By Sean Herman
Walking into Powerhouse Tattoo Company in Montclair, New Jersey reminds me of everything that I love about tattooing. It’s a small space, but it is wide open. The lobby is covered floor to ceiling with flash, some old, some new, but all images that capture your eye. I found myself getting lost, just looking at everything around. Some particular pages caught my eyes that were painted by Krooked Ken, pages he had painted from old Stoney Sinclair designs. I love Stoney’s work, and his attitude toward tattooing, so this put a huge smile on my face, like a giddy kid. The work stations are also wide open, so everyone is involved in every tattoo being done. No matter how many people were tattooing, it could even be just one, everyone there was participating, talking shit and laughing. Everything about the shop was tattooing to me, especially Krooked Ken. ..
I was lucky enough to get tattooed by Ken that day. After I entered the shop and took it all in, Ken came out to greet me right away. Ken is one of the nicest, most approachable people I have ever met. After he greeted us, my girlfriend leaned over and gushed about how great he was.
When we were talking about what I wanted to get done, I told him I wanted one of his signature pieces, which, if you don’t know, is his head put on a piece of iconic flash.
He asked what piece I wanted to work with, and I told him “The Don Hardy eagle, you know? THE eagle.” He just looked at me and smiled, “Oh, the one in the red book, got it.” He walked to the back, drew it up, and came back; that was that.
We talked a bit about placement and made some jokes about images being forwards and backwards, and how little it really matters. When he placed the stencil, the eagle was facing outward, and he said, “It’s for our discussion on what’s backwards.” I just smiled, like a kid in a candy store. To me, that’s tattooing.
The following stories are about how Krooked Ken got into the world of tattooing. It comes from our conversation while he was tattooing me so, it’s not just the story about how Ken started tattooing, it’s several stories, all wrapped up in an amazing conversation had while getting a great tattoo.
I wanted to capture the atmosphere of how it is getting tattooed, the conversations, the stories, the random people interjecting, random stories coming out of nowhere, all of it. So I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed hearing it. I started by introducing the idea behind why I do these articles…
Sean Herman- Why did you got into tattooing, do you remember the first tattoo you saw? Your first exposure to it?
Krooked Ken- Well, I guess the first experience seeing tattoos was seeing my uncle Wallace’s tattoos, he was in the navy for a long long time. He passed away when I was young, around 10 and he was old then, maybe in his 80s. He was in the Navy years ago and he was bigger than life. He would come to visit and he had countless women hanging tattooed on him. But he was married to my aunt since he was 16, you know what I mean?
So we’re talking about a guy whose married for like 50, 60 years but had all these women’s names [tattooed] on him, actually some of them he’d have addresses, like where he could find them when he got back to port and I remember my mother just saying to my aunt, ”Why do you let him get away with that?” You know? ”Well that’s what sailors do. He comes home to me, so it’s okay. My mom never understood that. My father was really disappointed.
I think subconsciously that was my first, however you want to put it, first memory of just how cool [tattooing] was.
Of course I thought, I mean, he was this sweet man, but like a real man. He’d come into a room he’d take control of it, unintentionally. Instead of, “oh can I sit here?” it would come out, “I’m sitting here, anyone got a fucking problem with that?” That’s just the way it was. It was just like, wow, he’d walk into a room, and people would get out of his way.
It was cool, and I never forget one time he was telling dirty jokes and my mom was like, “Why don’t you and your brother go in the bedroom and play” and he was like, “They got balls on them they need to hear this shit.”
He was just that kind of guy, that was my… that cool uncle, you know? I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with him and I don’t have a lot of memories, that’s about all I have not many photos left but that would be the subconscious. Then I started getting tattooed in the late 80s early 90s, at Little Gary’s Tattoos in Dover, Delaware. I’ve always lived in Maryland, but it was so much closer, that was the local shop per se. It was really, really good. Back then you got tattooed there or got tattooed at Dragon Moon in Glenn Bernie. That was your choice and I’d get tattooed there.
After being tattooed there for awhile, another guy named Bill Galaway came to work there and started tattooing me. Once I started getting tattooed by him we kind of become friends, and when I say friends I mean I’d get the last appointment for the day, he’d tattoo me and then we’d drive three hours to a titty bar and drink all night. So that was always fun. Technically, I’d be getting tattooed, paying him the money and drinking it back.
So I became friends with him and at the time I had a good job doing logistics for a big corporation. I always had a thing for tattoos and I was drawing a lot of my own tattoos. I’d bring them in and get them tattooed on me. Looking back on it, I wish they would have stopped me. By this time I was getting heavily tattooed, and I saw the writing on the wall that the corporation only had a few more years…
It was getting to the point where, I didn’t have a degree, but everyone working for me had a masters degree in logistics, they were more equipped to do what I did and they were going to surpass me, you know? I had a great boss but I knew this was going to happen, so I saw the writing on the wall.
So Bill had mentioned one time, “you should try tattooing” and I didn’t know it at the time but he had talked to my wife. He said he’d talked to Gary, the owner of the shop, to see if I could apprentice. Gary agreed to it and I took a major major pay cut, and started working there.
So I apprenticed there and I kept my job for the longest time, not a long time but it felt like a long time. My job required 100 percent travel, so I would fly out Sunday night and fly all over the northeast region from factory to factory and then fly back, tattoo Friday, Saturday and Sunday and then go home eat dinner with my wife, get back on a plane and leave again. That went on for, I guess between a year and two years, something like that.
**EDITOR’S NOTE: Due to the length of this interview it will be broken up into three parts. Sean Herman: Krooked Ken (Part II) will be published next week… STAY TUNED faithful followers! Same Bat-Channel, same Bat-Time!**
(Sean Herman is a tattooer and contributing blogger for Tattoo Artist Magazine.)
Read more from Sean:
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