Miss Pat “My Reggae Music Journey
In Jamaican music’s growth from regional phenomenon to sustained international success, the performers are of course indispensable, but others operating behind the scenes are nearly as crucial. One such figure is Patricia Chin, aka Miss Pat, who cofounded VP Records in 1979 with her late husband Vincent “Randy” Chin.
Miss Pat: My Reggae Music Journey is her memoir, its contents documenting a life spent in the shaping of Jamaican music spanning over 60 years. Loaded with photos and illustrations, the oversize hardcover will be a fine acquisition for any reggae lover with a coffee table. It’s out today via VP Music Group with distribution through Gingko Press.
The colorful dust jacket of this exquisitely designed book offers text serving as timeline: From Mento, Ska, Rocksteady, Reggae to Dancehall. That’s the span of innovation in Jamaican music that Patricia Chin witnessed and played an increasingly vital role in shaping. Staying power relates to perseverance, but it’s really more complex than that.
To expand, the sobriquet Miss Pat, seemingly in universal usage with this book as ample evidence, is testament that she is something of a rarity in the music business; a person who has constantly done the right thing for the musicians, for the consumer, and for her peers in independent record production, an endeavor she helped to trailblaze.
While many dancehall aficionados will know her through VP’s major role in developing and sustaining that style through turbulent industry changes, My Reggae MusicJourney devotes a substantial portion of its pages to Miss Pat’s life in Jamaica prior to the Chin family’s move to New York City in the late 1970s, starting with childhood reminiscence, describing her upbringing and pinpointing those who raised her, and progressing to her meeting and eventual marriage to Vincent, who, like Miss Pat, was Chinese-Jamaican.
The space and care given to Miss Pat’s youth and familial background is certainly valuable, but the memoir really catches fire as the Chins gradually make inroads into the biz, initially by selling used jukebox records and then by opening Randy’s Record Mart first and Studio 17 second, these combined efforts putting them into close contact with such major artists as Alton Ellis, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Peter Tosh and yes indeed, Bob Marley.
But I don’t want to give away too much of Miss Pat’s story in this review, as she tells the tale with grace. In short, after shifting retail operations to NYC, VP Records was born, with the label still thriving as a family operation today. Too often in the history of recorded music (which is where the concept of the music business really takes shape), the stories of the dominant labels and entrepreneurs depict individuals who were 49% (or less) music lover and 51% (or more) unscrupulous greedhead.
This is definitely not the case with VP Records, which was clearly run with fundamental principles of decency as a priority. Unlike in so many other music memoirs, there is no aggrandizing of bad behavior here, but rather, the text details the running of a business with the concept of community in mind. It’s no coincidence that the noted hangout spot for musicians Idler’s Rest was located next to Randy’s Record Mart.
But community also applies to international listenership. I found it illuminating how Miss Pat took the time to absorb the musical preferences in different locales, and to appreciate those differences rather than castigate areas that weren’t readily embracing the latest trends (which is the metropolitan norm). As a fan of the music, Miss Pat understood that matters of taste could be regional as well as individual, and she strove to satisfy demand, even though it required more work on her part.
That’s one admirable trait amongst many, but of special significance is her stature as a pioneering woman in a male-dominated field. The book makes it plain that its author was making decisions and taking chances throughout its chronology and was furthermore raising a family while running the store, studio and label, so that it all ended up blending together.
Some setbacks and sadness do impact the story, lending the weight of reality to the positive vibes. Overall, Miss Pat: My Reggae Music Journey is an easy, informative read, and again, attractively designed by Maria Papaefstathiou. As mentioned up top, it’s safe to say that any fan of reggae would appreciate this book, but please be aware that the first edition is limited to 2,000 copies. That means some of you lovers are going to get left out. So get to snappin’…