Jack Rudy

Philly gets Inked (1990)


A very generous OV reader has lent me a copy of the 1990 Michael O. Stearns documentary “Philly gets Inked” for digital conversion. I was expecting more interviews like Stearns other films, but this is more a straight up ‘virtual convention’ film. There are lots of familiar 1990s tattoo culture faces in the hour running time; Bernie Luther, Guy Aitchison, Steve Tiberi, Philadelphia Eddie, Paul Jefferies, Shotsie Gorman, Elizabeth Weinzirl,  and a surprise appearance from my mentor Jack Yount. I totally didn’t expect to see Jack’s smiling face.

I started the conversion last night and I’m hoping to start cleaning it up tomorrow. Check back for updates!

Thanks again, Derek!

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.


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.

The late, great Mike Brown

November 2011 saw the passing of tattooer Mike Brown.
I remember seeing Signatures of the Soul for the first time (where this clip originated) and being blown away by that big ol’ frog on his back (which I think Rollo did) but I never really saw much of his tattooing until the mid 2000s.

The clip also features a young Jack Rudy.

Mike lived a hard life, but also lived tattooing. Bob Baxter interviewed him in 2005- what follows is a short excerpt; click the link at the end to read the full interview.

(about Mike Malone)
MB: I met him in Honolulu. I moved there in ’73 and just started hanging out in tattoo shops. Back then, white people were definitely in the minority, so we hit it off pretty good. You know, one white guy to another. This was Sailor Jerry’s shop. Yeah, we became good friends and then I started from the ground up. My first job was doing the floors. I used to mop and wax and get the floors real clean. Then I became the shop gofer. That was my whole life. I worked during the days in a cardboard box factory. That was my profession, during the day, and I hung out at the shop at night. It was the old-style apprenticeship, the way it should be done today, which nobody seems to even do. The fucking kids are just spoiled today―I can’t believe it―thanks to Huck Spaulding selling everything to everybody in the damn world. Anyway, Malone just started showing me things. I don’t think he had any idea that I was going to become a tattoo artist. I helped him; I made shaders for him. We’d make 20 set-ups every two weeks. He’d make 20 shaders and 20 liners, because military paydays were every two weeks. And we’d use the needles over again. Back then, you used them again. We’d clean ’em. We sterilized everything.

The full interview is worth reading, and can be found So Long and Fare Thee Well.

Mr. Grosso from Vice (responsible for the outstanding TATTOO AGE series) got in touch to share with us the interview he and the Vice team did with Mike in Hawaii in January of 2011. I never had the pleasure of meeting Mike, but he reminds me of the old guys I met when I was coming into tattoo culture; guys who packed more living into the years they had been given than most people twice their age.

Folk Art from the 50th State.
Rest in Peace, Mike.