Jason Reeder- What’s funny to me (and I actually talk to Sean about this a lot) is to hear you telling a story, and have the same story. You can have the people who burn their bridges and you try hard not to be that person.
Sean Herman- *I am going to interrupt the dialogue really quick: This is where I have to mention that my friend Jason Reeder came with me when I got tattooed by Ken. Jason has been tattooing for a little bit now. He started as a client of mine, and got an apprenticeship after I had tattooed him for a few years. He is a really dedicated, interesting tattooer. The next blog is going to be about how he got into tattooing, so this one gives you a little introduction to him. Now, back to the dialogue…*
JR- It’s kind of refreshing for me because you do have it and here it’s the same for everybody.
SH- Yeah he’ll call me and we’ll talk about stuff, how long have you been tattooing now?
JR- Three years in October.
SH- You hit that time at three years where you think, “This is fucking hard, people are mean, and it’s fucking difficult and there are lying assholes and this and that.” You have clients who sometimes yell and scream and are difficult. He’s called me about it, saying, “I’m just having a hard time dealing with all of this” and for me at nine years, I’m watching him going, “Oh wait I’m not crazy, I went through that and thought I was the only guy whose ever gone through it, and I was the one who sucked and I was the one who did everything wrong,” so in talking to him it’s a nice thing for him but it’s also a good thing for me because I’m not the worst guy ever, it happens to everyone. We all go through the same shit. I think that’s tattooing, that’s why I like watching those older documentaries, like with Freddie Corbin and Dan Higgs. Somebody has a YouTube channel called Occult Vibrations and a blog they do too and it’s called OccultVibrations.com and oh my god, it’s fucking amazing!
JR- Yeah it’s pretty rad.
Krooked Ken- I’ve seen the Vice ones.
SH- The Tattoo Age ones are good, the Freddie Corbin Tattoo Age… I like them all, they are all good, but the Freddie Corbin one is…
JR- There is something about that one.
SH- He just loves tattooing, and for me that’s it, it’s tattooing for tattooing’s sake, that’s why you do it.
KK- Yeah, like tattoos or not… I mean it’s just the story behind it, I love the story behind it, you feel like you’re not alone.
SH- You’re not that only tattooer that’s freaking out.
JR- There’s a Stoney Sinclair one I think?
SH- No Stoney’s not on it, I wish he was – his is on YouTube.
JR- Seriously, man I called Sean a few weeks ago, bowing out feeling like shit, and he was like, “Dude, look this up…” it made me feel so good.
SH- I mean between that and Stoney Knows How, you will be so happy to tattoo forever.
JR- After that I was like,”I’m ready.”
KK- For the 12 years I worked at Gary’s, the Roy Boy video played all the time.
SH- That got put up today on Occult Vibrations, it had this guy doing a guitar solo, hooked into nothing, no amp, nothing. His old lady is in her underwear and you’re just watching, “Is this really happening?” He’s got the speed boat, which was all on loop. So for 12 hours a day I heard it over and over. We joke because the three of us who worked in that shop can repeat it. I love the Stoney one too.
KK- Ummm, Jan, I can’t remember his last name but he died last year. He apprenticed under Stoney. That was a cool dude too. The stories… Rich took me to visit him and the stories, it was him or Marty Hulcomb, I don’t remember which, but a story where Stoney forced him to drive to South Carolina. He was like, “I’m going to South Carolina be here tomorrow at such-and-such a time.” Well on their way back there was a huge snow storm, which is unheard of in that area. As they get closer to Columbus it gets worse and worse, they are driving in three feet of snow. Following the plows as they clear the road, and he’s like, “We have to pull over and stop I can’t see.” And Stoney is like, “That’s shit, keep driving, we need to get back” and he made him drive non-stop, it’s supposed to take 12 hours but it took 39. He wouldn’t let him pull over.
SH- That’s hilarious. That’s tattooing, it’s awesome, like anytime you get bummed you can go back to what fundamentally matters. That’s all that matters. It’s not about doing 2020 amazing tattooing. Cutting edge changes, that’s good, it’s wonderful to do good tattoos, but don’t forget the other shit it’s about. It’s about talking and stories, carnies.
KK- Yeah that’s the other thing, I see so many tattooers, you know you’re at a booth next to somebody at a convention, and the people will look at their portfolio and you’ll over hear them say, “This guys really good” and I’ll look over waiting for the guy to be like, “Hey, how are you?” And the guy just looks up smiles and puts his head back down. I have the experience of working with people who couldn’t sell water to someone who is on fire. That’s the whole carnie aspect. “Come on in!”
I remember Eddie one time just a few years ago, I stopped in his shop. Eddie was there and this couple came in, they didn’t want to get tattooed it was the novelty, “Wouldn’t it be fun if we went in there” and Eddie was like, “We’ll put a beautiful tattoo on you, you’re already a beautiful women, probably the most beautiful woman that’s ever been in this shop, but this really would top it off.” So she got tattooed. Nobody does that anymore.
SH- I’m really fortunate, you know Famous Gabe?
SH- He’s one of my best friends, like a mentor to me.
KK- He’s awesome.
SH- I’m lucky because that guy to me is tattooing in that aspect, you go in his shop, I’ve done conventions with him, anything – and he’s talking to everyone, none of this too-cool-for-school stuff. He loves everyone, “Let’s talk… let’s tell stories.”
*Again, not to interrupt but if you’re interested in learning more about Famous Gabe, check out a few blogs back where he told us his story about how he got into tattooing, it’s pretty awesome.*
KK- I met him at Hell City. He was walking around eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. That was the joke, he’s like, “I’m not paying $9 for a burger, you want me to go back to my room and make you one?”
SH- That’s where I learned it from; I go grocery shopping before conventions. I first, at 19, got my apprenticeship… I go to Hula Moon and Gabe was fixing stuff someone else had done on me, we’re talking and I’m all excited, “I got an apprenticeship, I’m going to tattoo.” Ohhhh freaking out and Gabe was like, “It’s cool and all but I do have one word of advice. Some people want to be rock stars in tattooing and I say fuck that, I just want to tattoo the working man and give him the best tattoo he’s ever gotten. If he wants a tribal arm band, it’ll be the best tribal arm band I’ve ever done.”
That stuff has stuck with me. That is to me what tattooing is. Like I was going to say earlier, say a girl wants a fairy and she comes out with skull, “But the skull is fucking wicked” No! Do what she wants, not what you think is cool. Give her a fairy and do it good, give her best tattoo and have the story with it. Gabe wins. I don’t think I’ll ever have enough stories to equal him.
KK- It’s weird how you see things passed down, years from now you’ll be telling Gabe stories and people will be telling your stories, three or four generations of stories, this is really cool.
SH- It’s stories you don’t realize. I was lucky enough to work with Zeke Owen for a few weeks and so I’ll tell Zeke stories and I’m sure Zeke now doesn’t give a fuck who tells stories, I’m sure there are thousands of people telling Zeke stories from a week around him. It’s crazy to think the amount of tattooers who are the same way, that one time you tattooed someone or were around them. It’s like folklore, Americana folklore.
KK- I got tattooed by Zeke at Mike Schweigert’s shop and that was an amazing, it was insane – it was a really cool time.
SH- I wish I could have gotten tattooed by him while I was there, he was working, and I was working the whole time. I remember I brought my portfolio and he was nice enough to go through it, and he was just like, “Yep, ah-ha, yep, ah-ha,” puts it down and says, “One year, you’re okay, you’re doing fine,” I was like, “Oh… okay.” Then, after that, the guy who owned the shop checked out my portfolio and ripped me a new asshole, “This sucks, this sucks, this sucks,” and I’m like, “Yeah! Yeah it does, thank you! I need to know this.” Coming out all jazzed. Zeke is like, “What’d he say?” I said, “He said I sucked.” Zeke was like, “Well fuck, if you wanted to know that you sucked at tattooing, I would have told you that right now, you fucking suck with that color and you have bad breath you need to keep a toothbrush with you at your station. It smells like you eat garlic pizza every day.”
KK- Ha-ha, Oh shit!
SH- So I say, “What do I suck at Zeke?” He says, “Well you lettering sucks.” I say, “Well your lettering is real good Zeke, can you help me out?”
Zeke looks at me, and says, “Fine, sit down and shut up and listen.” So out of all of that, I got to learn lettering from him. All that shit talking and then, “Fine, here’s how you do it” and walked me through for days, he did circles around me, showing me more than I could ever understand. So I want to get tattooed by Zeke and get a toothbrush with the words around it saying, “You suck and you have bad breath.”
JR- What’s awesome is, I came down to Royal Street Tattoo, and hung out for a little bit and Sean and CW found out I couldn’t do lettering for shit. So Sean said,”Come on buddy you are here to learn lettering.” He pulled out how Zeke taught him, saved it and did it for me. It’s the same story…
SH- That’s what I love about tattooing, that’s what tattooing is. It’s traditional tattoo imagery that’s done differently by different artists. Same thing just differently…
*This is how my session with Ken went, story after story. It was everything that I love about tattooing. Honestly, I could fill up six blogs with the amount of stories he told, amazing stories, crazy stories, real tattoo stories. So this is where I’m going to end it, but I’ll tell ya some more of them later on, so I guess this is more of a “To Be Continued…” That’s what tattooing is about, an amazing story, marked on your body, for the ages, and Krooked Ken embodies that.*
(This was the final installment of a three part series. To see the previous two parts please click on the links below.)
(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