Recently, I started cold calling a few tattoo shops down in the South Jersey area to schedule some interviews for Inked Out. When I called Big Brad’s Tattoo Shop in South River, NJ, I got more than an earful about the business today from Big Brad himself. While I was on the phone with him I was thinking, “Jesus, this guy is really interesting!” I needed to sit down with him and really pick his brain as to what he really felt about the tattoo industry, the way it is now. So, I told this to Big Brad, and he quickly obliged me with an interview the following week.
I arrived in South River, NJ, which is right next to East Brunswick and Sayreville, just to give you an idea,at the shop which is located on 64 Main Street. Now you can’t get anymore Americana than that! Anyway, you can’t miss it because above the door is a sign that says “Tattoo” and on the window in large letters it says Big Brad’s Tattoo. My point is that the place wasn’t hard to find, and it was in a really good spot on the strip.
Upon entering the shop, I walked into a red room adorned with flash art on the walls. There was no reception desk, so I just followed the buzzing sound to the back room where I found Big Brad tattooing on the back of a guy named Gabriel Meira. Brad took a break to talk to me, which I’m sure Gabriel could’ve used because a tattoo on the back is pretty painful. Brad told me that his shop has been in the same spot since 1991. He just turned 60 and has been tattooing for 39 years now, and he doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. In fact, the only artist in the shop, at the moment, is Big Brad. He considers himself a “New, Old-Timer,” which is weird because he looked like he was in better shape than me.
Big Brad quickly explained to me that he felt the tattoo industry has really changed from the time that he started out. Of course, there’s this flailing economy that is not helping the business, and in fact, he’s gotten calls from other tattoo shop owners from around the country that have told him that they’re barely able to pay their bills. Big Brad also told me that one of the problems taking place in the industry is the ability for untrained and unlicensed people to purchase tattoo tools and equipment from the Internet. According to Brad, half of these people don’t even own sterilizers for their machines, which is absolutely disgusting. His main concern is that there is so much bootlegging going on—out of homes and at tattoo parties, and not to mention the amount of tattoo studios that have opened up in the past three years. Big Brad quoted statistics like 52 tattoo shops open a day. I was blown away by this. Sadly, he compared tattoo studios to nail salons, which kind of made him upset about the business. He said that another thing that bothers him is that these young kids that are tattooing today don’t really have the knowledge or information that they should have when doing a tattoo. They just know what they read off of the Internet, which is not always accurate. For instance, the usage of FDA approved ink: Many shops use ink that is not FDA approved, and some of those inks are carcinogenic! This was pretty scary to hear.
When we discussed clients bringing in artwork that they grabbed off of the Internet he told me that many times clients will come in with artwork where it is just too complicated. The lines could be too tight that not even an air brush artist can get in there. Also, lines that are so tight won’t really age too well on your skin, which is another thing to consider when you’re researching for your tattoo since you have to wear that piece of art on your skin for life. Big Brad’s Tattoo Shop is a custom shop that takes appointments, walk-ins, and cover-ups. Brad told me that he ends up doing a lot of cover-ups for people who go to one of these new shops and get absolute garbage put on their body, which goes to show that it’s probably best to do some research before you pick your artist.
Big Brad’s Tattoo is not too pricey as compared to other shops because, as Brad told me, he’s not on a highway like most shops are. He’s on Main Street America, which helps him keep his prices affordable for his customers. Brad’s policy is that he doesn’t tattoo kids under 18 since it is a state law, but if a kid under 18 comes into the shop with their parents, he’ll do whatever the parents will allow. Big Brad’s reputation preceded him, as his friends in the shop spoke very highly of him. Andrew Piehler has been a friend and client of Big Brad’s for almost 30 years now and said that he won’t get tattooed by anyone else. In fact, he brings his kids to Brad now also. Jessica Newbury, a friend and client of Brad’s, helps him out around the shop, and said that Brad did her first tattoo and she laughs at other people’s tattoos and then show’s them Brad’s work, and suddenly they’re in the shop asking him to tattoo them. You can’t buy testimonials like this! Big Brad’s celebrity clientele includes Alec Jon Such, formerly of Bon Jovi, Mötley Crüe’s Tommy Lee, and former New York Knick Stefan Marbury. Now that is pretty impressive!
There’s so much more to tell about Big Brad and his shop, but I can only fit so much in this column as he was just a wealth of knowledge about this business. What I really admired the most about Big Brad was his honesty. There was no beating around the bush with this guy. One funny thing that he also mentioned was that he is friends with Ed Hardy, and that he thought that it was funny that the kids today don’t even know that Ed Hardy is an actual tattoo artist. He said that most kids today think Ed Hardy is a clothing designer! A big “W-T-F” on that one! I had to laugh! Anyway, if you’re in the South River area or you want a true tattoo legend tattooing you, stop in at Big Brad’s Tattoo Shop located at 64 Main Street in South River, NJ. He’s open seven days a week from 1 p.m. till 9 p.m., and prefers walk-ins rather than appointments. You can also log onto myspace.com/bigbradstattooshop to see more pics of Big Brad’s work.
Well, I’m off to check out my next tattoo place!