Baxter's Blog


Posted in Zeke Owen by misterroadtripper on September 13, 2010



This colorful one is from March 1998.

Dear Editor:

This is in response to the Ask Zeke column, he stated that “Connelly in Virginia” used individual ink containers for each customer. Tain’t so, my friend—at least from 1975 on to 1985, when he died. R.L. Connelly used to dip right out of the small bottles of ink for every customer that walked through the door. Same needles, same bucket and sponge, etc. He had six colors, with a toothpick in each bottle and a clear glass mixing bowl to the cover the bottles at night. He tattooed me in 1975, and I visited him many times until his death in 1985. He always worked this way. I took these photos of his “ink area” in the early ’80s.

—Frank Mills, Red Dragon Tattoo, Richmond, Virginia

Dear Mr Mills:

I really don’t use a pencil anymore; it’s a lot more convenient to stand here with a little handheld tape and reflect and read your letter, try to give you back some answers, than write them out. And this way, I think, it’s really the way I talk. It’s the way I speak—the F-words and my attitude, and I still make a lot of mistakes when I say things without thinking them out first.

The old Long Beach Pike

However, I’ve realized after looking back over 50 years that, when you’re out in the public like this, you have a responsibility to everyone listening to what you have to say. Whether it’s your peers or the younger people, it doesn’t make any difference. Because a lot of people are going to listen and follow your advice if you can make any good points at all. I realize that this is a responsibility, especially when the health of these people you’re dealing with is concerned. Also, too, if I do or say something that can cause you to make an error in your business while you’re in the tattoo business (because this is what it’s all about, of course, is the tattoo business) or could cause you to have a problem, especially if you were to lose your license or lose your business or make a mistake, and, God forbid, get sued or what have you—no one wants to have that guilt. I don’t want to carry that around. I have enough problems as it is without out having to make these kinds of mistakes.

Dennis Dwyer, Don Nolan and J.D. Crowe

So, when I say something in this column, you can certainly tell when it’s fun or tongue in cheek. I mean, everybody knows, for example, that they’ve got fine tattoo artists in Pasadena. Everybody knows that before the ’60s, everybody, I mean everybody, was bucket-shop tattooing. And I run around the planet telling people that I was most likely the first one between Canada, Mexico, the Pacific and the Atlantic that was throwing out my ink and changing my needles. This came from working with Sailor Jerry Collins in Honolulu and Hong Kong Tom and his kinsman, Don Nolan. They were in Alaska just before the earthquake, and I saw their logbook. The Army came down and inspected them and made them keep a logbook—made damn sure that they changed their needles, changed their inks and kept a sterile chain of events. When they got off that place and came down to the Pike where all the tattoo action was in Long Beach in those days, that’s what they said. I remember that after all these years. I respect them for it. They weren’t only my peers, they were my tattoo heroes in those days. The work that they did was the forefront of the great tattooing that we have today—the imaginative art that they did. Absolutely, I saw with my own eyes, when they were on the Pike tattooing, they used the sterile chain of events. I didn’t see them tattoo in Anchorage but I had to believe what they said they did there. I saw the logbooks. I saw dozens of tubes and needle bars and so on. And later on, I saw them tattooing in Long Beach with that same sterile chain of events.

Charlie Wagner

I never met Charlie Wagner in the Bowery up in Manhattan, China Town, New York City. But I certainly spoke with a lot of people who had the integrity to tell me what they said. And when I tell you that that’s what I heard about something or that so-and-so told me, that’s the way we communicate. That’s the way we hear about things.

There was a reference made about something I said about R.L. Connelly up in Virginia, about the way he worked. Well, the point that was made in the letter was that he was working in a bucket-shop procedure as late as into the 1980s. Well, he wasn’t the only one. And this is not to excuse it. Its unforgivable after the word is out, in my opinion, for anyone not to work with a sterile chain of events. First of all, I saw pictures of his desk, the way he worked, and it was a cluttered up mess. Well, anybody can take a picture of anybody’s desk before or during their work, and it’s liable to look like a cluttered up mess. Maybe it was all the time, maybe it wasn’t. I only made one visit to his studio, several years ago—R.L. Connelly had a vacation house down here at the beach that was 15 or 20 miles from where I live. He used to come into my shop, he’d had a stroke, he walked with a limp. We used to sit down and talk for awhile, and he invited me up one time. He was in a hospital, and I just kind of dropped in there impromptu on my motorcycle, and the place looked presentable and clean from what I saw. Okay? If it was otherwise, and I didn’t see it and I didn’t mention it, and it has upset a few people, well I’d have to say that that’s just the way I saw it. I’m not going to apologize for one thing or another. I’m telling you like it is. I feel I have a responsibility in saying the way I saw it. If you saw it differently, whatever.

However, if you choose to criticize me personally for this, I’m gonna throw the ball back to you. Anyone who would sit and get tattooed in a mess that they claim they saw, with a guy who didn’t change his needles or didn’t change his ink, is pretty stupid, and I find it very difficult to believe anything they’d say without knowing anymore about them. So I’m gonna leave it laying like that. And, if you have a problem with that, I’ll be around, wearing my black Friscos and my white T-shirt. And, if I’m there by myself, just walk up to me, everybody knows who I am pretty much. And we’ll deal with it.

See ya. Zeke.

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