Born and raised in the piney woods of Tifton, Georgia, alongside eight other siblings, Uneda Dennard learned to amplify her voice above the crowd at an early age. As the granddaughter of a revered pastor and the daughter of locally renowned gospel singer, Dennard grew up in a house of orators. Unlike her other siblings, instead of feeling intimidated by the power and command of the patriarchal voices in her life, she felt empowered by them. Young adulthood brought along its curiosities for Dennard, and while beginning to frequent Tifton’s American Legion and Club 16 she developed a deeper palette for popular music, contributing to an appetite for performance which she had no choice but to satiate. It wasn’t until she enrolled in the Vocal Music program at nearby Albany State College, however, that she began to truly expand her musical vocabulary, indulging in the pop music she always felt pulled towards but could never fully embrace due to her father’s opposition to the secular.
“Fantasy Ride” was recorded and released in 1980 via Albradella Records, an imprint of the profound underground southern soul producer Jesse Boone. It would be the one and only single Uneda Dennard would ever see come to fruition. The track lived a much more prolific life, however, as the peak time executor of groove for the The Shandells Band live set.
The Shandells Band adopted Uneda as their first female lead after Nathan Bartell, the band’s manager, met her during her stint at Albany State. Prior to Uneda’s recruitment, The Shandells Band had released two Nathan Bartell fronted singles on the Albradella imprint in the late ’70s to muted enthusiasm. In the absence of any lucrative incentive to record more singles, The Shandells Band would go on to carve their niche in the south central Georgia musical canon by doing what they did best: touring relentlessly.
Mirroring what Uneda Dennard & The Shandells ebullient live show might have felt like, “Fantasy Ride” wastes no time acquainting listeners with the primary objective of the band: inspiring a shared desire to move our bodies together without refrain. Without hesitation, a frenetic guitar solo serves as the song’s entry point, grabbing you by the arm and leading you to the center of a pulsing dance floor, before you have time to regain focus from the blur of movement around you, the roaring soprano of Uneda Dennard, channeling both Chaka Khan and Diana Ross alike, whirls you into a frenzy. “Fantasy Ride” comes to life as a true vehicle for the lonely hitchhiker who finds themselves lost in the fog of banality and staleness, yearning for a moment of bacchanalian indulgence. It flawlessly executes exactly what a good dance track should; ushering the listener in quickly and captivating them immediately, locking them into a groove that remains fresh and genuine throughout its duration.
Although Dennard clearly characterized her desires to break the mold of her religiously centered upbringing through her songwriting, she inadvertently remains true to the lineage of orators she comes from, by extending a universal invitation to her new found congregation of yearning souls to take the wheel for themselves. Call and response between Uneda and her band paired with a gradually increasing tempo evokes the essence of a praise song that is meant to inspire euphoria and outer body revelations. Similarly, “Fantasy Ride” incites a hands-in-the-air approach to the complete abandonment of dance floor etiquette and formality. After all, Uneda made it clear that “you don’t need a license to drive.”
From 1980-87 the group zigzagged the southeastern club circuit, quickly generating buzz around themselves and landing supporting slots for GQ and The Dazz Band. The ensemble experienced even further attention after being personally recruited by blues giant Z.Z. Hill to be his backing band on tour in 1983; a break which might’ve secured a future for the young hopefuls in touring with a major artist on a regular basis had Hill not tragically passed away the very next year due to injuries sustained from a car accident. Nevertheless, Uneda and The Shandells remained hungry for the next gig, continuing to tour alongside other Georgian artists Chuck Robinson and the Jesse Boone-produced Together Band, even playing shows seven months into Uneda’s first pregnancy in 1986. Throughout her tenure as a traveling singer, however, Dennard always had the support of her family. Her mother and sisters would often accompany her on tour supporting her in any way they could, they always had her back. “My mom also just loved the music,” Uneda recalled. “She loved enjoying herself in the crowd and watching us play every night, I knew she was proud of me.” Finally slowing down in 1987, the band members began to explore other serious life prospects, some moving across state lines and some settling down to start families. “We never broke up,” she stated, “we just simmered down and started to think about our professional futures outside of music. But the music never left us, the music never left...”
- Uneda Denard Fantasy Ride
- Uneda Denard Fantasy Ride (Instrumental)