Bizarro skull and old school roses. Skull by Bob Roberts, Roses by Pat Martynuik

Photo by Vanessa Kaukonen

I just found out this morning that my old friend, tattooist Bob Roberts passed away. I met Bob in the mid 70’s through my relationship with Ed Hardy. I met Don Ed Hardy through my old pal Michael Falzarano in the mid 70’s. Ed would do an amazing back piece for my ex, Margareta, and subsequently one for me. It was August, 1977 and I heard that Elvis died while I was on the table. Anyway, Ed was doing custom work out of his private studio at the end of Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco but he had also just started Tattoo City down on Mission. Bob was a regular at Tattoo City along with such visiting luminaries as Leo Zuluetta and Jack Rudy from down in LA. Bob also played sax and we loved a lot of the same kind of music. Some years before at Lyle Tuttle’s studio above the Greyhound station in San Francisco on 7th Street. It was a third floor walk up… delightfully dangerous. I got my first tattoo from Lyle a couple of years before I met Ed and Bob. Back then I decided I wanted some traditional roses and Lyle had Pat Martynuik guesting from Canada. Those roses have been with me for a very long time.

Hanging out with Bob Roberts I really liked his work and asked him if he would do a piece for me nestling in the roses. That’s where that strange little skull came from. The eyes were yellow moons but they have long since faded. Some people like to touch up tattoos but not me. My pieces age with me.

Yeah, the mid seventies were exciting years in a lot of ways, tattooing not the least of manifestations. Hot Tuna at the time was Jack Casady, Bob Steeler, Nick Buck and myself. We had been jamming with Bob around the Bay Area so we dealt him in for a gig in New York City at the Palladium in the late 70’s. One of our novelty tunes at the time was the Party Song which Nick Buck brought to us from New Orleans. Check this out:

There trickling down through the decades thanks to YouTube you can hear us all when we were young. Bob’s sax added a new dimension the the Hot Tuna of the time. Everyone in the band sang along with this tune including Jack Casady. A lot of people get excited about the thought of Jack singing. The could be a subject for another time but in this moment we all sounded great together!

It’s been well over a decade since I saw Bob Roberts. Probably closer to twenty years. You know, I always keep thinking about getting in touch with old friends, keeping in touch with old friends… truth be told I more often than not wait until it is too late. Bob’s ship has set sail and I will have to wait until that Great Tattoo Convention In The Sky to swap stories about old times.

Things are both new and not so new but the tattoo zeitgeist of the seventies surrounds me today.

Here’s to us and those like us… damn few left!

Heartfelt condolences to Bob’s surviving family!

Fair winds and following seas brother…


  1. Comment made on February 23, 2024 by Pat Voeks

    I met Ed Hardy in 1976 at Realistic tattoo. I got a a tattoo from a gal that I thought was his wife but Im not sure. Mr Hardy at the time said he only did backs. Cool guy with some nice stories including one about you recording quah. Anyhow just thought I’d share

    • Comment made on February 23, 2024 by Jorma

      Ed’s wife Fran was not a tattooist but a neat lady nonetheless. Could be time for a new tattoo Pat… Just sayin’

  2. Comment made on June 4, 2022 by Eric C

    What did Izzy get?

  3. Comment made on May 29, 2022 by Dale Radeleff

    Jorma, during your times in Southern California did you ever run across a group called the Mescal Sheiks led by Clabe Hangan? He was my first guitar instructor at the local YMCA and my best friend from High School took private lessons from him for several years. Here’s a sample of some of their music:

  4. Comment made on May 29, 2022 by Richard K

    @John M
    My stagehand friend told me about the night they pulled the plug. The head hand there said we have another show tomorrow and had them pull the plug. They also all had jobs at the NY soap operas the next day they had to be at. Well the same day because it was probably a midnight show which would mean it was about 5 AM.. He also said Jorma just kept playing even though they pulled the plug..Ha Ha..

  5. Comment made on May 29, 2022 by FillmoreSoundGuy


    I am a bit younger than you. But I was fortunate to meet and get tattoos from Ed Hardy and Bob Roberts. I also have a killer print from Jack Rudy! Absolute legends. Curious, didn’t Bob tattoo Jack also? Bob used to talk about you guys when I would hang out at his studio on Melrose. We spent a lot of hours together. Not sure if you knew Bill Salmon? He came on the scene a few years later — worked at Ed Hardy’s Realisic Tattoo. They were all doing it way before it was cool to be tattooed. Didn’t know Pat was from Canada. Very interesting. You were indeed part of a magical moment in time when guys like Bob and Ed and Jack and Leo were coming of age. Thanks for mentioning them on your page. Very important people to the tattoo community around the world. Bob was really an awesome guy. And I’ll miss him. BTW, he was born on the same day / same year as his friend, Japanese tattoo master, Horiyoshi III.

    • Comment made on May 29, 2022 by Jorma

      Yeah man… I forgot about Bill Salmon. Mea culpa. You’re right… there he was at Realistic Tattoo. Plus, it is true that Buffalo Bob tattooed Mr. Casady. It’s sort of a twisted Bob Roberts take on an Aries motif. BTW a couple of months ago I got a forearm piece on my left arm. A large Chinese Dragon. A local guy here in Athens, Eric Pierce inked it. He also did our daughter’s first tattoo. Those were halcyon days, but the chain continues!

      Stay Well


  6. Comment made on May 28, 2022 by Dale Radeleff

    Jorma, My pain management Dr. told me about a show you and the rest of Hot Tuna did at the Brewery Arts Center in Carson City, Nevada, the date was February 25, 2010. It would sure be nice to have HT do another show around here while we are both still alive and kicking 😉

    Also, do you have an email address I can send to instead of me having to write in public about things you may not want out there? Thanks


  7. Comment made on May 28, 2022 by BrendanC

    Few indeed left. I guess you had to be there.

  8. Comment made on May 28, 2022 by eaglesteve

    Sorry for your loss Captain.

    John Henry Creach, May 28, 1917.
    Papa would have been 105 today.
    Gone. Never forgotten.
    RIP Bro

  9. Comment made on May 28, 2022 by John M

    Sorry for the loss of your friend Jorma. Those Palladium shows were great; I remember you being taken off the stage while playing Feel So Good because time was up at the Palladium!
    Security walks out unplugs your guitar and the lights come on….good times!
    Next stop Wo Hop. At least we made it through those turbulent times alive which is more than I can say for some of my friends of that era.

  10. Comment made on May 28, 2022 by John R.

    I was at the show at the Capitol Theater in Passaic, NJ, probably about a week before the Palladium show. I remember dearly the Party Song (and Jack’s vocal), but no Bob on sax for that show. Still loved it. I remember later reading a review of the Palladium show with the sax. I think a friend had previously turned me on to that You Tube recording. Great to hear it again.

  11. Comment made on May 28, 2022 by Richard K

    One of my Stagehand Union Brothers in the NY film biz worked the Palladium back in the 70s and said he would compare tattoos with you…I also saw many HT shows there starting in 74 and they were for sure a great time..Going to see Bob Steeler playing with the HT cover band Spiral Eye next week here in NY. I know you know the bass player Jeff who has gone to the ranch many times.. Saw them a few months ago and Bob has not lost his chops,still an amazing drummer..May Bob Roberts RIP..

  12. Comment made on May 27, 2022 by Rob

    I think that Bob Roberts joined HFT for a song or two both nights of the 1977 TG weekend.

    And he also played with Mothers of Invention alumni Ruben and the Jets.

  13. Comment made on May 27, 2022 by George Henn

    I was at that concert, and I do remember that particular Tuna tee shirt worn by Bob Roberts. You had to wait until he turned around, with his back to the audience. Hopefully there’s a photo somewhere; it could be reissued in his memory, of that singular live performance. I had no idea until today it was his only one with Hot Tuna. Yikes!

  14. Comment made on May 27, 2022 by Dave Rosenbluth

    Never knew the backstory to Bob ending up on stage with you guys. Condolences to you and those that knew and loved Bob.

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