The Life & Times of Lucky Tattoo
(the late Lucky Tatoo of the Port of Santos SP. Brasil)
Born Knud Harald Lykke Gregerson in Copenhagen on the 14 th of May 1928 , Knud was the son of a Copenhagen Tattooist Known as Jens, married to Ema, who worked the trade in Nyhaftenen during the 30s & 40s, although little trace can be found of his Father’s career during those years. There was some relationship to the “Tattoo Ole” family, by marriage or blood- but no one alive remains who can clarify the exact ties.
‘Lucky” as he chose as his professional name hit the road at a very early age travelling with a Danish Circus around Europe, tattooing wherever the Circus pitched tent and earning his keep already, accompanied by acrobatic poodles, accordion players and the Bearded Woman Tribe-he was in France when the Nazis invaded in 1940 (?) The whole Circus, furnished with Passports by necessity of their endless wanderings, caught one of the last Boats out of Cherbourg heading for the safer waters of The USA. The War years were spent in the dockyards of Philadelphia building the floating tubs called Victory Ships, built fast and cheap with the intention of getting as much food and ammunition to Europe as was humanely possible-the death toll from U-Boats was high so the costs of the floating tubs were kept to a bare minimum. Lucky told me of sleeping in flop-houses where you were tied in by a rope across the chest through an iron ring and onto the next bum,and so forth, which was only released as 06.00 am the next day! If you were lucky you still had your shoes in the morning!
When the war drew to an end in 1945 Lucky still had his Tattoing Equipment in a suitcase and headed for Texas on the Greyhound Bus, a few dollars saved from the years welding and cutting in the Shipyards and a body that was tough as old leather and with a strong fist when needed despite being only 18. ( Few questions were asked as to age when employment was such a vital need during the War years)
The next ten years were spent slowly Island hopping and heading South across the Caribbean making many lifetime friends, and many a Mulatta lass fell in love with those Danish blue eyes and the sailing ship in full sail tattoed across his chest, Santa Dominica was a Port of Call where he remained for quite some time tattooing the sailors from the tramp steamers in the Bar-rooms close to the Docks-a formula he adopted all his life. He visited Venezuela, Belize, Dutch Guyiane now called Suriname, crossed the Amazon and started his Brasilian journeyings in Belem at the mouth of The Amazons, heading forever South. A famous story tells of a trip where his passage being paid ‘in tattoos’ a fellow passenger of the Catholic Disposition, a Priest no less, started to tell the crew that Tattooing was a sin and those that got tattooed were hell bound , Lucky’s solution was to throw the Priest overboard and the Captain did NOT turn the Ship around !
By 1959 Lucky arrived at the port of Santos on the coast of the State of San Paulo and saw immediately the huge potential of the place-cargo ships, tramp steamers and ocean liners occasionally plus a floating population of ladies of the night numbered in thousands, night clubs of the shadiest descriptions and property as cheap to rent as anyone could hope for-there Lucky established himself on Rua Vitor Camera, the walls full of the ‘Flash’ he’d brought all the way from Denmark, dragons & roses, ships in full sail, -Hula Hula girls and all the drawings so common to the times in the World of Tatttooing., very much the same in all Ocean-Side Tattoo Shops from Honk Kong to Honolulu the long way round.
There were no other Tattooists South of Panama at that time-he was the only Tattooist with a Shop working full time on that Southernly Continent-and word of mouth did the job of Publicity that was needed to establish his reputation and the women of the Night drew sailors to his shop, amongst them a very beautiful Indian young woman who had hit hard times and the cachaça bottle, fell head over heels in love with this “Estrangeiro” from so far away, and he too fell in love, the result being the birth of his two children, Ana & Frederick. The story did not have a happy ending however, Lucky drank like a only a Dane could-sometimes more than 40 bottles of beer in a night and she accompanied his Bohemian lifestyle without having the stamina or liver to support such quantities of cachaça and she died from cirrhosis of the liver when the children were still young.
Lucky called in the help of Donna Frederika from Santa Dominica to be a governess to his children whom he established in a large house in Itanhaem, another town on the Sao Paulo Coastline, far quieter and respectable than Santos-where the children were brought up and schooled in peace.
Lucky acquired a powerful motor bike , added on a side car, more a “side-chest” for carrying his equipment and flash, and when business was slow headed off for the Interior of Sao Paulo State, tattooing in one or other of the innumerable ‘Festas” that go in in Brasil all the year round.
The shop built a solid reputation for good work, though often the door didn’t open until 4 or 5 pm as Lucky nursed his hangover ! A strange tradition built up during these years-the Ladies of The night needed a sailor to ensure that there was food in the cupboard at home in the ‘favela’ where often there were two children, and sometimes luck seemed in short supply-so being Brasilian, used to Voodoo known as Macumba in Brasil (or Canomblé)the ladies went to Lucky to solve their dilemma, he would ask the girls to descend their skimpy underwear and pass “Tiger Balm’ on the Vagina, burning like hot pepper the girls would leave the shop with their genitals on fire, causing them to wiggle and shake their ass, within 5 minutes they’d have a sailor on their arm and half an hour later 50 dollars in their pockets, establishing his reputation as a Sexual Shaman solidly in the Bars and Clubs of Santos.For this charitable act he never charged a centavo!
Lucky had known Peter of Amsterdam on his travels in the late 30s and with the help of Sailors travelling between the two cities established a contact cum supplier for his Pigments-primitive by todays standards but green, purple, blue and red were his basic palette, mixed with kerosene on the spot, they burnt like hell ( I know, I carry them in my skin to this day) The machines has no capacitors so they’d spark like a small fire work display and require changing the machine’s springs frequently-his hands black from the ink-a bottle of Brahma Beer never too far away-he was a busy man allright. Born under the sign of Taurus, he invested his money wisely in Property along the Coast, even buying a small house on the Beach at Arrarail de Cabo , 150 miles east of Rio, more than 700 miles away from Santos.
More often than not his studio resembled an Artist’s Studio, oil paints all over the table, a painting under way on the easel-a few photos are included here, how Lucky got his influences has always remained a mystery to me-a sprinkle of Modiliani, a dabble of Picasso, the obvious influence of Tattooing on his paintings -of women giving birth in a favela shack, fishermen drawing in their nets all with that strong black outline so typical of his School of Tattooing.
Tattooing – virtually unknown in Brasil at this time -brought Journalists and Photographers down to the seedy streets of Santos and various articles appeared in popular Magazines, establishing his reputation across the entire country-often full page spreads! Never bad for business! Fatos e Fotos (“ Facts & Photos”-available in every Newspaper Kiosk across Brasil) alone ran several articles about Lucky.-and his reputation grew in the world of the Underground in existence, though the word didn’t exist at the time.
Lucky was an extraordinary man, part Shaman, part sailor,part Magician, part Businessman , part Alcoholic, a wonderful friend; a good a Father as could be under the circumstances a true artist and one of the few Tattooists who’d turn down clients –reserving the right to Tattoo whom he chose, if he didn’t think you were ready for a tattoo no money would change his mind and he would never Tattoo for free, it was his livelihood and their were unbendable rules which he adhered to. He adored women with a passion and was a helpless romantic- he could charm the back legs off a donkey and would think nothing of spending a Hundred Dollars on Roses for his beloved. He could paint a mural fifty metres long in two days and frequently did, in his choice subjects, women children & fishermen! He did try to stop his drinking with the help of the local branch of AA-but it lasted only 7 months and back to the bottle he went.
In 1964 there was a Military Coup d ‘Etat and the Army Generals ( with the backing of The CIA) took over the running of the country-( lasted over twenty years) Torture & the Secret Police became the order of the Day but it didn’t change anything in Santos-life continued as usual, Lucky had by now become an Institution in his own right, people showed up from the immensity of Brasil to get tattooed, sometimes to pay a Promise to a Saint for a life spared, both Cops and Robbers came too-plus the usual clientele of Sailors.
“ You’re not a sailor if you ain’t Tattooed” being one of his favourite publicity stunts. Taxi drivers would pick up sailors at the Port and drop them off right outside the Shop (for a small commission). The Military Dictatorship caused many young people to be exiled or just leaving to find greener pastures-particularly those of artistic dispositions-by the end of the 1960s tattooing was still a very unknown World to most people (not only in Brazil) but by throwing it’s young to the winds in exile the Generals exposed young Brazilians to other cultures and habits-and by 1972 young Brazilians were catching the Bus to Santos to get tattooed, a mark to distinguish them from the herd and soon the beaches of Ipanema were a breeding ground for such revolt, musicians and surfers were amongst the first to get the “ Mark upon Cain”. At the same time three young Cariocas headed to Santos to find out how to tattoo, Caio, Tyes and Carlinhos and thus was born the Brasilinization of Tattoing-thanks to Lucky!
The shop was assaulted at gun point by local hoods twice in a row, not too different to robbing the Gold from a Church and so disgusted was Lucky that he felt it was time to up and leave, partly due to bad health but mainly due to sheer disgust at stooping so low as to rob a Tattooist-and he closed down the Shop in Santos and moved north to Arrail de Cabo, putting the studio in the garage, spending more time fishing and enjoying life on a tiny isolated beach than tattooing, but word soon got around Rio that he was now far closer than before-it was a 700 mile journey to Santos from Rio-and the queue of young people continued to grow-Lucky’s health however was not good, liver a shambles but supportable but the heart was starting to show signs of strain and when the Doctor told him that not only was hard physical activity out of the question but sex too! Never mind the booze!
“ But Doctor, if I stay underneath I won’t have to do too much activity” was his response to the Doctor’s Orders and he left the Clinic flabbergasted and disgusted at such a dismal future without sex and continued very much as usual.
The first stroke came when climbing the hill behind the house to investigate a piece of land for sale higher up the hillside-back to Hospital he went, stayed 3 days and discharged himself-the second followed a few weeks later, he went into a coma from which he never awoke dying under my eyes in the Public Hospital of Cabo Frio.
As usual all the rascals, fishermen and good looking women crowded the small Chapel where his body had been placed in a Coffin in a Catholic Ceremony of Adieu upon a raised marble table. I, who had been with him at the hospital for 3 days with out sleep, fell asleep on the cool marble floor under the coffin-exhausted. A woman entered the Chapel, took in the scene and screamed
“ The Body’s fallen through the coffin”
In the spirit in which Lucky had lived his life, all broke out into guffaws of laughter, save myself who slept soundly throughout the whole affair-and we buried Lucky in the Wall of the Cemetery of Arrail on the 18th of December 1983, within the sound of the sea he loved so much-may he be Tattoing in Heaven, roaring with laughter and with a bottle of heavenly beer to assuage his thirst.
Paris , 5th march 2012.