VJ’s Backyard Recording Studio in Bamboo Bay in Cayman Brac is classic.
It’s only a tiny structure tucked out back, but what happens behind these wooden walls is an extreme recording experience for many local musicians.
At a glance it might not look much like a recording studio. Dozens of fishing rods, lines, sinkers, tools, tackle boxes and engine parts litter the floor and walls, but the assortment of mixing equipment leads a visitor to know some serious music business is taking place.
But this was not always the case. Cayman Brac resident Vernon Smith, 70, included the back yard studio into his work shed after he was forced to find a new place for creating music when the racket from his front porch proved too much.
The now semi-professional recording studio started out with the basics of mixing and recording equipment. Throughout the years Mr. Smith has included recorders, mixing boards, amplifiers, guitars, drums, CD duplicators, studio microphones, speakers and keyboards. Now, a list of local artists who are making good on the local airwaves can, in part, trace their roots to the studio.
Well-known singer Quincy Brown broke the airways with his version of the popular gospel song “Drinking from my Saucer” from right out of the wooden Brac studio, as well as popular singers Arlen Tatum, Myron Ryan, Sybil Jackson, Andy Martin, Raymond, Eddie and Burman Scott.
Even Mr. Smith’s little granddaughter, Gina Grant, is working on her singing talents, “I hope she continues on this upward trend. She has good timing and there is no problem working with her,” Mr. Smith said. “She just finished recording a popular gospel song ‘On My Father’s Side’ and has sold six copies so far.”
Mr. Smith offers his musical talents to those wanting to record music. He will sequence a beat for it and lay down a track. If it needs filling of guitar or harmonica he can do that, too.
Unlike most other musicians, Mr. Smith did not receive any formal musical training but was guided by his passion and intuition to better himself through his love for music.
He grew up in Cayman Brac, like most young men at the time, sharing his love of the island and music with his seafaring days.
“Growing up, I loved music,” he said. “My uncle, Hafford Dilbert, played the violin at kitchen dances those days and said he would teach me to play the violin, which never did happen. But working with Aston Rutty, I bought my first guitar from BB Grant and listening to other guitar players taught me how to play.”
Along with Eddie Scott, Mr. Smith formed Scratchy Band, but soon left to go to sea.
While at sea he continued his music, often hitting the distant shores with Bunny Myles and Stubby Bodden to play meringue, calypso, beetle and ‘ska’. Tuning his guitar to sound more like a banjo, he shared this tip with Eddie Scott back in Cayman.
He returned to Cayman and in the 50s and formed the Beach Boys with good friend Burman Scott and Eddie Scott. The group dissolved sometime in the mid 70s after Mr. Smith found work with government, but he still continued to expand on his music.
Wanting to hear himself play he started fiddling around with recording his own material. Getting together on his front porch with other church musicians, he started recording the music on a cassette recorder. The racket they were making soon forced Mr. Smith to seek a place indoors.
At the time he was using an outside shed to repair outboard engines and fishing rods and the idea came to include the recording studio.
Multitalented, like most Caymanians were in the olden days, Mr. Smith set about making space in the shed for the studio and has been building on his music collection ever since.
Mr. Smith also finds time to be a plumber, electrician, fisherman, carpenter, engine repair technician and husband. He has built more than 100 fishing rods after learning the trade from Chucky Ebanks.
Mr. Smith said he tries to do a little bit of everything, but still finds time to work on his music recordings. “Some older folks would say ‘Jack of all trades and master of none,’” he jokingly said.
Burman Scott, also a ‘Bracka’ and close friend of Mr. Smith, holds him in high esteem when it comes to music.
“What he has achieved by building his own studio is amazing. Because of his mixing equipment and can sing alto and soprano and does not need backup singers to get in the additional voices, his songs can be song just by him,” Mr. Scott said.
“He has saved a lot of money with this feature and his singing talents. He also assists other singers with recordings for a small fee and the quality is very good.”