Last Friday, November 22nd, would have been the 76th birthday of an iconic tattooer and a truly good man, Walter Moskowitz of the legendary "Bowery Boys."
Walter and his brother Stanley (who still tattoos today) learned the craft from their father Willie Moskowitz. Willie emigrated from Russia and opened up a barbershop on The Bowery in NYC, but soon learned that he could support his family better through tattoos than cutting hair, and so he had his friend Charlie Wagner, another legend, teach him the craft. Along with tattooing came the drunken shop brawls between (and with) rowdy clients, police harassment, and the general hustle to make a living during and after the Depression. Not an easy life, but it made for good stories.
Many of those stories are captured on the Last of the Bowery Scab Merchants, a wonderful two audio CD set (more than 2 1/2 hours of tattoo tales) accompanied by a 24-page color booklet with photos and articles. The audio documentary also includes guest commentators, and I'm honored to be one of them.
As I wrote on this blog in 2011 when the audio collection was released, Walter's son Doug recorded these stories in the last year of his father's life so that they may live on. The stories are funny, educational, sad and triumphant. As Doug says, "You will not only get to hear great tattoo stories but you will also get a nice perspective of who my dad was as a person; the era he, his father, and brother tattooed in; and how that related to what he did."
In commemoration of Walter's birthday, Last of the Bowery Scab Merchants will be discounted for the next few days, and can be purchased for just $15 on Amazon. It is the perfect gift for tattooists, collectors, history buffs, and, really, for yourself (you deserve it!).
By sharing his stories, Walter gave us a gift, one I'm grateful for.
Just wanted to share this podcast I'm enjoying right now: "Under Your Skin" by the radio show To The Best of our Knowledge on National Public Radio.
"Under You Skin" looks at the old and new schools of tattooing. There are a number of clips from the wonderful cd box set The Last of the Bowery Scab Merchants by Walter Moskowitz, one of the legendary Bowery Boys. Some great stories about fixing black eyes and also tattooing interesting characters like one wealthy businessman who said, when asked about his job and having all his tattoos, "When you have a million dollars in the bank, the world can kiss your ass." Loved it!
There are also interviews with others in the tattoo world that are a compelling listen as well. You can click individual clips of the podcast here.
To enjoy all of Walter Moskowitz's stories, go to Scabmerchant.com and get your own 2-cd set (with great essays and artwork in the 24-page booklet) for just $22.50. [I'm honored to be a part of the project as well and to have talked with Walter before his passing.]
Photo above: Mildred Hull sign via the Scab Merchant Facebook page.
This Father's Day, we're happy to have Doug Moskowitz, son of tattoo legend Walter Moskowitz, talk about what it was like being raised by one of the Bowery Boys. Before Walter passed in 2007, Doug recorded his father telling golden stories of tattooing on NY's rough Lower East Side. Those stories are immortalized on the two audio CD set Last of the Bowery Scab Merchants -- a perfect gift for dad, mom, your crazy uncle, and especially your tattooist. A must have.
By Doug Moskowitz
My dad was Walter Moskowitz and this Father's day I would like to tribute my late father with this guest blog entry. My dad tattooed (with his brother Stanley) in an era when the lines were bold, the shading was heavy, and the tattoos were always readable. The designs were often about loyalty, toughness and love. My dad could read human nature as if each person he encountered in his life was filed away like an acetate stencil. He lived in the moment and relished the wonderment of the natural world.
Nonetheless, the real triumph of his life was the way he performed as dad. His wife and kids were so important to him that he stuck out life on the Bowery where at any time there "could be good people or real scumbags." He would often have rowdy visitors to his shop who only wanted to fight and he would have to defend himself. Then of course there was the government who wanted to shut the tattoo shops down. So, I asked my dad why and how did you put up with all of this? He said matter-of-factly, "I had to provide for my family ... they come first and foremost", as if my question was from outer space. There was just no way he was not going to deliver for his family. He was a tough guy who would go to the end of the earth to defend his family and his right to provide for them.
As a Dad, he was selfless and you always knew that when he was with you there was no other place he would rather be. He did not buy much in the order of material comforts, he greatest joy came in what he could share with his family. To that end our mom and dad provided us with enough love and life lessons that the kids were never left wanting. We grew up in an environment rich in loyalty and love. Our dad was bold and his dedication was always readable.
He was true old school.
The most perfect gift for tattoo artists, collectors, and anyone with a love of history and a good story is the Last of the Bowery Scab Merchants -- a two audio CD set filled with over 2 1/2 hours of tattoo tales by Walter Moskowitz, one of the legendary "Bowery Boys." More than something you put on your iPod or listen to in your car, it's truly a collectors item -- richly designed, with cover art by CIV, and a 24-page color booklet with old photos and essays written by Mike McCabe, Chuck Eldridge, and Brian Kates. I am also very honored to have contributed as well in the text and in audio.
Walter's son Doug offers a wonderful introduction and weaves his narration through Walter's stories, which were recorded prior to his passing in 2007. You'll hear about a great race-fixing horse caper, black eyes tattooed to look natural, life on the Bowery, and the Human Autograph, among so many other gems.
Read more in my initial post on the set in April. There are also some great reviews on Amazon, Book Mistress, and on the CDs' Facebook page.
For the holidays, Last of the Bowery Scab Merchants is being offered for only $19.99 on ScabMerchant.com. A must have!!
Tattoo lore spoken in gritty detail and tone. The Last of the Bowery Scab Merchants By Walter Moskowitz is a gift that this Bowery Boy left us before his passing. Walter's son Doug recorded these stories in the last year of his father's life so that they may live on. And now they are being shared in a two audio CD set (more than 2 1/2 hours of tattoo tales) accompanied by a 24-page color booklet with photos and articles. It is all richly designed, with cover art by CIV, into a perfect collector's piece.
You can buy the collection from the Moskowitz family on Scabmerchant.com or but it on Amazon.com.
The stories are funny, educational, sad and triumphant. As Doug says, "You will not only get to hear great tattoo stories but you will also get a nice perspective of who my dad was as a person; the era he, his father, and brother tattooed in; and how that related to what he did."
The audio documentary also includes guest commentators, and I'm honored to be one of them. As I wrote in my memorial to Walter in 2007 (originally published on my old site Needled.com), I was pretty nervous when I met him. What would I say to "one of the last links to New York's tattoo heritage" as per Michael McCabe's New York City Tattoo: The Oral History of an Urban Art. But Walter Moskowitz was warm and welcoming and instantly made you feel at ease -- the perfect tattooer trait.
Here's more from that memorial:
He was also a gifted story teller. Listening to him, transports you to the 50s, NYC's Lower East Side.
His father, Willy Moskowitz, emigrated from Russia and opened up a barbershop. He soon learned that he could support his family better through tattoos than cutting hair, so he had his friend Charlie Wagner, another legend, teach him the craft. Along with tattooing came the drunken shop brawls between (and with) rowdy clients, police harassment, and the general hustle to make a living during and after the Depression. Not an easy life, but a good trade.
Willy Moskowitz passed down the trade to Walter and his brother
According to the article "The Kosher Tattoo Kings," Walter learned to tattoo at night after spending the day studying the Torah and Talmud at a Brooklyn yeshiva. The article quotes Walter as saying "It has been a very interesting life. I came in contact with every type of personality, from the highest to the lowest -- and sometimes the highest was the lowest."
An interesting life is a humble understatement. Many of us tattoo history buffs pass around stories of the Bowery Boys with a bit of awe. McCabe says it best: "Young tattoo artists are always asking me about the Moskowitzes. The mythology of these guys is like that of the Bowery in the 1940s and 50s -- big, bad and bold."
I love that mythology, the stories. But I'm also thankful that I got to meet Walter in person, feel his strong but friendly handshake, and thank him for the history lesson.