Well as we all get older, its bound to happen, and on the 28th of October 2009 it did. When the tattooing world lost another one of its elder statesmen, Great Britain’s ‘Painless Jeff Baker’ who passed away after a long illness.
Jeff who was born in 1929, started tattooing in 1957 and had a wonderful career. That saw him travel the world, which included a spell working as a steward on the ship SS Canbarra in 1965. Where he not only tattooed some of his crew mates. It also enabled Jeff to visit far off Countries and meet tattoo artists from all over the globe.
I met Jeff when I first come into this game in the early 80’s and he was always good to me and would talk for hours about tattooing history and especially about the old timers who had passed. And I know I probably drove him nuts asking stuff about people who I had only read about in old tattooing trade magazines, but he never seemed to mind, or did it bother him talking about some of the great’s of the profession with me.
And not only did Jeff know his stuff about our arts past, he was also a wizard with the pen. Although he did ruffle a few feathers from time to time with some of his written views on the tattooing scene, and I can still recall Lyle Tuttle telling me that Jeff is the eternal squeaking wheel, after he had written something not to Lyle’s liking about the 1996 ‘Tattoo Reunion Show’ that was held in Houston, Texas.
Jeff, who was a prolific writer, wrote some of the funniest and most entertaining words ever written about tattooing. In his capacity of being club secretary of the ETAA (European Tattoo Artist Association) and the editor of the clubs in house trade magazine ‘Tattoo Buzz’ from 1982 to 1987. Something he also did when he took charge and started ‘The Old Timers Tattoo Club’ publication in 1989.
And knowing Jeff got me and my old mate Derek Campbell out of what could have been a very sticky pickle once. For we were down in Melbourne, Australia and we came across a tattooing studio which had an ETAA club sticker in its window belonging to a guy called Vaughan Griffiths.
So being as the pair of us where members of the ETAA, we walked in and this big old bloke comes from out the back and asks us what we wanted, in a somewhat aggressive manner. And when we said we were tattooists from England. He sort of looked us up and down with distaste and asked abruptly ‘Well if your tattooists who do you know in England’. And the only man I could think of, as me arsehole came up into me throat for air was Jeff.
And when both Derek and I said Jeff Baker’s name at the same time, the mood lifted and Vaughan smiled and shook our hands and started to chat. Where to cut a long story short. Vaughan explained that he knew straight away when we said Jeff’s name that we were who we said we were, as everyone in tattooing knows Jeff.
Vaughan also told us that he has young pricks (yes Australian’s always say it like it is) coming in all the time saying that they were tattooists when they weren’t, and he doesn’t have a bar of them and kicks them straight out of his studio. Which was I must say, looked the sort of place that catered to the more robust type of clientele, who like its owner didn’t take fools gladly. And where I’m sure that if it had a parrot in the corner. It would have been tattooed and wanting to fight everyone.
I told Jeff about this the next time I saw him, and he laughed and told me that we were lucky, as Vaughan was not the most placid of men and could have quite easily kicked up a storm.
Then there were the stories that every old time tattoo artist seem to have in their lockers. With the funniest for me being the time when the late Bill Phillips a tattoo artist from Brisbane, Australia was awaiting trial for alleged cocaine smuggling in a Belgium prison in 1978, and was not allowed any visitors at the time. Which prompted Jeff to dress up as a Priest and talk his way into being let in to see his old mucker for a couple of hours.
Jeff also did his bit for charity, and once raised the sum of £550.00 pounds for Buckland Hospital by doing 17 different tattoos in one hour at the ‘Primrose Hall Public House, Dover, England, which was a record in its day.
Other honors saw Jeff become the ‘Roast Master’ at the ‘The World’s First Celebrity Tattoo Roast’ held on the 13th of March, 1993 in honor of tattoo legend Lyle Tuttle. And he was presented with the Jock Liddel lifetime achievement award at Great Britain’s 1997 ‘Dunstable Tattoo Expo’.
And on the 28th of November 2006, after attending the ‘Tattoo Club Of Great Britain’ club reunion in Oxford, England. Lyle Tuttle traveled down to Deal in kent to present Jeff with a plaque, to signify that he was to be inducted into ‘The Tattoo Hall Of Fame’ in San Francisco.
Jeff had a great life with much said and a lot written. Was also the first tattoo artist to fly in Concord. Will never be forgotten by these lucky enough to have met him. And I for one am so glad to have known him. Thanks mate it was a real honor and pleasure.
Jeff’s funeral is to take place at Barham Cemetery on the outskirts of Deal in Kent, England on Friday the 20th of November 2009.