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…