A documentary and memoir chart the unlikely story of how a former ice cream shop in Kingston came to define Jamaican music. Kevin E G Perry charts talks to the woman at the centre of it all: Miss Pat
Then it comes to Jamaican music, Patricia Chin has heard it all. The 83-year-old, known as “Miss Pat”, has been a fixture of the island’s music industry for over 60 years. Today she runs VP Records, the world’s largest reggae music and distribution company, making her a crucial music mogul for the island’s music. DJ Kool Herc, who along with his sister Cindy Campbell is considered the founder of hip-hop, once said of the sweet-natured 4ft 11in entrepreneur: “What Berry Gordy was to Motown Records, Patricia Chin is to the reggae industry.”
It all started in a former ice cream shop in Kingston, which Miss Pat and her husband Vincent opened as Randy’s Record Mart in 1959. In her new memoir, Miss Pat: My Reggae Music Journey, out this week, she describes how it was there she developed her legendarily encyclopaedic knowledge of ska, rocksteady, reggae, dub and dancehall. It was there, too, that Jamaica’s homegrown musical explosion in the Sixties and Seventies took place, bringing those sounds and styles to the world.
Randy’s, at 17 North Parade, is a central location in the story of Jamaican music. Upstairs was Studio 17, where many classic recordings were made – including a pair of seminal reggae albums produced by Lee “Scratch” Perry for Bob Marley & The Wailers. The studio was so popular that the alley outside became a gathering place for aspiring stars and world-class musicians alike. Known as Idler’s Rest, it was there that drummer Sly Dunbar and bassist Robbie Shakespeare – who would become the prolific reggae rhythm section and production duo Sly & Robbie – met for the very first time.
Miss Pat remembers the atmosphere well. “From 9 o’clock each morning, singers, musicians and record collectors would gather outside,” she says, over the phone from New York. “When they wanted a backup singer, they would just call downstairs and say: ‘Hey, we need a singer! Come up here, Delroy Wilson!’” (Wilson is widely regarded as Jamaica’s first teen star.) “There was a great feeling of community.”
Vincent and Miss Pat’s involvement in the music business started from humble roots. Before the couple opened Randy’s, Vincent Chin had a job servicing jukeboxes in bars across Jamaica and updating them with the latest tunes from the likes of Fats Domino, The Drifters and Sam Cooke. Naturally after each new round of releases, Vincent would be left with a surplus of used records and at his wife’s suggestion, he struck a deal with his employer to sell the old unwanted 45s directly to the public.
Thus “Randy’s” was born, with Vincent lifting the name from a show on a Tennessee-based jazz and country station that he would listen to religiously on ham radio. They soon began to sell new records alongside the old, although their budget was too limited for them to build up much stock. “I used to go and buy one Percy Sledge record, one Jim Reeves record, all the new records in ones,” explains Miss Pat, who was born and raised in Kingston by her Chinese mother and Indian father. “Then we bought one turntable and one needle. Everything we bought in ones. Then we’d sell it and go and buy one more.”
Randy’s slowly grew, one record at a time, and before long, Vincent decided it was time to expand into the recording end of the budding Jamaican music industry. It’s strange to think now that, before the island gained independence from the British Empire on 6 August 1962, if you tuned into a radio station or fed a shilling into a jukebox anywhere in the country, you’d have been unlikely to hear anything but American R&B, gospel and country and western records. Vincent built Studio 17 from scratch in a room above the shop and started experimenting with his own productions.