT