Jay Brown: The Life and Times of ‘Crazy’ Philadelphia Eddie
By Jay Brown
Crazy Philadelphia Eddie paved the way for tattooers today and his career spans almost six decades. He tattooed in New York, Hawaii, Chicago and Philadelphia where he spent 40 years tattooing. Eddie has seen the changes from the sponge-and-bucket days to the dawn of the sterilization era and beyond. He started one of the first tattoo clubs, owned supply companies and even ran tattoo conventions. In a career as long as Eddie’s the adventures were abundant, and he is still having them today…
Since his retirement, Eddie has recently stepped back into the tattoo world in full-force with the release of his book, Tattooing – The Life and Times of Crazy Philadelphia Eddie – Mi Vida Loca Vol. I.
I was lucky enough to be at the Las Vegas book release, and had a chance to interview this tattoo legend, and get a copy of his new book. I have read the book and I have to say it is absolutely awesome, written in Eddie’s own words, you can almost hear him telling the story as you read. As you finish the book Eddie sets you up for the next volume, making you crave more from the King of Tattoo Stories…
Jay Brown: When did you get into Tattooing? How old were you? What was the year?
Crazy Eddie: The year was 1952. Coney Island, New York… I was 15 going on 70.
JB: What was it that drew you to tattooing?
CE: As a young man I used to admire and look at people that had tattoos, muscular guys with tattoos and thought that was sharp… My uncle Eddie had tattoos. I asked him where he got them, “In the Bowery.” I asked him how much and he said, “50-cents.” I had that in the back of my mind and at age 15 I was lookin’ for a place to get a tattoo. My family used to go to Coney Island and I spotted a sign in the air that said, “Expert Tattooing, 25 Years Experience, 50-cents and Up.” I says, “A-Ha! I found a tattoo place.” So I went back the next week with my friends and got a tattoo…
JB: You’ve seen just about everything in your career, any favorite stories?
CE: Yes. It’s too long. It’d make the whole magazine article. You’ll have to buy the book…
Okay… My trip to Copenhagen, Denmark… it was heaven, for $20 dollars you could get 144 kroner’s… That’s a dollar in Danish money. And a bottle of beer was one kroner, so for $20 I could get 144 bottles of beer. The women outnumbered the men eight to one. I got a room that cost me hardly anything that I never stayed in.
I asked Ole Hansen the tattoo man over there why there where so many women and he said in WWII when Hitler invaded Denmark, he killed all the little boys, so they wouldn’t grow up and kill him. And Denmark is a fishing country, so all the men were always out fishing.
I was rich, so I had all I wanted to drink, a different woman every night, a room I never stayed in, after two weeks my hands were shaking so bad, I couldn’t get the drink from the bar to my mouth, I had to drink it off the bar. I thought to myself, “I gotta get out of here while I’m still alive…”(Laughs).
JB: I remember when I first met you years ago, when Mr. Rosini introduced me to you… I was blown away, I got to meet one of tattooing’s greats. Who was like that for you in your day, when you were first starting out?
CE: Max Peltz… Brooklyn Blackie who was in Coney Island. Bob Shaw, who became a great friend of mine.
JB: You’ve done it all when it comes down to tattooing, owned shops, owned supply companies, ran conventions. A lot has changed over the years, it certainly has in the 24 years I’ve been in it, but you’ve been privy to some 50-60 years. What do you think of the state of tattooing today? With all the supply companies, all the shops, the conventions, the T.V. shows?
CE: If I was getting into the business today I wouldn’t even be interested in tattooing… It’s lost its… its magic.
JB: What advice do you have for someone getting into tattooing today?
CE: My advice for someone getting into tattooing today is; put your hand in your pocket, get all your money, give it to me… Then go find a big bridge and jump! (Laughs) You like that? (laughs again).
JB: What advice do you have for artists that have been in the industry for 10 or more years with all of the changes and a tattoo shop opening on every corner?
CE: Have a drink, find a pretty woman and worry about the rest of it later! (Laughs).
JB : So I don’t want to ask too many questions about your life because the book is out and a lot is in there. What made you decide to write the series of books on your life?
CE: My fourth wife, while I was in the hospital with a heart attack, cleaned out my safe and took all my retirement money. So I had to do something so I could earn a few dollars, so I could get a drink. So I decided to write the story of my life.
JB: I know I am glad to see you out at the conventions with the new book; in fact I can’t wait to see you in spring so I can get the next book. So how does it feel being out on the road doing the book tour?
CE: Great! Very tiresome… I’m 74 years old. I should have been gone by now…
JB: How does it feel getting the first volume done?
CE: Feels great! The enthusiasm from tattooers is overwhelming… Men want the book, and women want me to take them to Hawaii! (Laughs)
JB: I hear there are five books in the works. Tell me a little more about that?
CE: Five, possibly six… I’m getting about 8 to 10 years per book and I got 58 years. So I’m lookin’ at six books and book two is going to the press next week and will be available soon… And then we are finishing on number three in a couple of months. Each book leaves off, I tell you a little about the next book, at the end of the first one I am in my car and ready to drive down the highway a hundred miles (to Philadelphia) where I am going to spend the next 40 years-plus, tattooing and taking many side adventures. So come along…
JB: So we can expect the next installment soon and at the end of each one you give us a hint of whats coming next, that’s great!
CE: Yes. At the end of the second book I say in the next book there’s gonna be a shooting, a stabbing, a robbery, a death, a party of a lifetime and the birth of the National Tattoo Supply… It’s a continuous story ’til either I finish it or I drop dead.
JB: What conventions can we expect to see you at and buy your new books? Where else can you get them?
CE: Minneapolis, Houston, Orlando, Ohio, Ink Travelers in Vancouver, WA and Tattoos and Blues, in Santa Rosa for sure in the spring… I’m sure there’s more.
JB: Tell us about the person who is writing the books? How did it all happen?
CE: I was talkin’ to another tattoo artist, Timmy Tatts from Collegeville, Pennsylvania, who is a good friend of mine, and I was telling him my ideas and he had a friend [Eric Foemmel] who was a ghostwriter from California. He hooked me up with him here in Las Vegas last year at the tattoo convention, and now we have the one book done and more in the works.
JB: Well that’s about it, we all look forward to the series of books and I thank you for the interview…
As I finished up the interview, Eddie began to entertain another tattooer that came by to get a copy of the book and get his picture taken. He starts to tell another story…
“I don’t remember what convention it was in the Midwest,” Eddie began… “But we were there in the bar, and I lit up a joint right in the bar, you couldn’t believe it… It was the time we all decided we were going to go to the girls convention and get our dicks tattooed. It was you, me, Rossini (Rosini)… I can’t remember who else…”
The young tattooer laughs, as Eddie finishes the story, signs his book and gets his picture taken. I was flattered to have Eddie remember that story and include me in it. They don’t call him “Crazy” Philadelphia Eddie for nothing.
The book is available exclusively through Eddie’s website www.crazyphiladelphiaeddie.com for $30 for the book and $50 for the book and the accompanying audio CD.