Dennis Morris, The Artist That Changed The World Of Punk With His Music And Iconic Photographs

Dennis Morris photographs of Bob Marley and the Sex Pistols made him an important figure in the music industry, but his passion for music was even greater. Hes created artwork for many important bands and even launched his own as one of the most important afro-punk bands in history.

It seems that the pages of the history of music have already been written and that new performers and musicians are just working on writing new chapters. In the same way, I have the impression that when we think about past musicians, genres, and even songs, we can’t help but think about how they made a huge impact, without thinking about several figures that actually changed our perspective of music or helped launch our favorite music icons while being behind the curtains.

There are people who have lived totally immersed in music, and by totally I mean they explored every single area related to the industry, and that's the case of artist Dennis Morris. While he has tackled the music industry through so many angles, his first passion in life was photography. From the moment he grabbed a camera, when he was eight, and saw his first photographs on the front cover of the Daily Mirror when he was just eleven, he has made of photography the tool to dive into the appealing world of music.

© Dennis Morris

As a teenager, he found out reggae icon Bob Marley was going to tour in the UK during 1972. Being a huge fan, he decided to wait for him for a soundcheck outside the Speakeasy Club. Touched by the young kid waiting for him, Marley invited him to see the soundcheck and allowed him to take some pictures of him. This experience changed his life forever. Impressed by the determination, passion, and talent of the teen, especially due to his young age, the Reggae star invited him to join his crew and photograph the rest of his tour. From that moment on, Morris became one of the few photographers to capture Bob Marley’s most iconic pictures until his death in 1981.

Soon, he discovered this was something he wanted to pursue as a professional career, and after his first pictures of Bob Marley were published, John Lydon (also known as Johnny Rotten), lead singer of the Sex Pistols, invited him to take the band’s first official photos, as well as tour with them for a year to capture the real punk scene. These two gigs positioned him as one of the most innovative music photographers in the UK music panorama. However, having lived and witnessed the life of musicians boosted something inside him that invited him to pursue a career in music together with photography.

When the band broke up, Lydon, Morris, and Richard Branson (Virgin Records owner) went on a trip to Jamaica to scout new reggae bands for Branson’s label. By now, the punk craze was dying and reggae’s main icon had passed away. That was the moment Morris started toying with the idea of bringing a fresh vibe to both genres. He continued working with his now friend Lydon in his new band Public Image Ltd by creating all the artwork for their albums and visual imagery, but the idea of a new band was still on his mind. 

© Dennis Morris

So, in 1978, Basement 5 was, in Morris’ words a “mediocre, punk-reggae band” when he approached the project. However, he took the lead and started creating new songs and a new image for the band, turning it into one of the most important ones in the fusion genre. Not only were the band's lyrics innovative because they showed the artist's experience while growing up as a black young man in London, but they were also the first all-black punk band in history, breaking all stereotypes. All in all, they became the godfathers of afro-punk, a genre that has acquired strength in the past decades.


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