By Dana Brunson
I first met Robert Benedetti in 1976 at the First World Convention in Houston. I was tattooing underground in Indianapolis that year (it was illegal to tattoo in Indiana at the time ) and was pretty much out of touch with any other tattooists. The ’76 convention was small, with some serious old-timers and a bunch of young upstarts. I talked to anyone that would talk to me, including Robert, who was tattooing in California, while I was in Indianapolis. We had absolutely nothing in common except our quest for information and enthusiasm for tattooing. By the second convention in Reno in 1977, Robert had been corresponding with tattooist throughout the world, including me. We exchanged a few letters and a set of flash.
I had been tattooed by Cliff Raven in Chicago in ’74-’76, which plays an important part in this story. After the ’77 convention, Cliff bought the Sunset Strip studio from Lyle Tuttle and moved from Chicago to L.A. Cliff hired Robert to work with him at that shop. During the next few years, I traveled to L.A. to get work from Cliff and always ran into Robert. We talked tattooing and exchanged the regular niceties. Anyone that worked for Cliff was okay with me. As the years and the conventions went along, I would run into Robert and exchange small bits of information―convention talk―from time to time. At the Orlando convention in the mid ’80s, I casually said, “If you are ever in Cincinnati, look me up.” Within a short time, Robert called and asked if he could visit me and my family. Why, I don’t know. I’d like to think that he could see my passion for tattooing and decided to help, or maybe he just wondered what Cincinnati looked like. Anyway, as different as we both were, we became best of friends. Now, every year since then, he comes for a visit and we still hang out at my tattoo studio and talk tattoo.
Robert is a great source of information on tattooing, having worked and corresponding with the best in the business.By the way, Robert is brutally honest and can be opinionated, so don’t ask him, if you can’t take his truth. In this world of political correctness, I respect anyone that has a real opinion, even if sometimes I don’ t agree.
I give this short bio, because, in thirty-six years of tattooing, I’ve met lots of great people willing to share information with others. Unfortunately, there were twice as many that wouldn’t share anything, fearing their faults would be exposed. Robert has helped me with the business-end of tattooing, as well as the artistic-end and has encouraged my wife and son to pursue the trade. I’ve tried to continue this process by being open to anyone I run across that is as serious about tattooing and its history as I am. In this way, I am returning the favor given to me. Robert is like part of my family now, traveling with me and my wife, Dot, around the world in pursuit of tattooing and fun.
Now, on to the Driveway machine. Robert has a machine shop at his home that he uses to make tattoo machines and gizmos for our vintage and antique motorcycles. On one of my many trips to L.A., Robert made a small casting furnace for casting brass out of a five gallon can and some junk in his garage. He had machined lots of frames in his garage, so now he’d decided to cast one. The driveway seemed like a safe place. So, by the end of the day, we had cast three frames, assembled the machines and had only one failure. The “we” of this story was Robert doing most of the casting work and me praying the furnace didn’t explode. So, the Driveway machine was born.
This is one of my favorite machines out of the twenty or thirty machines Robert has given me and my family over the years. His machines are not for sale. They are for family and friends , a tradition he continues at Sunset Strip Tattoo. His shop produces first-class tattooists as well as a home for my friends Greg James, Little Mike, Paul, Bill and WeeGee the clown. So, in the words of Charles Bukowski (Barfly), “Here’s to my friends.”
Until next time, see ya in the funny papers!