This coming Sunday 12-6 PM Josh Egnew (@joshegnew) Tröñ (@losingshape) Jeremy Sutton (@1sutton1_3kt) Jason Monroe (@jason_monroe) and Andy Perez (@andyjperez) will be doing designs off of Zeke Owen stencils that Josh repainted. Designs will be between $100 and $150 and 100% of everything will be donated to Zeke’s medical costs.
572 Manhattan Ave
I talk about this all the time, but there was a point in my life where I was terrified to walk into a tattoo shop. Back when there was still an air of mystery to the whole thing; it had it’s own language that I didn’t speak, smells that I didn’t recognize and often unsavory characters behind the counter doing what to my eyes looked like magic.
A few decades later and I’ve learned the lingo as good as anyone else; I know what a dummy rail is and that I’m the dummy. I know that the smell of green soap can make me travel back in time, the proper use of SpeedStick deodorant and that some of those characters- and God were they characters back then- were some of the most amazing people I’m ever going to meet.
One of my early tattooers- willing to put up with the nagging questions of a Plant City farm kid- was ‘Just Plain Bud’ Pierson who owned Ancient Art Tattoo on the Orange Blossom Trail of Orlando. This shop was smack dab in the middle of the Trail, flanked by nudie bars and not too far a drive to the Orlando Naval Training Center and it got all kinds of foot traffic coming through. When I started getting tattooed by Bud I was still wet behind the ears, but getting tattooed was still something I looked forward to (times have changed. Lyle Tuttle calls it the ‘World’s Dumbest Hobby’ and the older I get, the more I hate it) just because of Bud’s stories.
All of those old timers had stories to tell and once I got over the fear of making an ass of myself and nutted up enough to talk with them, I’d soak it all up. it was never work talk. I’m not a tattooer and had no interest in asking them what needles they used for what kind of job. It’s not for me to ask what powdered pigment they use for that super bright purple or any of that- but you get them talking about breaking up a fight between a bunch of sailors or having to stash a mystery package for a local biker gang and I’m all ears.
One of the tattooers that Bud always talked about in absolute reverence was Zeke Owen. It’s not an understatement to say that I grew up hearing Zeke’s name, given how young I was when I first started getting tattooed at Ancient Art, yet fate would conspire to never put me in the same place at the same time with him. At least until a few years ago when I saw him wandering around at the Philly Tattoo Convention, casually strolling from booth to booth and checking out what was going on. I was going to go up and introduce myself, but for the first time in a long time- I was nervous.
It was ZEKE. And I didn’t want to make an ass of myself, gushing all over him like some sort of sap. So I chickened out. I ran into Mike Schweigert of Electric in NJ and told him that I felt like a gigantic goober for being so nervous. Mike told me a few Zeke stories that made me chuckle (and made me even more nervous about saying hello) and thanks to him I finally gussied up the stones to go say hi.
When I approached Zeke, before I even got to say hi, he started flexing a tattoo on his arm to make it dance, and said “give this a look.” And I did. And that old fear was gone and I was able to do exactly what I was worried I was going to do- gush and come off like some sort of sap, but it was fine. Zeke told me a few stories, cracked a few jokes at the expense of some of the younger tattooers working the show, and was every inch of him that (not quite) unsavory character who could do magic.
Zeke is currently in Sanford, Florida and is unfortunately suffering from serious medical issues that are taking an extreme financial toll on him.
If you’ve ever met Zeke or heard a Zeke story, you know the impact he’s made on tattoo culture. If you have a few bucks to throw into the pot it would really help him out.
It’s been six months since I added a new video to OV. Now that my computer troubles are at an end I hope to get back into the habit of capturing and uploading again. This snippet from Tattoo Zeke features the iconic Zeke Owen discussing his mentor Al Miller. The sound is a bit wonky even cleaned up but it’s about as good as it’s going to get. The documentary originated from Michael Stearns legendary Metamorphosis II label which for my money produced some of the best tattoo content ever put to film.
While OV is more than just a repository for classic video clips- they’re certainly a fun part of the blog and I appreciate you folks sticking around in between uploads. I’d rather not update than update just for the sake of doing it, so as always, check back often and see what’s new.
I’ve had a lot of folks suggest in the last few months that I should monazite the site and put a little money in my pocket for the trouble. I keep resisting, preferring to keep everything as ad free as possible* but occasionally I’m going to shake the tree a little bit and see if you folks would like to support my various projects in lieu of me making money via adclicks.
My current project is an Occult Vibrations sponsored team of runners, led by myself and my partner Julia, who’re going to run a 5k race in support of the 2013 Philly AIDS Walk which gives much needed funds to area resources for people affected by HIV/AIDS. When I started collecting donations I didn’t think I’d be able to raise my goal of $500 but as the weeks have progressed, I’ve been humbled with donations from people the world over who’ve given a little and a lot to our campaign.
To date, I’ve personally raised $1100 and my team has raised an additional $1271 towards our team goal of $2500, leaving a deficit of $129 with just under a month to go.
Norman Keith Collins, better known as ‘Sailor Jerry’, was born on January 14th 1911.
Today would have been his 101st birthday. His legacy to the tattoo community is as big as his personality was said to have been.
The following video, shot for the Hori Smoku video, features Zeke Owen talking about Jerry’s reaction to fancy clothing.
I started out getting small pieces and then moved on to larger multi-sitting tattoos. I got a lot of satisfaction out of the larger stuff; not just the big pieces themselves but the time spent getting them. As I get older (and more to the point, as I run out of space) getting smaller tattoos has been exponentially more fun…. the road trips to get them, meeting new tattooers and most importantly having them completed when I walk out of the shop.
Continuing with excerpts from ‘Tattoo Zeke’, this snippet finds both Zeke discussing why he prefers doing smaller, single sitting tattoos over larger body work. Ed Hardy weighs in as well.
When I first started getting tattooed by ‘Just Plain’ Bud Pierson, he’d often reverently talk about Zeke Owen, citing his lettering as the best in the business. His name kept coming up in conversations with the people I respected the most and through them I watched a copy of Michael O. Stearns’s Tattoo Zeke: His life and Times on VHS.
Zeke came off as a character; someone who could handle the marathon tattoo sessions he jokes about in the film; more tattoos completed in 48 hours than most tattooers do in a week. In a culture where custom work and planned out pieces dominated, Zeke happily tattooed single sitting flash pieces on scores of recruits from whatever military base he was tattooing near.
I haven’t had a copy of the film in years, thankfully a well meaning friend hooked me up with a digital copy.
This excerpt features Daniel Higgs; I knew it would be of immediate interest to most OV readers, but rest assured I’m going to comb through the whole film to get a nice distilled Zeke Owen experience.