Mike Stobbe of North Park’s Avalon Tattoo started inking San Diego’s most famous rock stamp 25 years ago.
“I did at least 100 to 150,” he says of the Rocket From the Crypt rockets he started tattooing on fans in 1993. The legend said if you had one of the rockets you would get in to any RFTC show for free, forever.
“I started off doing Pete and John from the band,” says Stobbe. “I became the official guy who did the Rocket tattoo.” But does the rocket tat still get free admission? “I heard of people flying in from Europe [with tattoos] who would still get VIP treatment…but I don’t think it’s still a thing like it used to be.”
Stobbe is not the only tattoo pro who built up his clientele through rock. Justin Cota now plays in Bosswitch, Dream Burglar, Deep Sea Thunder Beast, and has been in at least eight other bands over the past ten years.
“The last rock portrait I did was a watercolor paint splatter stencil of [the Doors’] Jim Morrison,” says Cota. “Most of the rock-related requests I get now are for handwritten rock lyrics.”
Cota says TV shows such as Miami Ink helped him to build up his El Cajon Boulevard business. It’s a perfect job for a musician, he says, admitting there are now plenty of competitors. “Right now I’m booked non-stop; other weeks, it’s crickets."
He says it’s not as easy to launch a career as a tattoo artist as it was when he started 15 years ago. “I just interviewed a guy with 30 years’ experience and he’s having a heck of a time finding a place to work.”
Dave Warshaw, guitarist with the Creepy Creeps, is famous for his one-winged locust tat for fans of the Locust. “I used to play in Tarantula Hawk and we played at the parties Avalon Tattoo used to have at the Casbah.” He says that crossover led to a healthy connection with the rock community, “...whether I was playing with them or tattooing them.”
His tattoo illustrations led to him branching out into creating graphics for the Bali Hai restaurant and Cutwater Spirits through his storefront Warshaw’s Provisions, which makes tikis and designer fireplaces. “People like it that there’s a connection with a Creepy Creep.”
Warshaw says he owes everything to his days as a tattoo artist, but... “I wouldn’t tell anyone to get a job [as a tat artist] today. It is completely oversaturated. There is far too much supply [of artists] and not enough demand. And today, people’s expectations are all about a good price. Instead of good art, people now want a $30 tattoo in pink that says ‘shit.’”
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Bosswitch appears Saturday at the Black Cat.