The Nesta I Knew: Garth Dennis on Bob, Joe Higgs, and his new solo album | MIDNIGHT RAVER
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The Nesta I Knew: Garth Dennis on Bob, Joe Higgs, and his new solo album

There are very few bredren I’ve met through this reggae thing who I would consider personal friends, however, Rudolph “Garth” Dennis would definitely make that short list.  Having been a fan since first hearing him as a vocalist with the Wailing Souls and later with the re-united Black Uhuru, I am humbled by his friendship and consider it an honor to speak with him about his life and career whenever the opportunity arises.

Since first coming into contact with him five years ago for an interview he has been a true friend, always giving words of encouragement and reaching out from time to time when the distractions of life kept me from reaching him.  Just a call to check on the well-being of me and my family when there was nothing in it for him except a “yeah brother we are doing well.”  His is a rare soul and one I am blessed to have known for these years.

Aside from being the co-founder of Black Uhuru and the Wailing Souls, Garth is largely responsible for bringing together Delroy “Junior” Reid, Sammy Tracy, and Terry McDermott to form the brilliant Voice of Progress (Negus Roots) and provided guidance and vocal teaching and practice for both Michael Rose and Junior Reid, in much the same way Joe Higgs helped bring Dennis up through the music. 

Black Uhuru’s reunion album NOW is no doubt one of the best modern roots reggae albums ever recorded and it had a huge impact on me as a reggae fan.  Don, Duckie, and Garth – the original Black Uhuru line-up – back together again and laying down the heavy righteous roots.


I helped promote his new solo album last year, not because he is a friend, but because it is an outstanding album that I truly love with works from Sly Dunbar, Santa Davis, Don Carlos, Ras Michael, and many more.  It is his first solo album and one many years in the making.  Garth knows that I promote very few reggae albums here at Midnight Raver because I like so little of what is being released these days.  But a new album from the old heads was something he knew I’d appreciate and I recommend Trenchtown Nineteen 3rd Street without reservation.

Buy Trenchtown Nineteen 3rd Street today at CDBaby!

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Garth Dennis on Trenchtown Nineteen 3rd Street and growing up in Joe Higgs yard…

“‘Trenchtown Nineteen 3rd Street’ (the title of Dennis’ new solo album) refers to the place where the original Wailers were formed. That was my yaad. Joe Higgs was a twin brother-in-law a mine and that is where I was living. The home of Joe Higgs. One of the most popular yaad in Trenchtown. See how it happen me and my family used to live in Kingston on Spencer Street. Between Beaston Street and Charles Street. Right across the street from us used to be Carl Livingston, the brother of Bunny Livingston. So Bunny used to come by and talk and fly kite and ride skate. Now, Bob used to be there also as Nesta dem time deh. Y’understand? So my mother hear about a place where the rent was more reasonable you know. This was in Trenchtown in Joe Higgs yaad. So when we move there at that time Nesta mother and Bunny father have a likkle apartment on 2nd Street. Nesta him just come time to time fi visit his mother and then him leave but this particular time him saw a crowd a people around dis youth who was playing cricket and the scene was having a good time. This youth a lick de ball all around. So Bob recognize this youth as my older brother he knew from the neighborhood up Prince Street. So Bob see this where we live now and him a start come more to spend time at Joe Higgs yaad.  So we knew Bob from town but when him come to Trenchtown him don’t know nobody except my mother and my brothers and sisters.  It a very interesting t’ing how it work out because I would eventually get together with Bread and Pipe (Lloyd McDonald and Winston Matthews, respectively) who come from yaad on First Street and Bob would continue on with Bunny and Peter who he met at Joe Higgs yaad.

Lloyd “Bread” McDonald, Sunblast, Berkeley, Oct 24, 1981 (Photo: Benjamin Ailes)

Lloyd “Bread” McDonald, Sunblast, Berkeley, Oct 24, 1981 (Photo: Benjamin Ailes)

“Is where I learn to sing. Believe you me, on my way to school I left music playing you know? I can buck up John Holt, Ken Boothe, Alton Ellis, all a dem guys could be there at any particular moment in dat deh yaad. Joe Higgs not only influential because he was a well-known singer from Higgs and Wilson dem time but he could also play guitar and you need that to rehearse y’undastand.”

Garth Dennis on rehearsing with Joe Higgs at his yard at Nineteen 3rd Street in Trenchtown…

“Man the rehearsal was something else I tell you.  Sometimes we rehearse a song for days and days!  So we get it right.  So by the time you get to studio it not rehearsal time it time to go on with it and knock it out.  For me as a youth it was a confining thing see, to have to go over the lyrics again and again, over and over.  And at the same time you hear guys play cricket or football outside and recreating themselves.  It was a sacrifice for someone young like me.  That is where Bob get him discipline from you know.  Strict rehearsing and practicing when everyone was out having fun.  It didn’t happen overnight fi Bob you know.  It come from years and years of discipline and hard, hard work and him get that from Joe Higgs.  So by the time Bob put together the band a t’ing he was so serious and aware of how serious it was.  Wha really happ’n at 3rd Street is his mother used to sell fruit and vegetables and eggs and certain type a t’ing.  So Nesta guitar couldn’t stay in the kitchen anymore because it fall and break and t’ing you know.  So my mother used to keep him guitar in my mother house.  So Nesta would come and call to get him guitar from my mother house.

Garth Dennis with Bunny Wailer, 2016

Garth Dennis with Bunny Wailer, 2016

My sista too was involved in the music from early on also.  She was part of the duo Andy & Joey who had some early success with song like “You’re Wondering Now.”


Garth Dennis on his new solo album Trenchtown Nineteen 3rd Street….

“So it all come full circle for this my first solo album after all a these years because Trenchtown Nineteen 3rd Street is where it all start. It give me inspiration to stay forward with the Wailing Souls t’ing and the Black Uhuru t’ing. Get I inspired fi keep making this music. Rastaman word is bond. Bob, Peter, Bunny all a dem Rasta and their word is their bond. I have me bredren Don (Carlos) and Ras Michael on the album…two reggae royalty you know. Living legends. Veteran of the business their input is very important. Try to get people to live a better life and see some light. Me know all a dem elders who give Black Uhuru the inspiration from dem time. This de first time me and Don get back in the studio since we do a Jimmy Cliff project many years back. But Don out here in California and we always a keep a close bond. Even Duckie me friend you know. I haven’t heard from him you know. He is the godfather of my first son and I am the godfather of his first daughter. It been a lot of years but like Bob say ‘the truth is an offense but not a sin.” Me pay no mind to word a mouth business, bredren is bredren. Also on the album is the drummer from UB40 and Glen DaCosta who used to blow horns with Bob. Also my son’s band Blaze Mob contribute as well. Give thanks mon.

On the new album I do a re-cut of “Folk Song,” which was the very first Black Uhuru song ever recorded over at Dynamics Studios. It a Curtis Mayfield tune but wha really happen is I use some of the lyrics and add some t’ing to it to make it my own. So all those early Black Uhuru songs I wrote and arranged not to take nuttin’ from nobody but by that time I was the most experienced. Some a dem song though like “Abortion” and “General Penitentiary” was written by an elder from Waterhouse. Him a friend of Duckie and his family and he wrote these songs in a book and Duckie got the book when him pass away. His name Juckie Shine a what we call him deh.”

Garth Dennis on the origin of the group name Black Uhuru…

“My younger brother, a lot of people know him from play football in Jamaica, well at my house in Waterhouse him used to do a lot of artwork and drawing and t’ing and him wrote ‘Black Uhuru: Black Sound of Freedom’ in our living room. It was in there for years while Duckie was there and all kinda people a pass through for many years and dem can see it was written there. My grandfather come and try to paint it out but him cyaan paint it out it probably still there to this day! But it always a oneness from the first black Uhuru album.”

Garth Dennis on coming up around Studio One…

“Since my sister record from early on I used to go to Studio One and see all these guys who me hear ‘pon the radio. Guys like the Skatalites, Delroy Wilson, Jackie Opel, ahhh it was something else mon! We used to go outside to the yaad because there was all kind of fruit tree, akee tree, tamarind tree, breadfruit, we used to cook inna de yaad at Studio One and recreate ourselves. You come across all kinda people in dat yaad. I was so proud mon. I go to school and we a hear these guys on the radio and I was reasoning with these famous artists after school inna de yaad.”

Garth Dennis on Bob Marley’s first introduction at Beverley’s…

“I want to clear up some t’ing. A lot of people say Desmond Dekker or Jimmy Cliff or dis one or dat one first take Bob to de studio. It not true. As I tell you before Bob a come to the neighborhood from time to time and there was a bakery at Orange Street used to sell coffee strip and all type a sugar bun and ice cream. Right next to that bakery was Beverley’s Records. At the time Beverley’s was run by Derrick Morgan not Jimmy Cliff. Derrick Morgan the man to take on all audition and t’ing before Jimmy Cliff. My history deep ‘mon, me nah talk with water come from me mouth. My sister used to record at Beverley’s too so she know Bob knew Beverley’s from a time you know.” (Marley cut his first two singles at Beverley’s, returning some time later to returned to record several more singles including “Soul Shakedown Party”).

Garth Dennis on his biggest influences…

“The American singers were my biggest influence. Everly Brothers to Jackie Wilson to Sam Cooke to Fats Domino you name it…The Drifters. I come from school one time and I heard that Sam Cooke was at Alton Ellis’ house on 4th Street but I never did get to meet the great Sam Cooke. Also some of the English singers as well, Cliff Richards, Tom Jones, Englebert Humperdink.”

Garth Dennis on Bob Marley…

“Bob full of love, I tell you dat. Lemme tell you something ’bout Bob. One morning you know, Bob couldn’t have been more than like fifteen years old. I was like ten or eleven years old and me have to go to school. Bob and my brother and Joe Higgs and Peter and dem was inna the street playing with tennis ball. So I ask Bob if I could ride him bicycle before school you know. My brother and dem was telling him no let the youth ride your bicycle. Mek him go to school already. So Bob don’t hear nuttin’ from dem, he seh take it, go on and come back you know. So I rode up by the exercise and I come back taking the same road. I’m coming around the corner too fast and I crash the bicycle. I mess up his bicycle! And believe you me Mike the bredren neva treat me different at all. Never treat me like i was grudgeful and t’ing. Him no care wha happen on a material level. Him know what really goin’ on. Him no take stock in no material t’ing. It was a oneness. It was deeper than a material t’ing. It was bredren.”

Garth Dennis on his plans to tour the album and perform live shows…

“I’m planning to go to Jamaica shortly to cover some grounds. I recently played a show here in LA at the Dub Club with Marcia Griffiths. Me love Marcia. We go way back. I know her from when we was just school aged. When I come back i will be putting together shows here on the west coast. I just did a show with Jesse Royal here also. Do a show here and a show there. Also doing radio interviews.”

Dennis recently did a radio interview with the great Chuck Foster at KPFK.

Part I


Part II


Marijuana” (from the album Trenchtown Nineteen 3rd Street)


“Save the Children” (from the album Trenchtown Nineteen 3rd Street)


Garth Dennis, Berkeley Reggae Sunblast, October 24, 1981 (Photo: Benjamin Ailes)

Garth Dennis, Berkeley Reggae Sunblast, October 24, 1981 (Photo: Benjamin Ailes)

 

CLICK HERE to listen to Midnight Dread’s interview with the Wailing Souls, available for the first time since its original broadcast on KTIM December 6th-7th, 1981.

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Lloyd “Bread” McDonald, Sunblast, Berkeley, Oct 24, 1981 (Photo: Benjamin Ailes)

 

Wailing Souls live, Berkeley Reggae Sunblast, 1981 (Photo:  Benjamin Ailes)

Wailing Souls live, Berkeley Reggae Sunblast, 1981 (Photo: Benjamin Ailes)

 

 

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Wailing Souls live at the Berkeley Reggae Sunblast, October 24, 1981 (Photo: Benjamin Ailes)

CLICK PHOTO to listen to the live performance!

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