One artist that always intrigued me, even after I interviewed him and featured his shop, Under My Skin, many years ago, was “Tattoo” Tony Rodriguez. Tattoo Tony, as he is known to the rest of the industry, was not only a staple to the skin art industry, but he’s also well-known on the music scene. Since my interview with Tony back in 2009, he’s accomplished way more than any artist I’ve interviewed within a four-year span. He invested in a second tattoo studio located in South Amboy called Tattoo Tony Presents: Another Tat2 Shop, released his own adult beverage, “Tattoo Tony’s Hard Iced Tea,” won sole custody of his son, Ray Ray, which makes him a full-time dad, still does work with Bret Michaels from Poison as well as other musicians, and is in the middle of filming his own reality tv show, Tattoo Tony’s Under My Skin. He might be one of the busiest guys in the business and it was a no-brainer to make him this year’s Inked Out “Artist Of The Year.”
Before Rodriguez became tattoo artist for the stars and known for the tribal tattoo on the left side of his face, his climb to where he is today is quite interesting. Back in 1985, in exchange for an apprenticeship with legendary artist Gene Bernardo, 13-year-old Tony Rodriguez spent his days sweeping and cleaning Bernardo’s Asbury Park shop. Today, Tony is “one of the most sought after, freehand ink master entrepreneurs in the country.” Things weren’t always hunky-dory for Tony, as he had to deal with his own battles with addiction. Just when life was looking bleak for him, he had a run-in with Poison singer Bret Michaels that would change his life forever. Bret offered Tony a chance to clean himself up and get sober by taking him on the road for a while. Clean for almost a decade now thanks to his good friend Bret Michaels, who Tony credits with saving his life, Tattoo Tony has been focused on “the riches of life’s opportunities and turning those opportunities into gold.”
After touring the country and appearing on Michaels’ VH1 reality show, Life As I Know It, Tony’s tribally tattooed face became recognizable everywhere. In one episode, Tony was tattooing Bret’s kids with a marker and America immediately took to the magnetism that is Tattoo Tony, a fun and caring man and not just an artist. The captivating VH1 episode sparked the idea for his own reality show, which is currently being filmed, and focuses on a side of Tony that the public seldom sees: Tattoo Tony: full-time father. Tony is a single father with sole custody of his son, Ray, aka “Ray Ray,” and trust me, I’ve personally seen these two together. He is an amazing father! In my recent chat with Tony, he told me, “Bro, I’m now a father over everything else. This little boy is my world and he’s more important to me than life itself.” Rodriguez has learned to balance work life with everyday “Daddy” duties like cooking, cleaning and school. We’ll get to witness all of this in his reality show, Tattoo Tony’s Under My Skin.
Because of his connection with Michaels, Rodriguez has entered the world of tattooing rock stars all over the globe, but most recently, he tells me, “I’ll be out working with Lynyrd Skynyrd this year. I just tattooed Rickey Medlocke and Peter Keys from Skynyrd and they asked me to go on their ‘Simple Man’ cruise this October. So me and one of my artists will be tattooing on their cruise.” He’s also got a date with the guys from Jackyl in October, so his rock star clientele just continues to grow. Tony did tell me something interesting and absolutely brilliant that came out of all this traveling to tattoo rock stars. “These guys are wanting me to roll out there and tattoo them, and I’m like, what’s better than me setting up in a tour bus or backstage and it’s all well and great, but when you’re working out of a box, it kind of sucks. So I got this brilliant idea to gut the front of an RV and I put a one-man tattoo shop in it, and I’ll tell you what, I tattooed Rickey and Peter in there and they were ecstatic about it. They were so excited about it that they had me pull up backstage and tattooing roadies and stagehands and everyone else. Then Johnny Van Zant comes up to me and asks me why I left him out. I told him I didn’t leave him out, so he showed me his old work and now I’ll be tattooing Johnny Van Zant on that ‘Simple Man’ cruise.” The tattoo RV idea is so brilliant and innovative that I can picture Tony becoming the godfather of traveling tattoo shop.
Tattoo Tony is not only all about tattooing, being a celebrity and hanging out with rock stars. He also gives back to the community with his Under My Skin For Life Foundation, which he originally started last year with a big event called Tattooing For Autism, where he raised $7,000 to donate to Autism Speaks. Tony says, “Autism is near and dear to my heart. I have two nephews with autism. I know what it does for the kids. So I started to build the foundation and we launched our first event last September and it was a success. Then in October, Sandy hit and with Facebook and other social media sites, I posted that Under My Skin For Life needed help and we received truck loads and truck loads of donations delivered to the shop. Me and the rest of the people in the foundation were out donating these things where people really needed it. We didn’t drop it off at a food shelter or a clothing place. We would go out in the heart of everything and we made sure people had stuff. The motto for Under My Skin For Life is to help those in a time of need and that’s basically what the whole thing evolved around. We’re not set to one specific function. We just want to help anyone affected by natural disasters. For instance, on September 14, we’ll be having our annual autism benefit, but the month after, we’ll be raising money for a children’s burn unit. We’re all over the place and not trying to pin ourselves to one specific thing.”
Do I really need to sell you anymore on why Tattoo Tony is the perfect candidate for Inked Out “Artist Of The Year?” I would make him “Artist Of The Decade” if I could with all of the things he has going on in his life. Maybe even “Father Of The Year!” Check out Tony’s two shops online at undermyskintat2.com, where you can also see all of his work, or visit his shop at 73 Memorial Parkway in Atlantic Highlands. You can also check out Tony’s personal website, tattootonynj.com. This year, it was a no-brainer to make Tattoo Tony “the face” of this year’s Inked Out “Artist Of The Year.” Congrats, Tattoo Tony!