Aquarius Rock – Augustus Pablo & Herman Chin-Loy
Darkest Night – James Eastwood
The Red Sea – Augustus Pablo
Alton’s Official Daughter (Version 1) – Alton Ellis
Aquarius Dub – Herman Chin-Loy
Alton’s Official Daughter (Version 2) – Alton Ellis
Funky Aquarius (Aquarius Horns) – The Aquarians
Funky Strip – Charlie Boy
Iggy Iggy – Augustus Pablo & Herman
Road Runner – Sounds Unlimited
Pick Up The Pieces – Archie McKay
Song Of The East – Augustus Pablo
Middle East Skank – Sounds Unlimited
No More War – Beres
No More Version – Herman Chin-Loy
Snowball & Pudding – Augustus Pablo
East Of The River Nile – Augustus Pablo
Soul Vibration – The Teacher
River Nile Version – Herman Chin-Loy
Return Of Sabata – Dennis Alcapone
Sabata – Herman Chin-Loy
Song My Mother Used To Sing – Dennis Brown
Groove With It – Leroy Parker
I Man - Herman Chin-Loy
|"His Aquarius Record
Shop is psychedelic and has an exotic atmosphere as only Herman can
create. Want to be there for the inevitable happening? Go to Constant
Spring Road in the heart of Half Way Tree or telephone him there. He (or
his assistant) is always ready to please you...will jump to advise or
The Eastern influence has added immeasurably to the haunting sound of the music of Western Kingston and the 'Far East' style, with its emphasis on the minor keys, first came to prominence in the early sixties during the ska period with the pioneering work of trombone player Don Drummond. It was taken to its logical (some observers might say illogical) conclusion by Augustus Pablo during the following decade.
The Chinese had first come to the island as indentured labourers in 1838 following emancipation and, after their contracts had expired, many settled in Jamaica. Their contribution to the economy was felt immediately and their influence on the development of Jamaican music throughout the second half of the next century is incalculable. Musicians such as Phil Chen and the Chung brothers, Geoffrey and Michael, were hugely influential. Vincent Chin and his son Clive with Randy's Record Shop and Studio 17, the Hookim brothers, Ernest, Jo Jo, Kenneth and Paulie at Channel One, Leslie Kong at Beverley's down on Orange Street, Byron Lee musically with The Dragonaires and taking care of business with Dynamic Sounds and Justin 'Philip' Yap's legendary Top Deck and Tuneico labels all proved to be vital creative and entrepreneurial forces within the music. Herman Chin-Loy's Aquarius Record Shops, label and Recording Studio are an integral part of this distinguished roll call of musical and commercial achievement.
"Herman believes his 25% African heritage has created this deep rooted understanding of Jamaican music and beat. He attributes his business acumen to his 75% Chinese blood."
Herman Chin-Loy is both modest and self-deprecating yet this quiet man is one of the single most significant names in the history of Jamaican music. He was the first to record Augustus Pablo, 'Iggy Iggy', and was responsible for the first dub LP ever, 'Aquarius Dub', and as the seventies commenced he started to lead the music in a direction that it is still following nearly thirty five years later. Herman was also behind Beres Hammond's 'Soul Reggae' released on the Water Lily label, a set which elevated Beres to superstar status and was the first successful Jamaican soul album. A man who knew, and still knows, music Herman was one of the island's most successful disc jockeys and record salesman before he turned his abundant talents to record production. Nowadays everyone is aware of the importance of disc jockeys and their ability to influence musical trends but in the sixties a deejay was a person who played the records to you and a salesman was someone who, in turn, sold those records to you. Herman was always much, much more than this:
"I just love music and went right into it. There is no business like music and show business."
Herman was born on the 11th July 1948 in the peaceful rural district of Trelawny and he moved first to Clarendon and then to Kingston where he settled with his family. His early musical influences were:
"On the radio and going to dances. They used to keep dances at out school for the community with local sounds playing records like 'The Vow' by Gene & Eunice. They'd put up a fence around the boundary and you'd pay to go in. We'd also have concerts in the school and you'd have different guys singing. Everyone want to sing like Nat King Cole and Sam Cooke."
But he decided that instead of singing he was going to sell records and Herman opened his first shop with Neville Foo-Loy in the heart of downtown Kingston at 125 King Street in the early sixties. He named the shop 'One Stop':
"Maybe it's because he is so likeable, yet firm. He always smiles but with an eye on his cash register. Laugh with him, because he loves to laugh, especially when he is playing a selection for a prospective customer."
Neville Foo-Loy was an old friend of Derrick Harriott's from Excelsior High School and in 1966 One Stop became Derrick's One Stop when they passed the King Street premises on to Derrick to start the foundation of his musical empire. Herman moved on to the Half Way Tree district:
"I wanted to play as a deejay and I left my record store and went to work for K.G.'s. He had a disco round the back called the Lotus A Go Go and I wanted to spin the music. So I started disc jockeying and selling records for K.G.'s. I'm not blowing my own trumpet but I was recognised in the industry as the best record salesman."
By now Herman had become a notability as someone who could always be relied on for his impeccable selection skills. The customers would only ever want to hear what was hot and not last week's leftovers and Herman was the man who could be relied upon to sort out the musical menu. One of the prime movers on the local scene deejaying at the Lotus and Spinning Wheel discotheques, top salesman at K.G.'s Record Shop and deejaying live for The Inner Circle and Now Generation bands he was a man totally immersed in music. Herman left K.G.'s and opened his first Aquarius Record Shop next door to the Rainbow (now known as Skateland) in Half Way Tree. Singer Bruce Ruffin worked closely with Herman at this time:
"Randy's was downtown... the next best thing would be Half Way Tree. So we went to the location and found some premises with a bus stop right outside and I sais 'Wicked!' because that's where all the pretty girls used to stop... and I became like the manager of the shop and I remember people like Rita Marley coming in to sell records to us."
The importance of key record shops and their influence on the popularity of certain records in the history of Jamaican music is often overlooked. A good salesman could make or break a record:
"I'm giving the people what they want and helping the music along as well. Without the buyer there's nothing but it's not about the money. It's about pleasing the customers and the service you give to the people."
While still working at K.G.'s Herman had started to produce records and he had already enjoyed hits with Lloyd Charmers on 'Shanghai' and 'African Zulu' in 1969 and musicians such as Aston 'Family Man' Barrett, Alva 'Reggie' Lewis and Glen 'Capo' Adams began to come to him:
"They would tell me about the rhythms they had. I'd buy a cut of the rhythm and put the melodies on them."
Herman not only put melodies on them but also his own deejay style interjections. The biggest influence on his talkover style was the legendary Sir Lord Comic. One of Jamaica's original mic. men, from a time before the advent of recording deejays, he is still fondly remembered for his performances live on Sound System but Comic made a handful of recordings and his release on WIRL, 'The Great Wuga Wuga', proved to be inspirational to Herman as he introduced 'Iggy Iggy' and 'Soul Vibration':
"I don't know what I was saying! Up to this day I don't know what it means! Just the vibes you know!"
Herman's productions possessed a real sense of adventure yet he maintained a very clear vision of exactly how his recordings should sound:
"I was trying to experiment with innovative sounds. Some time and some thought - music, melody, harmony and a bridge. Most productions are just spontaneous but my methodology was to put pen to paper. I feel comfortable in the studio and when the shop was doing well I'd go in and out of the studio depending on the vibes. I love to help people but the vibes have to be right..."
Willing to try anything Herman scatted and talked over his rhythms, overlaid odd percussion effects and guitar and keyboard parts and would occasionally use introductions from other records such as Nina Simone's 'My Baby Just Cares For Me' on his 'Darker Shade Of Black' versions or Clarence Reid's 'Nobody But You, Babe' on 'East Of The River Nile' as if to catch the listeners off guard. Influenced by his love of jazz music his recordings were always intricately arranged but his instinctive enjoyment shone through on every groove of the records. His singular approach was matched by his eccentric appearance.
"A lover (check the appropriate parties) he loves the bare, scanty look in clothes and his mind being as creative as it is, should prove quite useful if he took on designing also."
For his instrumental releases he would use the pseudonym 'Augustus Pablo', a name Horace Swaby would later recount that Herman had found in a Mexican magazine, to give the records an enigmatic and mysterious feel. A slight, quiet youth he took the name for himself and Horace Swaby actually became Augustus Pablo whose music would embody all of the enigma and intangible mystery that Herman had intended the 'Augustus Pablo' name to convey:
"Pablo using the name was never a problem."
The story has been told many times how young Horace Swaby was standing in the Aquarius Record Shop in 1971 with a melodica that had been lent to him by the daughter of a family friend. Horace had already made his recording debut at Studio One but the organ instrumentals that he had played at Brentford Road were never released:
"Coxsone never really put them out. Three organ instrumentals... This was just before Herman."
The melodica was still regarded as little more than a child's toy to be used before a musician graduated to 'real' instruments but Herman asked Horace if he could play it and was so moved by the sounds that came from the melodica that he booked studio time at Randy's Studio 17 for the following week. This historic session proved to be a landmark which broke all the existing rules as it established an entirely new direction for Jamaican music and the advent of a hugely influential musician yet Herman has still to receive the proper respect for the part he played in this musical revolution. The first session with Herman and Horace produced 'Iggy Iggy', a version to the Heptones' 'Why Did You Leave Me', and together the duo would establish a sound and a style that would dominate reggae for years to come.
"Herman had a great ear for music though and gave Augustus Pablo his break when everyone else was saying he was no good. At the time nobody else had put out anything like that, you know, with that strange sounding thing (the melodica) but Herman said 'No. It's good' and took a chance and, of course, he (Pablo) went on to great things."
Aquarius productions were always seriously ahead of the times but 'Rain', Herman's only international hit record, was a traditional song by a traditional singer aimed very squarely towards the mainstream and it reached exactly where Herman had intended it to hit. Sung beautifully by former Technique Bruce Ruffin it made number 19 in the UK National Charts in the summer of 1971 and sold over 100,000 copies in the process. It was seemingly at odds with the more adventurous Aquarius productions, perhaps due to the influence of Geoffrey Chung, who had been instrumental in arranging the song for Bruce Ruffin.
"...I became a little restless so when Herman suggested I record 'Rain' I thought 'Why not?' I'd found the song on the B-side of a Jose Feliciano record and thought it was a great song so I began performing it live with the Inner Circle... We went into the studio and recorded it. Anyway Herman sent the tape to Trojan and they had Tony King put all the strings and things on it. After that the record went on to become a big hit all over Europe. I remember when I went to Spain and they asked me why I'd copied Jose Feliciano who, of course, was a king in Spanish speaking countries. So I told them I wasn't copying him. I loved the song!"
Herman sent the tape to England but he recalls that Bruce White added the strings for its UK release on the Trojan label:
"I produced it. Bruce White put on the strings."
He recorded Dennis Brown in the same romantic vein on a hit version of Carole King's 'It's Too Late' but Herman's work with vocalists was usually more experimental and Dennis Brown, backed by The Now Generation, handed in one of his greatest ever performances for the Aquarius label with 'Song My Mother Used To Sing':
"Dennis Brown was a big singer. With the arrangement I wanted to bring in a kind of orchestra feel in terms of complimenting the horn section with the rhythms. I was influenced by The Skatalites and I wanted to put that feel into dub music. It's the way music should have gone."
Herman recalled the rather strange beginnings of Alton Ellis' 'Alton's Official Daughter':
With 'Alton's Official Daughter' I was sitting in a mango tree. I started telling it and Alton took up the rest of the lyrics."
His vision for combining the very best of the old with the greatest of the new came to full fruition with the release of 'Aquarius Dub'. Ever on the alert for new trends Herman noticed that more and more of his regular customers would come into his Half Way Tree store asking for 'dub' records so Herman went to Dynamic Sounds studio and mixed 'Aquarius Dub':
"It was the first dub LP I was selling records in the shop and people would come in asking for 'dub' records. They were playing them on the Sound Systems on 'soft wax' (acetates) and I asked myself how can I get the same sort of music to sell. I did what I had to do and put it on record! I mixed it with the help of the engineer and the musicians. I instructed them to get the sound I wanted. Then Coxsone Dodd put out 'Dub Store Special'. It was underground just for the roots people. Then it went commercial and Randy's put out 'Dub Serial' and 'African Dub Chapter One'. Rupie Edwards, Federal and then Scratch with 'Blackboard Jungle'. Every dub album came after."
The customers were prepared to pay considerably more for a 'dub' LP than a 'normal' record even though Herman claimed that the whole exercise had taken him less than an hour to mix:
"If a regular album cost four dollars I would sell the dub LP for six dollars. The price was not a problem as they'd have to pay much more for an acetate so it was cheaper. But after that, everyone started to put out dub. When I went to Federal to cut the stamper the engineer said: 'What kind of foolishness is this?' but they put out their own dub LP later."
There is one track from Herman's historical album included on this set to give an idea of just how significant this vinyl solution to his customers' requests proved to be. 'I Man' is the very first cut to Augustus Pablo's epochal 'Cassava Piece' rhythm as it originally appeared on 'Aquarius Dub'. Later used as the basis for Pablo's seminal 'King Tubby's Meet Rockers Uptown' seven inch release this record was largely responsible for introducing the rest of the world to dub music.
Herman has never left the music business, never seeing it as a stepping stone to other ventures but always as an end in itself. He continues to control his Aquarius Record Shop in Half Way Tree, which over the years has become a meeting place for serious students and committed collectors of reggae music with its stupendous selection of original vintage vinyl for sale, a state of the art record store in Miami supplying brand new music to the public and also a franchise in Japan. As ever he remains acutely in tune to what his customers want:
"The shops are doing reasonably well but with the downloading onto CD sales have dropped. It's a fact. People have the equipment so everyone can download. It's not the fault of the people who download the music for if you sell the equipment what do you expect the people to do?"
In the mid-seventies Herman opened his own Aquarius Recording Studio in Half Way Tree "the first twenty four track studio in the Caribbean" but does not reach it anyway near as often as he would like:
"I have the vibes most of the time but I don't have the time. It's a crime..."
Every time Herman has had the time to come out from behind the shop counter and enter the recording studio the results are never less than arresting. As a man who always chose not to waste his time his forays into the recording studio unfortunately remain as infrequent as they have been interesting. At the start of the dance hall era he produced Tiger's ("who used to work at the Aquarius store") first ever record, 'Knock Three Times', for his musicism label and he also worked with Earl 16, Terry Ganzie, Little Roy, Sugar Minott, George Nooks, Tristam Palma, Linval Thompson and many, many more. The releases on his labels are invariably worth investigating and the selection on this Pressure Sounds set is the most comprehensive collection of Aquarius productions yet to be compiled. Its release has been largely awaited by reggae music aficionados but Herman's parting comments should be sufficient to set them into further agonies of anticipation:
"The history of the people speaks through the music. I'm trying to find truth. It's the most important thing for when there is no truth there is no justice. I have recordings that I like better than the ones I released! My favourite records have yet to be released... it's true."
Their eventual release really will be something to look forward to...
Harry Hawke - September 2004
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