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All eyes on Garth Dennis

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Having mentors such as Joe Higgs and Bob Marley, Garth Dennis' unyielding passion for harmony-driven songs should be no surprise. The haunting melodies he first heard as a youth in Trench Town still permeate his music.

Dennis, a former member of Black Uhuru and The Wailing Souls, goes solo on his latest songs — Words and Eyes Open. They are produced by ace session guitarist Earl “Chinna” Smith, who played on the singles, along with keyboardists Tyrone Downie, Franklyn “Bubbler” Waul and Robbie Lyn, and drummer Sean Dawson.

“Wi jus' keep di natural acoustic vibe, 'cause dat's what wi learn from the elders. Mi had both a dem a good while, Eyes Open is from Trench Town (19 3rd Street), my first album, but mi do it a few times live wid Chezi (Smith) an' wi decide fi lick it over,” said Dennis in an interview with the Jamaica Observer.

The 69-year-old Dennis has lived in Los Angeles for over 30 years and is himself an 'elder' in that city's tight-knit roots-reggae community. Trench Town 19 3rd Street was released four years ago and is a salute to the Kingston community where he spent his formative years, surrounded by heroes like Higgs, Marley and Rasta visionary Mortimo Planno, as well as Father Hugh Sherlock and cricketer Collie Smith.

His older sister, Joan Dennis, had a massive hit song in 1964 for producer Clement Dodd with You're Wondering Now, which has been covered by The Specials and Amy Winehouse.

Many of the musicians Dennis grew up with in Trench Town have died, which he says makes it even more important for him to carry on their message of Rastafari and unity.

“Music is a divine thing, I grow up inna it as a youth. Mi used to go place like Orange Street an' Princess Street an' hear people like Prince Buster, Count Ossie, Duke Reid and Tom The Great Sebastian. So, is a joy fi still mek music an' carry on di tradition,” he said.

After leaving Trench Town, Dennis and his family moved to Waterhouse, another Kingston community with boundless music talent. While in Trench Town, he rehearsed with the early version of The Wailing Souls, which included Winston “Pipe” Matthews, Lloyd “Bread” McDonald and George “Buddy” Haye, who also eventually settled in Waterhouse.

In Waterhouse, Dennis was an original member of Black Uhuru with Duckie Simpson and Don Carlos. He had success with both groups.

Garth Dennis is looking for similar triumphs as a solo artiste. He expects to release his second album early next year.

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