In the Flesh: Houston Musicians Talk About Their Tattoos
Old Crow owner Jared Green (right) has helped steel guitarist Bart Maloney create a '40s motif for many of his tattoos.
Photos by Jeff Myers
'I've gotten all of these tattoos over the years," laughs Houston musician Bart Maloney. "Some of them I've added to; some of them I've changed -- like this one here? I added the steel guitar after her. She needed something more."
Maloney's arms are covered in brightly colored ink, everything from a razor-sharp barber's edger to a traditional pinup girl drawn across the flesh of his arm. Another pictograph extends across the length of his arm and over his shoulder, ultimately making its way down his chest. Every one of these badges has a story behind it that he's happy to share.
"And this one?" Maloney excitedly points to his upper bicep, where lie the Alamo and some lyrics to Bob Wills' "San Antonio Rose."
"Well, it's for my love of Texas music."
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Chris Navasatis, front man for local industrial-metal band ERASETHEVIRUS, is the severe and glaring opposite of the good-natured Maloney. But he tells an almost identical story about his tattoos.
"I mean, I've got a ton of tattoos up my body -- a full sleeve, and some on my chest," Navasatis says. "But this one right here? Right under my bicep? It's my ERASETHEVIRUS tattoo, my battery.
"It reminds me of why I do this some days," he laughs, his voice throaty and raw.
Musically, the two couldn't be more different. Maloney is a master of the steel guitar, playing with the likes of the Belmont Five and Nick Gaitan & the Umbrella Man. Navasatis has a distinct rock edge and snarls out his songs while fronting ETV. Even his laugh, compared to Maloney's good-natured chuckle, edges close to a growl.
Both men are inked up and down their bodies, not that it's especially surprising. Traditionally, musicians and tattoos have gone hand in hand -- just step into most local shows, and the amount of ink onstage will be proof enough. If you're curious, prices for all this body art vary considerably, from maybe $100 for a fly-by-night job to nearly $200 an hour for high-end work that can take months to complete. But where these musicians differ from other tattooed folk, with their sleeves, chest pieces and the like, is in the content of their ink.
You see, Navasatis and Maloney, as well as Saturn Will Not Sleep's Steven Trimble and Los Skarnales' Felipe Galvan, have one thing in common. Different as they may be musically, all four men sport tattoos that are indelibly linked to their musical identities. Meanwhile, artists Jared Green and "Big Gabe" Bayles have guided their needles around the skin of scores of Houston musicians.
Battery Powered Chris Navasatis, ERASETHEVIRUS
Even big, bad industry rockers have to rely on their secret powers every once in a while.
Take Chris Navasatis, for example. The ERASETHEVIRUS front man is heavily inked, with a full sleeve peeking out from underneath his shirt and a trail of tattoos down his stomach.
On a body that decorated, it's hard to imagine one unique tattoo that might stand out from all the others. But dig hard enough and you'll find it -- and the key to his secret power -- buried within the swirling clouds of dark ink marking his body. Positioned right under Navasatis's bicep, in the fleshy part of the arm, sits his favorite piece: a small battery bearing the letters "ETV."
This is Navasatis's pièce de résistance. And while you can guess what the "ETV" stands for -- ERASETHEVIRUS, of course -- the story behind the battery takes a little more explaining.
"It's my go-go juice," laughs the singer. "If that makes any sense."
Even the tattoo's origins are a mark of Navasatis's devotion to music. It was inked on that notoriously touchy spot under the bicep at Clear Lake's Big Door Studios as ETV recorded an album back in 2005. Ox, their tattoo artist, came by just for that reason.
"I'm not the only guy with this tattooed on them, by the way," says Navasatis. "I've run into a couple of fans that have it tattooed on them, too. And ETV is on the inside of some chick's lip."
Apparently even those rowdy fans need a bit of ETV's go-go juice every now and again. And for a guy who's been fronting his band for a decade -- ETV celebrated its ten-year anniversary this past March -- Navasatis has probably needed that battery's energy boost more than once. After all, growling into the mike is hard work, and the crowds at Scout Bar, where ETV has become a Texas Buzz staple, have grown to expect such antics from the tattooed brute.
The band (Navasatis, Richie Haye, Mangy James and Jessica Perry) may have to pull even more of a jolt from that ink in the studio, where they're now recording their as-yet-unnamed third album. Navasatis seems pretty excited about it, but being in the back studio doesn't mean he'll be adding to that little battery. Not yet, anyway.
"That's it. That's my only band tattoo," he says. "That battery is just part of who I am."
Story continues on the next page.
Texas Throwback Bart Maloney, The Belmont Five/Nick Gaitan & The Umbrella Man
Bart Maloney is an old soul.
A throwback vibe is written all over the steel guitarist, from his old-school, slicked-back hair to his staunch aversion to technology. Even his instrument of choice is a blast from the past.
But what really drives home the point of Maloney's hip-to-be-old vibe is the vintage tattoos that line his arms and chest. While simple in their clean lines and Sailor Jerry style, they amount to a complex nod to his Texas musician roots.
"I got the Alamo tattoo with the lyrics from Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys' song 'San Antonio Rose' about five years back," Maloney says. "It says, 'Deep within my heart lies a melody.'"
A tattoo like that fits a guy like Maloney. He's the quintessential Lone Star musician, nodding in ink to the city he loves to play, San Antonio, and the Texas musicians who came before him.
A barber by day, Maloney has built his whole tattoo scheme around that '40s vibe. A barber pole snakes up the back of his forearm, right in the midst of those music tattoos, while a B-17 flies into cartoon-blue clouds at the top of his chest.
Maloney has now been playing steel guitar for 13 years, and the guitar for eight more. He has graced the stages of venues across the state with his band The Belmont Five and is a regular on the Continental Club/Big Top circuit with Nick Gaitan & The Umbrella Man. His style fits in well with artists like Gaitan, who incorporate a bit of that nostalgia into their sets.
Most of Maloney's tattoos are somehow built around his love of music: the accordion on his forearm, the lyrics to the 1940s song "Sentimental Journey" on his chest and even the Texas tattoo on his upper arm -- a bold, baby-blue testament to his undying love for his home state, surrounded by the words "Western Swing and Zydeco."
He's even incorporated that trusty steel guitar into his ink. Maloney's most recent addition, a pinup model on his forearm, is playing his favorite instrument.
Touch-Up Man Jared Green, Old Crow Parlor
"Jared's awesome," laughs Bart Maloney. "He's done most of my work. He's fixed all sorts of terrible stuff when I went other places, too."
It's Green's job to fix those messes, at least part of the time. The owner of Old Crow Parlor is constantly reworking other people's art that needs a tweak or two.
Maloney has gone to Green for years. Both men trust Green's knowledge -- and his experience -- with those more important pieces: the ones that represent Maloney's music.
It was Green who tattooed that accordion on the steel guitarist's arm and those Texas music tributes around the big blue state on his bicep. They've since taken it further, adding airplanes and stomach pieces. Green is the artist Maloney goes to time and time again as new art ideas pop into his head.
Luckily for Maloney, Green is a pretty convenient walk from his barbershop. Old Crow is located upstairs from Big Kat's, making it all too convenient for Maloney to pop in and add yet another piece or two to the mix.
Story continues on the next page.
The Rudest Vato Felipe Galvan, Los Skarnales
You can call Felipe Galvan, front man and co-founder of Los Skarnales, whatever you like, but just make sure it includes the words vato rudo.
That is, after all, what he has inked on his skin.
There's nothing mainstream about this rowdy character, from his '40s greaser vibe to his devout adoration of old-school punk and ska. But Galvan's tattoos still manage to one-up his own unique style.
From his eldest daughter's name across his chest -- he's got three kids but just one tattoo -- to the "Vatos Rudos" declaration on his upper shoulder, the guy is a walking canvas. Furthermore, Galvan sketched out most of his tattoos himself. He's a cartoonist on the side and liked enough of his drawings to have them etched permanently under his skin.
An authentic pachuco, complete with a fedora and oversize pants, twirls a gorgeous cartoon girl in a giant, swirling skirt across Galvan's forearm. He drew them a few years back as a testament to his love of the vatos who came before him.
Galvan also has a Texas tattoo on one shoulder and a "Clash City Rocker" encircling a star beneath it. He grew up on a diet of the Ramones and the Sex Pistols but says he'll never forget the day he heard the Clash's punk rock-reggae fusion explode from his speakers. That's what drove him to start Los Skarnales.
But within all that ink, there's one tattoo Galvan won't ever touch, no matter what. Ironically, it's what he calls his worst.
"I was in Mexico City for a Los Skarnales concert, and we were walking around downtown during a break," he explains. "We walked into this tattoo shop, and the artist asks us where we're from. I told him Houston, and he says, 'I only know one band from there. Los Skarnales -- have you ever heard of them?'
"I just laughed and told him who I was," Galvan chuckles. "He told me to pick out anything in the...how you call it...portfolio, and gave it to me for free."
That may have been the spot where most people would have stopped, but not Galvan. He had a flyer in his pocket where he'd drawn a cartoon version of himself for a show earlier in the week, in Tintin/Mexican Cab Calloway style, complete with a microphone. He pulls down his sleeve to reveal the piece, by an artist known as Chacal, and laughs heartily.
"I had one of the worst tattoo artists in Mexico tattoo a cartoon of myself on my shoulder," Galvan says. "And it's terrible!
"I found out after it was done that the guy is known for being the worst," he continues. "It's a bad, bad tattoo. But I love it. Who else can say they've got a tattoo of themselves from the worst artist in the country?"
Phoenix Rising Steven Trimble, Saturn Will Not Sleep
Calling Steven Trimble a musician would be pretty shortsighted.
He's the one-man madhouse behind Saturn Will Not Sleep, the electronic "project" that sprang to life only a few years ago. From the moment Trimble took Scout Bar's stage for his very first performance, his style was unlike anything the city had ever seen: Flashing lights, heavy beats, and live musicians or rappers came together to create a funhouse of sound that was completely dependent on the audience's mood.
While Trimble has certainly carved out his own musical niche, he has another role, too. First and foremost he's a visual artist, something that has been a part of him for as long as he can remember. The elements he uses to create his painted masterpieces -- spray paint, skewed graphics and bold statements all layered one upon another -- result in some of the most unique art in the Houston scene.
Visually, his music is equally stunning. A smattering of blinking lights casts shadows onto the crowd as Trimble takes the stage, faceless behind a mask or hood. Appearing as only a shadow, he creates beats, sounds and layers. And as one might expect, his signature tattoo speaks to the duality of his roles.
A phoenix spattered with spray paint rises up from Trimble's wrist and covers the entirety of his forearm. The paint that drips from the bird is reminiscent of his art, the earliest of which he created in his garage.
Rising from the ashes, it represents the music he makes as Saturn. While Trimble may rest from time to time, Saturn Will Not Sleep, nor does he. Instead, he just keeps making art in any form he can.
Story continues on the next page.
Metal Master "Big Gabe" Bayles, Scorpion Studios
Most of Gabe Bayles's skin is covered in ink.
His own art is black and white, all of it a bit old-school. But this tattoo artist's preferred canvas is not his own arms or legs; rather, it's the skin of others, musicians included. Better known as "Big Gabe," Bayles has been a tattoo artist for a decade, inking some of the most magnificent pieces in the city on guys like the ones in this profile. Though not musically inclined himself, he figures he's worked on at least a couple hundred Houston musicians, as well as many other non-musicians connected to the local scene. (He prefers to keep the names of his subjects private.)
Bayles is a master of his craft; it can take months to get an appointment with him, but the wait will be worth it. Huge murals down backs, traditional Japanese koi or anything else you can dream up -- he does it all. But you won't find him replicating something off the shop's walls to do it; all Bayles's designs come from his own imagination.
Nicknamed "Big" for a reason -- both his larger-than-life personality and his physical size earned him that description -- Bayles is surprisingly gentle with his craft. But not that gentle. His tattoo needle burns like hot coals under the arm or near the bone, but he's good at talking his clients through it. Sessions with him are full of some good old-fashioned rock and roll pain, that's for sure.
Heavy metal blares over most sessions at Bayles's shop, Scorpion Studios. He and his fellow artists tend to stick to the darker stuff, although you may catch Warrant or Ratt on the stereo during an "off" day. The guys here tattoo for three or four hours at a stretch, so one session with Bayles will be just enough to get an outline down on his fleshy canvas.
With him, a tattoo is a commitment. A full sleeve can take a year or so, plus a lot of cold, hard cash, to finish. But for those folks who flock to him, it's worth it. You'll just have to endure a lot of metal, and shoptalk about how old Ozzy Osbourne is, to see it through.
But then, people who are having tributes to their favorite music -- their life's love -- inked on their bodies should have it done by a guy like Bayles, whose bright graphics and deep shading can do their work justice.
"My experience when tattooing musicians has been pretty great," Bayles says. "With these guys being artists themselves, it offers me the opportunity for artistic freedom, which makes the tattoo that much more fun to do."
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