Bob Roberts

Jonathan Shaw Interviews: Col. William L. Todd

In the 1990s, Tattooist Jonathan Shaw interviewed an iconic lineup of Tattoo Legends for ITA magazine. With his kind permission, Occult Vibrations is going to be digitizing these must-read interviews.

The first interview is between Jonathan and Col. Todd.
It originally ran in ITA Vol 1. No. 1, 1992.

Enjoy.


Back in the early 1970’s, when I first became interested in the mystery of tattoos, tattooing was a closed world, almost a secret society. Most tattooers were very tight-lipped about their secrets, and tattoo supplies weren’t openly available. Col. William L. Todd was working alongside his long-standing partner, Bob Shaw, at Long Beach, in California’s famous Nu-Pike, a sprawling amusement park surrounded by military bases and studded with a dozen tattoo parlors- a very different scene from today’s genteel tattoo/art studio scene. The Pike is an important location in tattoo history, a place where history and tradition came aline for those of us who were fortunate enough to be around the the words, action and technically superior tattooing of guys like Col. Todd.

A tattooer’s tattooer of the old school, Todd is a perfect southern gentleman with a streak of the badass bootcamp drill sergeant. He always ran a tight ship!

Today, the amusement area of the Pikee is gone, paved over by developers in the endless drive for progress. All that remains of the glory days is one lone tattoo shop where the famous Bert Grimm tattooed for so many years.

Jonathan Shaw: We’re at the Bert Grimm Studio, probably the oldest tattoo shop in the country.

Col. Todd: That’s what they say.

JS: Col. Todd, when did you first start tattooing?

CT: I started in 1947. I was stationed at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. I’d always been interested in tattooing. I had a couple of officers who were heavily tattooed, one of them having been in the Navy. I was raised on a farm where you didn’t see tattooing unless it was with a carnival or something like that passing through. I went into town in San Antonio, went up and down Houston street, where all the tattooers were, and down toward the end of the street was a circus trailer set up on blocks by itself that said “Tattoo”. It belonged to a gentleman named Jack Tyron. Anyway, Jack told me that he was tattooed all over when he was 16 by Charlie Wagner. He traveled with the circus for years then he bought a commercial lot and the circus trailer and set up shop. It’d be odd to see something like that today.

I went in, and after talking to him I got a little tattoo and asked him about buying a machine. Oh yeah, he said he’d sell me a machine. He started telling me about the mail order places.

JS: Zeis? Was it Zeis back then?

CT: Yeah, Zeis was in business in those days. I didn’t know the connections. I didn’t know how to go about it. It wasn’t as easy in those days. It wasn’t easy to learn, it wasn’t publicized in magazines like today. And the tattoo artists weren’t giving up their secrets. They wouldn’t give you any information.
(more…)

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Bob Roberts and Leo Zulueta

More from 1984’s ‘Signatures of the Soul’, this time featuring Bob Roberts and Leo Zulueta.
Another “pre-glove” classic. It’s so strange to watch folks tattoo without gloves on; especially considering that most artists were autoclaving their needles and tubes by then, but not wearing gloves, covering their clip chords, etc. I always wonder if I should add postscripts on the videos reminding people that gloves should always be worn, that this is archived from a different time and all that. Food for thought.

I’m not sure if the documentary is available anywhere for purchase, but if you can snag a copy anywhere, I highly recommend it. It’s a great primer for world tattoo traditions (American, Japanese, Samoan) and features great footage of some of the 80s best tattoo artists.

More excerpts from Tattooing Reality

This one has been giving me trouble from the getgo.

No matter how much I adjust the audio, there’s still a considerable ‘hiss’ that I can’t get rid of. I’ve spent two days trying to get it uploaded via iMovie’s internal youtube bridge, seeing ERROR messages every time I get to ‘twenty minutes remaining’ and using youtube’s own uploader took me 5 hours and seems to have resized the opening title frame. Fun.

Still, you get a dream team of tattooers discussing tattooing and that trumps all the nerdy backstage stuff that it took to get online. Hardy, Salmon, Roberts, Eldridge, Salmon, Zulueta. When you think of the impact Hardy had on modern tattooing it’s astounding; some of the artists and styles he brought to Realistic must have been so far out at the time;.even now having an artist doing Oceanic handpoke work at a shop is a novelty- thirty years ago it must have been inconceivable.