I grew up just outside Memphis Tennessee. I’ve lived here most of my life, about twenty-four years, and have never been to Graceland till a few months ago. I’ve talked with folks from New York who had never been to the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty, so I guess I am not that odd. There is no avoiding the King and his music on local radio. He was a genuine legend of Rock ’n’ Roll. There is also no lack of touristy-type paraphernalia. I am looking to get ’an Elvis tattoo that is something unique or out of the ordinary. Something people won’t be prepared for.
West Memphis, Arkansas
On July 5, 1954, a teenager from Tupelo, Mississippi, walked into a recording studio and changed the world. His name was Elvis, the song was “That’s All Right,” and American Rock ’n’ Roll was born. The home of the undisputed King of Rock was his beloved fourteen-acre Graceland Mansion in Memphis, Tennessee at 3734 Elvis Presley Boulevard (www.elvis.com/graceland). The most significant landmark in Tupelo, Mississippi’s modern history is a two-room house at 306 Elvis Presley Dr., where on January 8, 1935 Elvis Aaron Presley, in the humblest of circumstances, was born to Vernon and Gladys Presley (www.elvispresleybirthplace.com).
When it comes to The King, you need not make a pilgrimage to either destination to have an Elvis encounter. Your tattoo can be rendered from a photo, postcard or dedicated website image bank (www.tcbphotos.com). Elvis is the undisputed supreme master of celebrity art, artifacts and collectibles. Tens of thousands of items are offered up daily on eBay, from self-stick sideburns and a molded plastic pompadour wig to all sorts of bazaar objects and icons with certificates of authenticity attached. They can each stand alone or, with creative design skills, be incorporated into a custom personal Elvis tattoo. I still carry my laminated copy of Elvis’ Tennessee driver’s license. It looks like the real deal. When I get pulled over, I am often tempted to curl my lip, give it to the trooper and mumble, “Don’t be cruel.”
In February of 1952, Sam Phillips launched Sun Records. The sun was a sign of his perpetual optimism, a new day and a new beginning. Sam rented a small space at 706 Union Avenue for his own all-purpose studio. The label was launched amid a growing number of other independents. In a short while, Sun gained the reputation throughout Memphis as a label that treated local artists with respect and honesty. Sam provided a non-critical, spontaneous environment that invited creativity and vision. Elvis’s contemporaries and lab mates at Sun were Johnny Cash, the inimitable Jerry Lee Lewis, and the “Rockin’ Guitar Man” Carl Perkins. These four soon became known as the Million Dollar Quartet. Right behind them came Roy Orbison, Charlie Rich, Bill Justis, Harold Jenkins (a.k.a. Conway Twitty) and other equally memorable musical talents. There are a few different labels and logo designs that were used by Sun records, all of which have a strong graphic quality that are destined to be great Elvis tattoos (www.sunrecords.com).
And then there is famed British artist Andy Goldsworthy. With him, comes a description: “Goldsworthy is an amiable chap with silvery hair and close-cropped beard, an Elvis tattoo on his right forearm and kneepads over his jeans.” When asked he usually dismisses the tattoo as having been done long ago when he was quite young. Yet the extraordinary creative vision of this bohemian free spirit and his unique creative process is extremely temporary, allowing the course of nature and its flow to affect his work. Much like the temporary, indelible mark of his Elvis tattoo and its inability to withstand the ravages of time and the frailty of our existence. Tides, wind, the movement of rivers, the bleaching and melting power of the sun, all provide the magical relationship between art and nature. Besides England and Scotland, he has created works at the North Pole, in Japan, the Australian Outback and the U.S. His painstakingly intricate masterpieces are made entirely out of materials found in Mother Nature, who threatens and often succeeds in destroying Andy’s art, sometimes before it is even finished. His profound relationship with the landscape speaks of the violence of nature, the cycles of death, putrefaction and renewal, with an uncompromisingly elemental beauty. To see more about the works of Andy Goldsworthy, view the documentary film “Rivers and Tides” (www.docudrama.com). It helps us to appreciate nature in a new and enchanting way and get a quick peek at his Elvis tattoo as he tosses back a few pints with friends.
Performance artist/tattooist Spider Webb (www.spiderwebbtattoo) had a project titled 100 Elvis’s. He altered one hundred life-sized plaster busts of The King. My favorite, which was included in an exhibit at The Studio Museum in Staten Island, New York, was Moko Elvis. Others in the series include Quentin Crisp and Michael Jackson and a 9-11 tribute Elvis bust. Spider’s custom tattoo machines are limited edition works of art containing artifacts including g-strings from porn stars, meteorites from outer space to artifacts and photos of Elvis imbedded in the frames.
One of the more commonly asked questions about Elvis and tattooing is, “Did Elvis have tattoos?”
The jury is still out on that question, but I can personally answer it and honestly say, “Yes, Elvis has tattoos.” A whole bunch of tattoos. His TCB tattoo, complete with lightning bolts inside his lower lip says it all. Elvis Crocker that is, Elvis junior to be exact. When his grandma had six boys and one girl, the bet was that, if she had another kid, it would be named Elvis. So that’s how his daddy was named for the King. Senior was immersed in the Rock ’n’ Roll explosion and passed along the moniker to his boy. Not only does Elvis have tattoos, but you can also get some killer ink by Elvis, who has been pushing ink for more than a decade. His road exploits of tattooing and causing mayhem have crisscrossed the U.S. They are on view at http://elvisontour.blogspot.com. He spent a significant amount of time calling New York his home. After a buddy moved up north from Texas, he followed close behind to Fun City Tattoo under the guidance of Jonathan Shaw, and then New York Hardcore with Jimmy G from Murphy’s Law and Vinnie Stigma from Agnostic Front. Recently, he moved back down south to Austin, Texas, where the official city motto is “Keep Austin Weird.” So, if you are looking to get tattooed by Elvis, make the trip to Side Show Body Art in Austin, Texas. To be sure that he hasn’t left the building, call ahead or look him up on www.Inkednation.com/elvistatt.
If you are set on a traditional black-and-gray, hyper-realistic portrait and are not in a rush, contact award-winning tattooist Bob Tyrrell at Night Gallery in The Motor City or Toronto. He is quite a travelin’ man and you might just get lucky and tie him down in your neck of the woods. Or, make it a road trip of your own to connect at a convention in a city where you have never been before (www.bobtyrrell.com).
For the uninitiated Elvis Presley fans, by the way, TCB stands for “taking care of business.” That is what Elvis Presley named his band. Formed in 1969, it was comprised of James Burton on guitar, Glen D. Hardin on piano, Jerry Scheff on bass and Ronnie Tutt on drums. There will soon be an official site dedicated to this legendary rhythm section (www.scheff.com/tcb), with loads of information and merchandise. The letters TCB above a lightning bolt was the insignia often visible dangling from a gold chain around Elvis’ neck. It also became a badge of honor that he personally bestowed on a select few.
In addition to the necklace, Elvis created the TCB Oath. One night while sitting in the bedroom on his personal jet, the Lisa Marie, Elvis tore open an envelope and, thinking carefully, penned what has become known as the TCB Oath. Thereafter, anyone who was presented with a TCB necklace was given a copy.
The original envelope sold for $20,000.00 at a Butterfield & Butterfield auction. The original TCB necklace and oath can be seen on www.elvispresleynews.com/Elvis-Jewellery.html.
(Re-typed as written & misspelled)
THE TCB OATH
More self respect, more respect for fellowman, respect for fellow students & instructors, respect for all styles & techniques. Body conditioning, mental conditioning, meditation for calming & willing of the mind & body. Sharpen your skills increases mental awareness for all those who might choose a new outlook and personal philosophy, freedom from constipation.
The words that follow ended the oath:
All techniques into one
Elvis Presley 8th
applying all techniques into one
The TCB logo even appeared on both sides of his custom-designed sunglasses and his initials, EP, on the bridge above his nose. He ordered them made, twenty at a time. Although, the more commonly recognized signature style aviator glasses are available for $4.98 at www.centurynovelty.com
Quotes by and/or about The King, as well as your personal favorite song titles, lyrics or actual segments from sheet music, also make great tattoos. Another choice icon is his favorite automobile, a Cadillac. In July 1955, Elvis bought his mother a pink Caddy (although she never drove). According to Art, who lived next door to Elvis on Lamar Street in 1955, he made the pink paint for Elvis and is the only one who knows the formula. He named it “Elvis Rose.” On September 2, 1955, $1,000 damage was caused to the car in an accident just south of Texarkana. The top of the car was painted white around March 1956. The car has become one of the ultimate icons of Elvis and the 1950s. It is arguably the most famous Caddy in the world. A more humorous tongue-in-cheek tattoo could be rendered from a photo I shot at American Dream Auto Sales in Dothan, Alabama, of a rusted pink and white Caddy with signs indicating one owner, Elvis.
Just to keep things interesting, Elvis would often sign his recording studio sessions docket as “Svile Yelserp,” Elvis Presley spelled backwards. Elvis is not at all a common name. The Latin meaning for Elvis is “wise.” Possibly a form of Old English, Alvis, meaning “all wise or wise protector,” it is a five-letter name possessing a great deal of power strength and wisdom. You will be hard pressed to find more than a handful of entertainers known by a single name. Liberace, Lassie, Godzilla, Madonna and Cher, whose first in-person Rock ’n’ Roll performance was, yes, you guessed it, an Elvis concert.
The performances of Reverend B. Dangerous can be characterized as a one-man circus sideshow and then some. His international debut was on stage at MTV’s Spring Break in Panama City, Florida, where he hung heavy objects from his tongue and nipples. At a Sundance Film Festival party We Sold Our Souls For Rock x’n’ Roll featuring Ozzy Osbourne and Penelope Spheeris, he had random audience members stapling a T-shirt on his back, and the heaviest guy in the crowd stand on his head, crushing his face into broken wine bottles. At Oz Fest’s final show, the mud and cold rain sent crowds fleeing before Marilyn Manson and Black Sabbath performed after Slipknot went off stage. Ozzy winced and grimaced with an occasional trademark F**K as his voice cracked repeatedly during his opening song. After the song ended, he said, “I’m sorry I’m singing so badly tonight. I really wanted to give you my best. I think it’s irresponsible of Sharon to book Ozzy two nights in a row. Her greed disgusts me more than Reverend B. Dangerous’ routine.” The Rev and I worked together at Sacred Body Art Emporium in New York. At my birthday celebration on the lower level (in the basement), he handed me a half dozen metal tipped darts and let me have a go at using him as the human dartboard. All I can say is that if you don’t get them at just the right angle all they do is bounce off and you need to try again.
And, by now, you are probably saying so what does all this have to do with an Elvis tattoo? Soon after the party, he was on a mission to wed his sweetheart in the style in which she was accustomed. Tackiness personified, they were set on tying the knot in Sin City with none other than the King doing the honors at the Elvis chapel. They have a Hound Dog Special where you get a limo from and to your hotel (or motel), Elvis walks the bride down the aisle with a four-rose bouquet, special Elvis vows, they take twenty four pictures (you develop the film), you get two pair of sunglasses, he will sing three songs of your choice and, for a little extra, a photo taken with you in front of the Las Vegas sign (www.elvischapel.com). Suddenly, they had a change of heart and decided not to take the plunge. Instead, they found a tattoo shop where they made an indelible commitment with his and hers tattoos. Inside his lower lip reads ELVIS and inside hers is PRICILLA. What will he do next? Maybe next time they can get hitched at Graceland.
Tom “T-bone” Martin was eleven years old in the summer of 1977, when the King passed. He didn’t miss a beat and began building his own private memorial shrine with acquisitions of Elvis ephemera and collectibles. His prized possessions include a requisite velvet Elvis painting from Mexico and a custom, one of a kind edition of mini Elvis busts from www.elvisdisease.com. Three decades later, T-bone hasn’t lost any steam. He and tattooist Bruce Kaplan studied together in New York City at Parsons School of Design. They reconnected in Tannersville, New York, where he got sleeved, bit by the body art bug and started an apprenticeship. His ’59, four-door Caddy inspired his tattoo of FINS FOREVER, with a Cadillac crest. It was the last tattoo inked by the late “Gentle Jay” Pedro, doing what he loved most at Philadelphia Eddie’s 2000 tattoo convention. There was a message in the music and he has indelibly etched the Sun Record logo to memorialize where it all began. He too has done his fair share of Elvis images and even more TCB tattoos. The latest incarnation of T-bone’s artistic genius is the morphing of Elvis with a crown of thorns and the official TCB lightning bolt tattooed on the lead singer of the band Rocky Velvet. T-bone currently holds court at Lark Tattooing in Albany, New York (www.larktattoo.com), surrounded by a select sampling of his personal Elvis icons. Viva Lark Vegas retail emporium (www.larkvegas.com) is just a few doors down, with an abundant stock of Elvis and Tiki stuff.
KNOW HOPE emblazoned across his knuckles, tattooist Jason Ackerman had designed graphics for a skateboard deck to be manufactured by Grind King, but sadly, they had other visions. Although, it was love at first sight when a client walked into Lucky 7 Tattoo and spotted his rendering tacked on the wall. It was The King in full regalia, from the signature shades and sideburns to TCB hanging from his necklace and every hair strategically placed. Except, this was the Elvis who lost out to the trim King depicted on the 29 cent postage stamp. It was a tiny tune version whose jumpsuit couldn’t button and bulging belly that nearly obliterated his belt buckle. With a city skyline of high-rise buildings and a sign that reads Las Vegas peeking from behind him, Elvis couldn’t have looked happier. Knees bent and arms outstretched, his trucks sliding along the metal curb as if he had nailed a new trick. The tattoo wraps around his right side from below his armpit to slightly past his hip. With some fifteen hours into it and another eight or so still to sit, we have a convert committed to The King.
Jason Ackerman respectfully rants, “Elvis is the true, one and only king! One of the coolest men ever to have graced this planet of ours! Long live the king!”
Questions or comments?
Contact Matty at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kennedy, Paul ed. Warman’s Elvis Field Guide. Iola, Wisconson, KP Books, 2005.
Viction:ary, ed. Tattoo Art & Design. New York, Universe Publishing, 2007.
NOTE: All T-bone photos © Jude Goldman 2007—judegoldman.com.