A Visit to Studio 17, Orange St. Kingston JA

One of Jamaica's longest standing record stores and recording studios at the heart of Jamaica's reggae revolution

For two decades from the opening of his tiny record shop in 1958, the name of Vincent Randy Chin conjured up everything new and exciting in Jamaica’s music scene. Randy’s Records and Studio 17 attracted some of the most famous reggae artists to record there, and the Chin family business became legendary.

In the late 70s however, political turmoil forced the family to leave their studio and move to New York where Vincent founded the VP label and distribution company, currently one of the largest publishers of Caribbean music in the world. Their record shop at 17 North Parade stayed open and under their control until the end of the 1990s.

Vincent was the son of a Chinese carpenter who moved to Jamaica in the 1920s. In his teens in the 1950s he oversaw the stocking and maintenance of jukeboxes in local bars.  At first he saved the spare records, which were mainly American tracks, to sell in his shop in downtown Kingston. Then he began to record local variants of R&B and pioneered a new taste for home grown talent.

A big breakthrough came at the time of Jamaican Independence in 1962 when Vincent produced a hit single by the Trinidadian singer Lord Creator enabling him and his wife, known as Miss Pat, a former student nurse, to expand their business. 

The Chins moved to a former ice cream parlour and set up a recording studio above the shop. Over the next few years the studio was upgraded to 16 tracks with Vincent’s son Clive in a lead production role with the house band Randy’s All-Stars. In 1973 Clive persuaded Augustus Pablo to come the studio to record his acclaimed album ‘This Is Augustus Pablo’ .

Throughout the 60s and 70s Studio 17 became popular with many of Jamaica’s leading artists including Bob Marley, Tommy McCook, Peter Tosh and Gregory Isaacs. Outside on the stoop, known as Idlers’ Rest, hopeful artists anxiously awaited the opportunity to show their worth in the studio during ‘down-time’. New hopeful recordings were made upstairs, then dubplates cut taken down below to the shop where Miss Pat would play them to the record buying public. Only she would have the last word about whether a track as ‘Hot or Not’.

During the 70s the Chin family developed pressing facilities and expanded into distribution and Randy’s continued to be a major centre of music production. They had also been responsible for disseminating reggae in branches of Randy’s in New York since 1969.

Today, the digital domain has superseded the need for the studio’s original analogue equipment, much of which remains has lain dormant since the 1980s. Studio 17 is now a museum and record shop. If you find yourself on Orange Street, take a step back in time and see the space where such greats as Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and the recently lost Lee ‘Scratch Perry’ all recorded.

When the Chins and their four children left for New York some 2,000 original session tapes were left behind at Studio 17. It was thought that they had been lost during Hurricane Gregory in 1988 but they were recovered and restored by Clive Chin in memory of his son Joel who was murdered in 2011.

Vincent Chin moved to Miami before retiring, his health deteriorating due to diabetes. He died in February 2003.

Photos by Didi Beck and words by Pamela Merritt.