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Home / Arts & Entertainment / Rootsman Garth Dennis Reflects On Reggae’s Richness

Rootsman Garth Dennis Reflects On Reggae’s Richness

Q: Putting aside the courts fights, bad blood, and disagreements that have separated you, Don, and Duckie, the founding members of Black Uhuru [except for when, as you were just discussing, Black Uhuru famously reunited, leading to four critically acclaimed albums in the 1990s including the Grammy-nominated “Now”], the three of you must have been very close friends when you first started out together in the early 1970s, true?

Duckie Simpson with writer Stephen Cooper in San Diego | Courtesy of Stephen A. Cooper

Garth Dennis: Very close. Duckie used to stay with me at my house when the group was formed at 14 Balcombe Drive. That’s where he used to stay when I first put the group together. So it was very close. Don [Carlos] was just down the road, Michael Rose was at the top of the road, [and] Junior Reid [lived] around the corner.

Q: Do you remember how and where you, Don, and Duckie first met each other? Who became friends with who first? [And] [w]as this in Trenchtown, or was it in Waterhouse? How did you get together with them?

Garth Dennis: When I moved from Trenchtown to Waterhouse, I used to still go visit Bob [Marley] and the Wailers and so on in Trenchtown –

Q: On 3rd Street?

Garth Dennis: We were at 1st Street this time. We moved from 3rd Street. We start[ed] at 3rd Street but we moved from place to place –

Q: Sure.

Garth Dennis: – wherever we find [a] vacancy to play.

Q: Different [groups of singers] would be singing [on] different streets?

Garth Dennis: Yeah. Yeah. So I met Duckie [first] in the neighborhood at Waterhouse. I used to see him on the corner when I go to and fro, to and fro. But I [also] remember[ed] him from school in the earlier days. And by the time my parents migrate a-foreign, friends start to come to the house, come to the house. So he was one of those guys who would [always] come to mi yard. And eventually he started to stay there with me. And I start[ed] [to] make Duckie accompany me to some of the rehearsals in Trenchtown. He never used to sing at the time, he just used to be there. When he came back with me to Waterhouse, we start to do our own jamming. And that’s when I put Black Uhuru together.

Q: Nice!

Garth Dennis: And there was a man, an elder called “Jah Vic” or “Jah Victor,” [who had a place] where we used to go and smoke and recreate ourselves. [And] Don used to live in that era in Waterhouse in a place we call “Balmagie.” So when we used to go around there, that’s where I met Don [Carlos] and he started to jam with [Duckie and I].

Q: How old were you guys?

Garth: Maybe early twenties.

Q: Interesting. Because I assumed you just always had a stronger friendship with Don [Carlos than with Duckie], but actually, you were closer with Duckie first. Between the two of them, is there one that you always had a stronger relationship with? Or was it just different with each of them – and you couldn’t choose one over the other in terms of who you were better friends with? Or, could you choose one?

Garth Dennis: Well, it’s not [important] to choose one. But, you know, people carry different vibes. Don carries a whole different vibe from Duckie; Duckie carries a whole different vibe from Don. But it’s one love every time, you know what I mean?

Q: When I interviewed Don Carlos in April 2017 in San Diego, I asked him if there was any chance of the three founding members of Black Uhuru “peacing it out” [and reuniting once again]. And Don said: “I don’t carry any grievance. I want my heart to be light like a feather. I don’t say we can’t get together again, you know. We can. If it’s going to happen it just has to benefit me [too].” Do you feel the same, would you never say never to a second Black Uhuru reunion, as long as it [also] benefitted you too? Is it possible for you guys to reunite [still]?

Garth Dennis: Yeah, it’s possible. But it’s kinda weird to hear people talk about “benefit.” Why we have to go there? I-man reap what he sow. Too much self-centered thing, you know what I mean? Why it have to benefit me more than you, or you more than me? What’s that about?

Q: To be fair, I think Don Carlos –

Garth Dennis: That is what caused the [breakup of Black Uhuru]. People want more than dem share, more than the other person. Which is unjust.

Q: I think Don was saying he was upset with Duckie –

Garth Dennis: [He wanted] Duckie to be more honest –

Q: Because he felt [Duckie] had manipulated the situation.

Garth Dennis: Exactly. That’s what he’s saying. But mi no want to point the finger at anyone, you know?

Q: If you guys could get back together and no one [was treated unfairly], would you do it?

Garth Dennis: Perfect. Perfect. I regrouped with the Wailing Souls more than once; I would regroup [with Black Uhuru] anytime. For the benefit of the music. And what should ever come after that.

Q: After you and Don Carlos separated from Duckie, you guys played together for a long time before Duckie sued over the [Black Uhuru] name. You guys were successfully touring in California and lots of different places. All over the world. Why did you and Don stop touring together?

Garth Dennis: It’s a good question. Good question. You’ll have to ask Don that.

Q: Now you and Don remain close friends, I think, because on your 2015 solo album “Trenchtown 19 3rd Street” – an album which I have a number of questions to ask you about – [Don Carlos] is featured on a very beautiful and conscious song called “Save the Children.” So you must still have a close relationship with Don?

Garth Dennis: Yeah mon. In fact, that particular song [“Save the Children”], that was a Black Uhuru song –

Q: One that was recorded?

Garth Dennis: No. It was about to be recorded but never was because of the disagreements between us. It was written by me. It’s just like the song “Slow Coach.” That [too] was a Black Uhuru song. But that was back [in the days] where if you make a mistake on the record, you have to come back [and record it again]. So the harmony was giving [us] a lot of problem at the time.

Garth Dennis performing at Reggae on the Mountain in 2017 | Courtesy of Stephen A. Cooper

Q: When Black Uhuru tried to sing “Slow Coach” – one of your first songs together?

Garth Dennis: Yes. I wrote that song. But when we sing that song, the harmony was giving us a problem. Not pointing no fingers at anyone, but the [least] experienced one was Duckie at the time. And the producer had a flight to catch. So what he did was just lead with my vocals alone. And he release[d] it under my name, [though] it was a Black Uhuru project.

Q: That song “Slow Coach” is such a beautiful song, so relevant even today.

Garth Dennis:  Give thanks.

Q: Now [as I alluded to], in February of 2015, after a more than four decade-long career singing with Black Uhuru and Wailing Souls, you released your first solo album “Trenchtown 19 3rd Street.” Why, after such a lengthy, successful career, did you decide to make a solo album?

Garth Dennis: It’s just a vibration, you know? Because after going through the vibrations with the brethren [in Black Uhuru and Wailing Souls], every time I work on a solo album, they approach me, and [we’re] jamming together again. So this time, I [finally] had enough time [on my own]. And I decided to give it a shot.

Q: I think it’s a fantastic album. Why did you name the album “Trenchtown 19 3rd Street”?

Garth Dennis: 19 3rd Street was where The Wailers [were] formed. That’s where Bunny, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Junior Braithwaite, Cherry [Smith or Green], Beverley [Kelso], and Georgie used to live. [And] that was my home also. And that is why songs [on the album] like “Wondering Now” [are] on it.

Q: That’s that song with your sister –

Garth Dennis: Yeah.

Q: She was part of the popular ska duo in Jamaica [in the 1960s], “Andy and Joey.”

Garth Dennis: Yeah. And [“Wondering Now”] was a big hit before [The Wailers’s hit song] “Simmer Down.” And we were all [growing up] together in that area [in Trenchtown] there.

Q: So you wanted to pay respect to that [neighborhood with your solo album]?

Garth Dennis: Yeah.

Q: The album cover is fantastic. I know it was done by Neville Garrick, known for creating the artwork for many of Bob Marley’s album covers. How did that come about?

Garth Dennis: Well, I met Neville a good while ago. His son and my son went to the same high school in Jamaica. So they keep up that friendship.

Q: Your solo album was independently produced on your own “Dennis Dynasty” label. I like the name, and I guess you chose it because eventually you plan on turning it over to your sons?

Garth Dennis: Yeah.

Q: And in fact your sons can be heard playing instruments on your solo album, too?

Garth Dennis: Yeah.

Q: Your solo album has been out for three years. Overall, are you satisfied with how the album has been received by the reggae listening public?

Garth Dennis: Well I wouldn’t say the “reggae listening public.” Because if you don’t hear it played on the radio, and you don’t [hear about it] in the press, and you don’t get the type of promotion so the public can hear about it –

Q: So you’re not satisfied yet –

Garth Dennis: No, not at all. I wish they could hear [the album] more.

Q: I think it’s a one–of–a–kind album. It’s conscious, it’s rootical, it’s heartical, it’s well-crafted. It’s all of those adjectives and more.

Garth Dennis: Give thanks.

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