Scanned from a 3×5 print dating back to approximately 1986, this photo features Gary, Indiana’s Debra Cooper with tattooing by Royboy. I’ve sorted through stacks of pictures taken at this convention and with about 10 more in queue to scan I have yet to find a single photo that makes reference as to where it was hosted but I’m thinking Tennessee based on nothing more than an educated guess. Either way- any time I come across photos of Debra I make it a policy to post it.
Today would have been the 70th birthday of larger than life tattoo personality Royboy Cooper; a one time protege of Cliff Raven, owner of the Badlands tattoo shop, producer/star of a successful series of tattoo documentaries, tiger keeper and all around badass.
I recently turned in an article for a new British tattoo zine about the tattoo videotapes that were mainstays in the advertisment section of tattoo magazines of the late 1980s and early 1990s; highbrow offerings like the more structured documentaries that Michael O. Stearns put out through his Metamorphosis II label, erotic offerings from photographer/anthropologist Charles Gatewood’s FLASH VIDEO line and the gonzo films of the legendary Royboy & Debra Cooper of the Badlands of Gary Indiana. The Royboy series especially captures a time/place in tattoo (and biker) culture that’s really unique and were always among my personal favorites.
This photo, scanned from a 3×5 print in the Occult Vibrations archives, features Debra Cooper with work by Royboy. it was taken at a Tattoo Convention in Tennessee in 1986. You can see more of Royboy and Debra by using the Royboy tag.
There are people who don’t like weird things just for the sake of weird.
There are people who think that a tattoo design of a diarrhea spewing anus is gross.
For those people…. Born Weird probably isn’t for you.
For the people who always wish that a Dave Lum design could not only come to life, but could fuck the hell out of a Scott ‘Welt’ Harrison tattoo and thus create the ultimate “what in Christ’s name is that” masterpiece…. c’mere. I’ve got something to show you. The folks at YELLOW BEAK PRESS are still taking preorders for the 11×14 compendium of all things what the fuck, BORN WEIRD, which is scheduled, tentatively, to ship in April. I’ve shown some samples from the book in previous updates, so I’m not going to ruin the surprise, but… buy it.
I really can’t speculate what Royboy’s motivation was with producing his videos; whether they were intended to document what was going on in Tattoo culture at the time or as an infomercial for his shops I’ll never really know. But you have to appreciate how many times in one video he can fit in his own name. In the flash, in the songs, on tshirts…. It’s all Royboy all the time.
This video, Return to the Badlands, is from 1987. Unlike his later films that feature the work of other tattooists at conventions, Return to the Badlands was shot at Roy’s shop and features he and Debra tattooing. And working out. And playing guitar.
As with most Badlands videos there was a decent amount of random nudity that I had to cut out, but as a whole these are really amazing time capsules of 1980s tattooing.
Since this video features ‘no gloves’ content I’ll throw in my standard “it was a different time” disclaimer.
Speaking of- how long do you think it’ll be before the average tattooer doesn’t know what Speed Stick deodorant has to do with tattooing?
My first big convention was Schenectady, NY’s AMJAM.
I was barely 18 and we picked it because it promised itself to be the ‘biggest tattoo convention in the world’. When my brother and I got to Albany we landed ourselves into a gigantic snowstorm, which suited us (being from Florida) quite well. I managed to get my foot tattooed by Dave Waugh that weekend and to meet some really great folks.
AMJAM- American Motorcycle Jamboree- was obviously a more biker themed convention but at the time, you took what was available.
We weren’t at the convention the year Royboy and Debra shot this video, regrettably.
It’s a weird one. Weirder than their other videos, truth be told. Roy seems distracted through some of the interviews, Debra is naked in it a lot and it starts/ends with scripted ‘Married with Children’ type banter. The interviewers keep asking if people had a good trip to Schenectady and if they flew or drove. Odd. That said, it does feature:
Guy Aitchison. Back when he had long hair. Long green hair.
Jonathan Shaw talking about Roy’s 10karat diamond ring.
Paul Booth. He was working at Royboy’s booth!
For obvious reasons I cut out all of the nudity and the stuff with the naked ladies, tiger cubs and an infant, but not to worry- I left in Royboy at the dentist, shooting guns and wearing tiger bling.
I have to admit it; I’ve had a great time recently going through all of the Royboy tapes that I have in my collection. They really capture a distinct time in tattoo history, and while the content can seem a little gauche by modern standards they’re a lot better than folks (myself included) have given them credit for.
Exotic Expression (which is video #7 from Royboy) was filmed in 1990 at tattoo conventions in Philadelphia and New Orleans respectively. I pieced together about eight minutes featuring Royboy, Debra, Spider Webb, Gil Montie and a baby tiger.
I really hope that whoever owns the rights to the Royboy/Badlands videos puts them out as a dvd release.