GILL MONTIE’S TATTOO MANIA
Gill Montie is a who’s who in tattoo artist legends, having traveled across the nation, tattooing all over the world. He has opened several tattoo parlors including the famous Gill Montie’s Tattoo on Sunset Blvd, and founded the world renowned Inkslinger’s Ball. He has lived in Michigan, California, Oregon, Nevada, Florida, Kansas, and Texas, but is still in no mood to really settle down. A talented tattoo artist and a real character, Gill Montie has a story to tell.
Gill was born in Traverse City, Michigan, but grew up in the San Fernando Valley where he first became interested in tattoos and began poking them in by hand. “I’d basically taking some kind of instrument-- a Popsicle stick or a pin-- and string a needle to it. You put a little ink on, and poke it in.” He was sixteen, tattooing all the neighborhood kids on the block. When he turned eighteen, Gill joined the Marine Corp's, and it was while he was in the service that Gill got his first professional tattoo. “It was from Diamond Tooth Smittie in North Carolina. I was stationed in Camp Lejeune, so I went over there and got it.” Gill checks his sleeves before guessing, “I think it was this USMC.”
Gill got out of the service in ‘74 and started his apprenticeship in Los Angeles with the wild and crazy Doc Dog in the San Fernando Valley. “He was a nut. He was the first guy to open up a tattoo shop in the valley, on the corner of Van Nuys and Victory.” Back then, the only shops around were at 5th and Main or down at The Pike in Long Beach, and the San Fernando Valley wasn’t ready for the invasion. “The new shop was met with strong resentment from the community. Doc Dog wasn’t a known tattooer; he was in and out of prison. There was always a fight, and everyone who worked there was a hood. It was right next to a massage parlor, and there was a hole in the back of the tattoo shop that led right through to the massage parlor. It was crazy times.” Gill didn’t learn the art of tattooing so much as he built character and earned his stripes as one of the guys. “It wasn’t necessarily about doing great tattoos, you just wanted to be accepted by these fellows. But to be one of those characters, you needed road miles, you needed experiences.”
After his son was born, Gill got a job as a janitor at a Lakeview High School in Reno and tried to settle down. “I was getting a salary, but I couldn’t stay away from tattooing, and I started poking them in by hand again. That’s when I realized tattooing was in my blood.” He met Mike LeCure who was in a motorcycle gang, and owned a tattoo place in Reno so Gill stayed with him for a while before heading up north to Portland Oregon, where he ran a tattoo shop next to a radiator shop. Not one to stay in one place too long, Gill packed up and headed to Las Vegas to work with Doc Dog who had opened the only tattoo place on the strip. They had a good run in Vegas and Gill stayed there for years before heading back to Oregon to open up his own little tattoo shop. He lived in an old trailer house in a trailer park called Applegate but eventually landed back in Vegas with Dog in the late 70’s where they both got hooked on speed. “We’d stay awake for three weeks at a time, tattooing. It was the life.” But it eventually took over and Gill realized he needed to clean up his act. “In 1980 I left there and went out to Hutchinson Kansas. I heard it was a good place to put weight back on. I was gonna make Kansas the tattoo capital of the world. I was full of myself at the time.” Gill hooked up with a character named Effe Craig, whom he had met in Vegas. “He was the local hoodlum in Kansas, and me and him would run around town in his ‘62 Impala, lowered, wearing trench coats, cowboy boots, and sunglasses. They were used to Craig but they weren’t used to the new skinny guy.” (That would be Gill) “We owned a couple of bars, he was the chef and I was the bad dishwasher. But everything we did was fueled through tattooing.”
They finally discovered a scene when they started doing motorcycle rallies in Sturgis and Daytona. “Back in those times there was no tattoo magazines, there was no culture, so we started doing these motorcycle rallies with Crazy Ace, Randy Adams, and all the guys on the motorcycle circuit.” With no shop, Gill had to rough it with the bikers. “The first time I tattooed in Sturgis, it was in an alley behind a gas station tattooing a drunk standing up.” The next year, a photographer named Billy Tinney was there shooting pictures for magazines like Easy Rider. “Billy was there taking pictures of these motorcycle gangs and all these pictures started showing up in the mags with their tattoos. These crazy nuts tattooing were really putting on a show. Over time, they had to add a tattoo section. When the first tattoo magazine finally came out, I think it was Tattoo Magazine, it just went bezerk.”
Now that tattooing is socially acceptable, Gill reflects on how Hollywood helped catapult tattoos into the mainstream. “When I first got to Hollywood it was all about the big hair and the atmosphere was electric. I had this shop on Sunset Boulevard across from Viper Room between the Whisky-A-Go-Go and Tower Records.” With a prime location like this, Gill quickly gained a large celebrity fan base. “Fred Saunders toured with Motley Crue, and I did all the Poison guys. The more public exposure the better,” explains Gill. “When your heroes are tattooed, you want to get ‘em too. It was the beginning of MTV, so it really helped for people to see these rock stars all tatted up. Rosanne Barr, the domestic goddess, made it OK for girls to get tattoos. I put a lot of tattoos on Roseanne.” Gill was doing the Hollywood shop, hanging out with his friend Randy Adams when he came up with the idea of the Inkslinger’s Ball. “I wanted to throw an unconventional convention, a kind of pirates ball, so we threw a big party at The Central, which is now the Viper Room, with Chucky Rice and the Goddamn Liars, and it was huge. We had people from all over the country. The next time, we moved it to the Troubadour, and we’d have big bands playing like Poison. We finally ran out of room and moved it to the World Famous Palladium where it’s been for fourteen years.” Randy hung out for the first five years, but now The Inkslinger’s Ball is produced by Fred and Sherie Rose with Gill at the tattoo helm.
Gill was in a motorcycle club in Hollywood, but decided to get out of the Hollywood scene. “I was spoiled and selfish and I just wanted to get away from California, get a chance to breathe. My eyesight was getting bad, and I was getting confused. I needed a break and a chance to collect myself.” Gill is now settled in Beaumont, Texas, home of Janis Joplin and George Jones. “It’s big and it’s open and I wanted to come to a smaller town. I wanted an easier pace of life.” Gill now owns and operates the popular Gill Montie’s Tattoo Mania in Beaumont, Texas, who knows for how long. Admits Gill, “I’ve got ramblin’ blood.”
Gill Montie's Tattoo Mania
601 Park St.
Beaumont, Texas 77701
“I’m like a mushroom. Kept in the dark and fed bullshit.”