Rick Walters, grizzled sage of Southern California tattoo culture, dies at 73

Rick Walters, grizzled sage of Southern California tattoo culture, dies at 73

Rick Walters, grizzled sage of Southern California tattoo culture, dies at 73

Rick Walters, manager at Bert Grimm’s World Famous Tattoo in Long Beach for 25 years, later had his own shop in Sunset Beach. (Natural History Museum of Los Angeles) It wasn’t his first. At 10, he poked out “Born to Raise Hell” on his leg. He had already scrawled out so many hearts and crosses on himself and other neighborhood kids that Walters’ mother, he’d tell an interviewer decades later, “was just bummed.”

So father and son ended up at the Pike, Long Beach’s waterfront amusement zone that was also the tattoo capital of the West Coast. A professional put a black panther on Walters’ leg to cover up the teen’s crude attempts — and an acolyte was born.

Walters went on to tattoo at the Pike, eventually becoming the torchbearer for its history and vibe once the original pioneers died. As tattoos became mainstream, and a new generation of artists tried to reconnect with their trade’s outlaw days, they flocked to Walters for equipment advice and style tips as well as uproarious tales of years past, all told in his laconic, foul-mouthed style. Rick Walters inks a customer at his shop in Sunset Beach. (Courtesy of Josh Chesler) “Rick became a father- or grandfather-like figure for so much of the community,” says Josh Chesler, a journalist who interviewed Walters multiple times over the years and sports a Walters-inked rose on the inside of his ankle. (Note: Link contains profanity.) “No one who met Rick ever forgot him, and even those who never got the chance to meet him have heard his tales for long enough to draw inspiration and feel like they knew him.”

Born in Chicago, Walters grew up in the Hawthorne area and found work as a machinist and welder after high school. But in his off time, he tattooed at his house and haunted the Pike to learn under icons such as Bob Shaw, Owen Jensen and Hong Kong Tom.

After running his own […]