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.
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.