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Photo by Chris BrandIf fine-line, portrait-style tattoos are your line, the man who all but invented them is right here in Anaheim: Jack Rudy, whose shop, Goodtime Charlie's Tattooland, has been the place for that sort of thing since 1985, which is when he moved here from East LA. Rudy—and his teacher, Goodtime Charlie Cartwright—didn't create black-and-white, single-needle tattooing, but they unquestionably perfected it 30 years ago. We talked with Rudy between tattoo conventions about why and how that was, and about what it's like today, when tattoo parlors are nearly as numerous as coffeehouses.
JackRudy:A lot of the guys I ran around with as a teenager had older brothers who had done joint time. They had this kind of black-and-blue style of tattooing. I always liked that style, but I wasn't going to have to go to the joint to have to do it. Then I met Goodtime Charlie fresh out of boot camp, and he agreed to teach me when I got out of the Marines in 1975. Working with Charlie in East LA, that's what our customers were requesting. They liked it, and so we kept honing it. We figured out how to make a single needle [tattoo machine].
I believe it started in the California penitentiary system. I would say maybe it goes back, the roots of it, to the '50s. But in the '60s it gained in popularity, and then in the '70s it was really gaining much more popularity. And then in the '80s it continued.
Late '75-early '76. That's when single-needle was officially quote-unquote "invented." The way they did it in the joint was also very different because they used essentially a sharpened guitar string, and it was a single needle, with no back-up [needle] on it. That was too flimsy for what we were doing. We just eventually figured to take a three-needle [machine] and pull one needle about a quarter-inch out from the other two, and the single-needle was born: one on the top, two on the bottom.
You mean the kind of artwork? A lot of, like, prison-style kind of stuff, like a lot of girls, a lot of girls with the big hair—the ratted-up hairstyles of that day and even before that, 'cause that was still more of a '60s kind of thing. But that puffed-up hairstyle, chola hairstyle, was really popular. So we did a lot of girls. And stuff like peacocks were popular. They are very stylized, not like a realistic peacock. We would always do them with a very long flowing tail, which worked very well for cover-ups. A peacock was a cure-all for most tattoo ills, because sometimes you would do a giant peacock the length of someone's arm. You have the long feathers coming down. [And] lettering, guys would do their girls' names, their kids, their neighborhood.
Mostly it was like, you know, a real crazy style of handwriting, you had block lettering and Old English. And even a gang style. Gang writing was quite popular too. There were like four major styles we did.
Not really. We rarely had rival gangs show up at the same time, although sometimes they would show up on the same day. We would kid them, knowing they were at war, saying "Hey, your homies were in here earlier." And it was like, "Hey, what the hell, where are those putosat?" For the almost 10 years we were there, we were lucky. It could have been bad. We tattooed neighborhoods from all over. All over East LA.
Yeah, it was very, very different.
Well, um, it was cool because there was more diversity in the styles. Moving out of East L.A. and into Orange County, there was more variety of people and a variety of work. And I like variety. Portraits are one of my . . . specialties, but I wouldn't want to do 'em every day.
It just used to be more exclusive. Thirty years ago, for instance, when I first started, there were no tattoo mags, no conventions whatsoever. It has become so mainstream, and it [was] never supposed to be mainstream. When anything becomes too popular, it kind of takes away from it. But the Pandora's box was opened a long time ago, and I guess we've all contributed to that in some way.
JACK RUDY WILL BE AMONG ARTISTS AT THE SECOND ANNUAL LONG BEACH TATTOO CONVENTION, ONE OF 18 TATTOO CONVENTIONS HE'S ATTENDING THIS YEAR. THE QUEEN MARY, 1126 QUEENS HWY., LONG BEACH, (714) 846-7121; WWW.ELECTRICINKPROMOTIONS.COM. FRI.-SUN. CALL FOR HOURS. $5-$40.