Krooked Ken- Finally I got to that point where I was like, “You know what, it’s fine, I’ve got a life.” I asked Gary if I could come full-time he said yes and I quit my job and have been tattooing since.
Sean Herman- What year was that?
KK- I started in ’94.
SH- Did you start working right away at his place?
KK- Yep, worked there a total of 12 years.
SH- Oh shit…
KK- It was, in my opinion, after meeting a lot of other tattooers and finding out how they apprenticed, I was really lucky to work for a guy like him. It was that old mentality that I started out tattooing before I learned anything else. He wanted to make sure it was something I could do before I learned any secrets, but once he realized, “Okay, this is it, this kid will do this until he dies,” he didn’t hold back on anything… “Here’s how you make pigment, here’s how you do this, here’s how you do that…” I’m so lucky, there is nothing I can’t use to tattoo, as long as I can find a hardware store, chances are I’ll be fine no matter what.
SH- A traditional apprenticeship up until the 90s when it became pre-made and…
KK- We made our own needles and a lot of ‘em. I’d go to him with questions and he’d be like, “Ah, you’ll figure it out,” and I always thought, “Damn it, why does he hate me?” But thank God he did that, because I haven’t forgotten, you know what I mean? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t make my needles anymore but maybe I should?
I’ve been so lucky to be able to have a lot of good friends that I’ve known a long, long time. I’ve gotten great advice from Stanley Moskowitz. We sat down one time and he said, “I see you at all these conventions, doing this and that and I’m really proud of you. You got a fucking family kid, you know, family… you can give your kids a million dollars at graduation but they are still going to remember that one baseball game you missed.”
They are going to remember, and I could tell that was something from his heart. He was telling me, “Look man, don’t fuck this up.” I have got to plan, none of us are working forever, so I have to make sure my family is taken care of forever but part of that is being there. So that kind of advice and Tony Teleda years ago, same thing, you get sat down like you’ve been neighbors for years, “Things are different, you aren’t going to make a million dollars, so don’t worry about all these other tattooers say this or that, it’s bullshit.”
A lot of people will say, “Back in the day we used to do this,” like you just mentioned traditional apprenticeships. Fuck, the old guys were like, “Oh you want to tattoo? Here give me hundred bucks here’s a few machines and if you’re good, I’ll hire you.” I mean that’s what used to happen. All this shit about owning someone, that came later. Where I came from, it was like a little family. All my first experiences with tattooing were so positive. I went to my first convention in Richmond, VA; I think Crazy Ace put it on back then. I did just a couple tattoos and met Tommy Painter. He was awesome and most the guys couldn’t give two shits.
My wife and I just did a road trip. We’ve been married 20 years and we do everything together. Let’s go to a tattoo convention, and we went down there and I just walked by Tommy’s booth and he was like, “Hey, who did that tattoo?” It was some little thing on my arm from Gary, so I said, “Little Gary in Dover, Delaware,” and he was like, “Oh my God, he’s in the tattoo confederacy with me and I’m the guy who gave him grandpa’s recipes for ink.” Tom and his wife, that entire weekend, treated us like we were their friends and I didn’t know who they were, just because I got tattooed by some guy hundreds of miles away, they were cool to me.
“Hey, you hungry? Let’s go to dinner.” He was introducing me to people; I’ve never felt such a welcoming environment. So we walked around the convention awhile, and now what?
SH- It’s like that at a tattoo convention…
KK- The best choice was to go to the bar, so we went, and there at the bar was an older gentleman. It was 2:30 p.m. on a Friday. We sat down at the bar and this gentleman grabs these two drinks, walks over and said, “Hey, where you twos from?” I said, “Maryland.” He said, “Nice to meet ya, I’m Crazy Eddie…”
That was it. We sat there and drank all afternoon, we never really talked about tattooing, he talked about how he had some shops in Philly and I had heard of him and seen his stuff in magazines, but to this day when I still see him, it’s about family, “How’s your wife? How’s your boy? I saw pictures, my God he’s getting big, and I see he’s playing football…”
It’s not, “Look at this tattoo.” It’s so family oriented. To me I think about that stuff constantly, that’s what made me appreciate it but I really think that where hope’s made, I wouldn’t expect that, who would? I just thought I’d tattoo and get tattooed maybe, and hang out. I did get tattooed by Tommy Painter and not only was he a great tattooer but he was a great guy. We talked about getting tattooed; we’ve all heard the stories of, “I got a great tattoo but I won’t go back because the guy treated me like shit.”
KK- I REALLY don’t ever want to be that guy.
SH- Tattooing is the experience.
KK- I just watched an interview with Gil Monte; someone forwarded it to me on YouTube. It is the Gil I remember, but he says, “I can still put on a decent tattoo but I’ve never been the best. By industry standards I’m not good at all, but sit down in my chair for an experience.”
KK- And that’s where a lot of tattooers won’t. People sit down and he starts to tell a story, think of what it was like. Have you read any of Crazy Eddies’ books?
SH- Yeah, I’ve never realizes the amount that goes into it.
KK- Yeah, so you can throw some tattoos into somebody, and that’s it, but you can write a book and affect millions of people. It’s an amazing thing isn’t it?
SH- That’s what I love about tattooing, the family it builds. My friend Craig in California – he says this thing I love; “Tattooing is family, you have your crazy cousins and your fucked up uncle that you don’t want to be around or like very much, but it’s family,” and that’s how you have to treat it, you can’t think you’re outside of something or better than, tattooers and tattooers – that’s why anytime I tattoo a tattooer I immediately am like, “Thank you, the fact that you want me to tattoo you is insane,” and it’s all just for that, the experience, the story.
KK- I was going to ask you, “Why the fuck are you getting tattooed by me?”
SH- Because the second I met you… I met you with Rich.
KK- Yeah, at Hell City…
SH- You were so fucking humble and nice and I was like, “That’s Krooked Ken being all quiet and nice, he should be, ‘I’m Ken, who the fuck are you?’ But instead he’s like, ‘Hey man, nice to meet you. I really like your work.'”
When you said that I was like shaking, like, “Oh my God,” and from there finding your Twitter account and all that stuff online, and I have been constantly going crazy over your work. It means the world to me to read your stuff – the stuff you do and stories behind stuff. I was like, “I need to get tattooed by this guy.”
KK- Well, the feeling is mutual, I love your guys’ work. I love that… sometime you get painted into a box, I love looking a stuff I can’t do. I mean I aspire to be able to, that’s what makes everyone better. Is when you look at stuff and think, “How the fuck do I pull that off?” And I find some fucker who is willing to pay me to try…
**EDITOR’S NOTE: Due to the length of this interview it will be broken up into three parts. Sean Herman: Krooked Ken (Part III) 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.)
Sean can be found at:
Royal Street Tattoo
Mobile, AL 36601
251 432 4772