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August 19, 2015

Amazing Stories Behind 17 Rare and Unseen Images of Bob Marley From the 1970s

British photographer Dennis Morris started his career at an early age. He was 11 years old when one of his photographs was printed on the front page of the Daily Mirror. A camera fanatic since the age of 8, Dennis was known around his East End neighbourhood as Mad Dennis, due to his preference for photography over football.

Morris was a high school student in London when he first met Bob Marley. “I was into Jamaican music, and I read that he was coming over to tour England,” Morris told Rolling Stone. “So I bunked off school, went to the Speak Easy Club, where he was playing that day, and waited and waited. Eventually he arrived, and I said, ‘Can I take your picture?’ He said, ‘Yeah, man, come in.’”

Here, Dennis Morris shared his memories of a close working relationship with the global superstar...

This is the first photo Morris took of Marley, back in 1974, in the singer’s Ford Transit tour van. “When you’re looking at it, he’s just turning towards the seat I'm sitting in," he says. "He just turned around and said, 'You ready, Dennis?' I got in there and the adventure began."

"This is from that first tour, in Bournemouth," Morris says. "He was one of the first Jamaican musicians to understand the power of images. Most Jamaican musicians were never interested in photos – just making a record and getting paid. Bob understood the power of the image and what that could do. And I think he realized that I could get what he wanted to portray."

This photo dates from around 1979, when Marley was staying on King's Road in Chelsea, London. "He was at the height of his powers," Morris says. "You can see the vibrancy. The thing about Bob, to me, was that he had an incredible sense of being – his presence was enormous. He knew exactly what he was there for; what he was about; the power of his music; the power of himself; the power he tried to instill into people, what people could do if they believe in themselves. The man truly was a messenger."

Adds Morris, "One of the things that most people don't realize is that the rise of his success was four years: He really took off in '77, and by '81 he was gone. In four years, he conquered the world. He touched every single human being possible in such a short amount of time. It was an incredible feat."

Morris snapped this candid shot at Marley's home on Hope Road in Kingston, Jamaica. "He loved table tennis," Morris says. "Football was his number one, but he also loved playing table tennis. He always used to say to people, 'My photographer photograph that, Dennis Morris!'"

Morris has fond memories of trying to best Marley's game. "You couldn't beat him!" he says with a laugh. "He was swift. The only thing I never played him in was football. The way he and those guys played, my god, it was very physical.

"Here he is on a shopping spree," Morris says of this image from his first tour with Marley in 1974. "Whenever he had time off, what'd he always do was go to a sports shop and buy 20 footballs, 20 pairs of boots and whatever. I didn't realize, but it was for the kids in Trench Town, back home. He was a very generous man."

"Of all the images I took of him, when people look at the photographs, they get this feeling of being there with him," Morris says of these 1977 photos. "Because when I took photos of him, we had this feeling of closeness – none of the images were poses. Like these images, we were just talking, jiving, smoking, then he just jumped up and said, 'Let me show you how to be free, Dennis.'"

He got in four quick snapshots, and that was it. "That's what he was saying to me – 'Freedom.' The thing about it with him was, I couldn't turn around and say, 'Aw shit, Bob, I missed it, can we do it again?' He would've just said, 'Get outta here, man.'"

"That's one of my favorite live shots of him, because of the way his locks are flying and twirling," Morris says of this image, from a gig at London's Hammersmith Odeon around 1979. "It's like a helicopter blade. I love the beauty of that shot."

Adds Morris, "He had this incredible ability to act out the songs when he performed. That's why, for instance, when he played in a place like Japan, no one could understand a word he was – but they understood his expressions."

"This is the first live shot I took of him," says Morris. "It was at the Speak Easy Club. That I call 'Slave Driver': 'Ev'rytime I hear the crack of a whip/My blood runs cold/I remember on the slave ship/How they brutalize the very souls.' He almost looks like a soul singer, a blues singer, to me."

Morris took this photo at Marley's home on Hope Road in Kingston around 1978. "Again, I never really needed to pose him," he says. "We just had this thing about us, the way we worked. What I love about this shot is the way he's sitting and the way he's got his foot on top of the rock. It's very regal, almost like when you see a king put his feet up. A man in his kingdom."

"This was the gig of gigs – one of the best he ever played," says Morris of this image, which comes from a London show in 1975. The backstory, he explains, has to do with an earlier British tour, which ended badly.

"One morning, [Marley and the Wailers] woke up and wanted to play football, and it was snowing," Morris says. "I remember they opened the window and Bob said, 'What that?!' I said, 'It’s snow, Bob.' Peter Tosh said it was a sign from Jah that they should leave Babylon. They had this huge argument amongst themselves, and basically Peter and Bunny [Wailer] refused to continue the tour, so they all went back to Jamaica."

When Marley returned to the U.K. in 1975, Morris says, he was determined not to repeat that mistake. "Bob came back with a vengeance," he says. "This was the gig that was going to do it. There was no going back, just forward. He walked on that stage and he just took it apart."

Another image from the Lyceum show in 1975. "I'll tell you something – the Lyceum was packed," Morris says. "People were trying to climb on the roof to get in. It was so hot, so packed, so sweaty that the body heat went up and hit the ceiling and it came down like it was raining! Everybody went, 'Jah!'" Morris laughs. "They all thought it was a sign, but it was just the body heat going up, then down."

"That shot was the last photo I ever took of him," Morris says of this 1980 image. "He called me and said, 'You need to come over.' He was staying at an apartment in London. It was strange – as I walked in, he was on his own, and normally, Bob is never on his own. There were always people around, but this time it was just the two of us. Normally, he'd be jiving me about being a black kid from England, not from Jamaica: 'What are you doing hanging around all them punks,' you know? But this time, he was really quiet. When he was talking, it was like he was questioning his success and the things he had done. I'd never seen him like that before."

At some point, Morris says, Marley picked up a guitar and began strumming. "At the time, I didn't realize that he was playing me 'Redemption Song.' I was probably one of the first people to hear it."

Marley died of cancer the following year. "Most of the images you see him in, his locks have a bit of electricity, some vibrancy," Morris says. "But this time, it's like the locks have taken over, and his fingers and face are quite gaunt. It's quite sad. At the end, no one knew how ill he was."

"This is a portrait I did in '76," Morris says. "The color treatment was much later, when I got much smarter."

Organizing the exhibit has been a deep experience for Morris. "Going through the photos, it just brings back the memories of being in the presence of such a powerful and influential man," he says. "He shaped my career and my life, in a sense. I was a young kid with a dream of being a photographer, and I remember when they said to me, 'Don't be silly, there's no such thing as a black photographer.' But Bob said to me, 'They will always tell you that you can't do what you want to do, Dennis, but you can do what you want to do. You just have to believe in yourself. The system is to bring you down, but you can rise up.' That was the beauty of Bob Marley, for me. He made me see that there was much, much more than what was out there."

(via Rolling Stone)


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