Garth Dennis belongs to a select group of reggae artistes who have been members of two successful groups. In his case, Black Uhuru and the Wailing Souls.
Dennis, 64, takes the spotlight on Trenchtown 19 3rd Street, his first solo album. The title is a nod to the area he grew up in Kingston which was a hub for artistic creativity in the 1960s.
The diminutive Dennis lives in Los Angeles, but is in Jamaica for his father’s funeral. Since Trenchtown 19 3rd Street’s release in February, he has done a handful of shows to promote the set which belatedly introduces him as a lead singer.
“It just goes to show that even though I was so low-profile, this is what I’m capable of,” Dennis told the Jamaica Observer.
Work on Trenchtown actually started in 2005 when the song Jah House of Love was recorded at UB40’s studio in Oracabessa, St Mary.
Drummer Sly Dunbar, who worked with Dennis on numerous Wailing Souls and Black Uhuru sessions, played on the album. So too drummer Carlton ‘Santa’ Davis of Soul Syndicate fame, and Dennis’s sons, drummer Gyasi, bassist Shaka and keyboardist Saeed.
He duets on Wondering Now with his older sister, Joan Dennis, a singer at Studio One in the 1960s.
According to Dennis, reflecting on his years in Trench Town made working on the album special. The fourth of five children for his parents, he grew up in a community that had heroes like Father Hugh Sherlock, cricketer Collie Smith, music mentor Joe Higgs, and Rastafarian elder Mortimo Planno.
His older brother Franklin played cricket for Boys’ Town; a younger brother, Trevor ‘Dango D’ Dennis, played football for Wolmer’s, Boys’ Town and Jamaica.
“It was Heaven!” is how Dennis described Trench Town in the 1960s. “A mix of the best of the best an’ the worst of the worst, but the best mek the worst look like nuthin’.”
In Trench Town Dennis was friends with The Wailers, which included Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingston. It was also where he met Winston ‘Pipe’ Matthews, Lloyd ‘Bread’ McDonald and George ‘Buddy’ Haye, with whom he would later perform as the Wailing Souls.
Dennis had success with the ‘Souls’ and Black Uhuru during the 1970s and 1990s, respectively. His second stint with Uhuru was alongside fellow original members Don Carlos and Duckie Simpson.
Though nominated for four Grammy Awards, that was overshadowed by a nasty four-year legal battle over rights to the Black Uhuru name with Simpson, which ended in Simpson’s favour in 1997.
Dennis says he has put the bitterness of the past behind him and is focusing on telling his story through ‘works’ like Trenchtown 19 3rd Street.
“Because I was always with the other groups, I neva had time for myself. This is how I si the world now an’ what’s going on,” he said.