Rockabilly Tattoo History

15 Sep

For those of us who live the retro rockabilly lifestyle, it is not uncommon to have a tattoo or two, or maybe even five, but it still seems that society has a way of judging those people who wear their art on their bodies. Tattoos are far more acceptable now than they were in the 1950’s, but we still want to look at those who  helped make the rockabilly tattoos we love today. For the rockabilly lover this is a way of life, wearing your art on your body.

During the 1950’s, when must of the world was celebrating over the end of the two World Wars and suburbs were sprouting up wherever the eye fell, and the music was sugary and sweet came a new sound – rock and roll. Out of rock and roll came musicians who blended swing, blue grass, and blues together, resulting in rockabilly music.

The people who loved this music were the youth that was stuck in the suburbs being told what to do and when to do. This music was revolutionary. It broke the chains of what convention was and played by its own rules. And there would be no turning back.

While rockabilly music was coming into existence there came someone else who would play a role in our story of tattoo art. This person is Sailor Jerry. Now known for his rum, that was not always the case.

Norman Collins (Sailor Jerry) joined the Navy when he was 19 years old and spent much of his life traveling the world. He spent a lot of time in Southeast Asia, where he was first exposed to tattoo art. He brought this art back with him to the States and set up shop in Honolulu tattooing sailors.

Tattoos and sailors had always been synonymous. Each tattoo represented a sign of good luck and home to them. It was a charm each man wore on his body, a charm that would hopefully bring him home safe and alive to his loved ones.

The most common tattoos for the sailors were swallows, anchors, and of course the pin up girl. These women emblazoned on each man was a sign of what they hoped to come home to, a woman waiting for them (even if they didn’t have a special girl now, they would find one when they reached land).

Between the sailors that were deployed and longed for home, and the rebellious teenage youth, tattoos became symbols for a generation that didn’t want to be a part of the crowd. Those individuals who had tattoos set themselves apart and wore their art on their body. Identifying themselves through the symbols inked on their skin.

While rockabilly began to fade from 1960-1970, it saw a resurgence in the 1980’s. Many punk bands found their inspiration in the original rock and roll of the 1950’s and took it up with a vengeance, adding electric guitar rifts and so much more. With the resurgence of the music came a resurgence of the lifestyle. Since the 1980’s, there have been people that choose to live their life rockabilly, dressing in rockabilly clothing and going to music festivals to celebrate with other fans.

With this choice to live a rockabilly life is the resurgence of retro tattoos. Now, more than ever, you see women and men with iconic images on display. Just as in the time of Sailor Jerry, pin up girls, swallows, stars, anchors, and musical notes are the most popular images to have. Added to that are images of skulls, dice, and classic cars.

Tattoos are a way to identify yourself. They let you know you share something with someone else, similar interests, similar taste in art. But the thing that tattoos do that is most important, they symbolize something to the owner. Each new tattoo is a piece of your own art that you wear each day, and who the heck cares what anyone else thinks about it?!

We love sharing our favorite information with those people who are new to retro/rockabilly/and pin up, but we love it even more when you share with us! After reading this post if you have an awesome tattoo you want to share with our team feel free to post it in the comments, send us a tweet, or go to our Facebook page and share!


Your Vintage Revolution Team at JBR Clothing


7 Responses to “Rockabilly Tattoo History”

  1. Pocket Owl Press September 15, 2012 at 11:05 pm #

    Reblogged this on pocketowlpress and commented:
    A new post, written by yours truly, for JBR Clothing

  2. Jessica Meloche September 16, 2012 at 2:38 pm #

    Love this article!!! I am SOOO excited to be getting a custom pinup tattoo from Hannah Aitchison next month for my 30th bday 🙂

    • vintagerevblog September 16, 2012 at 9:57 pm #

      So cool! Send us a picture when you get it done!

  3. Jessica Meloche September 16, 2012 at 2:40 pm #

    Reblogged this on Pin Up Persuasion and commented:
    What a fabulous article from Vintage Revolution about the early days of Sailor Jerry & Tattoos.

  4. arabellacherrytart September 17, 2012 at 8:06 am #

    Reblogged this on Arabella Cherry Tart.


  1. Rockabilly 101: From “A” to “Z” (Feature Letter “T”) « thegatsbygirl - September 23, 2012

    […] Click here to read more! […]

  2. Fast Tip Wednesday: Getting a Tattoo | JBR Clothing's Vintage Revolution - April 3, 2013

    […] This week’s post is for all of you rockabilly/retro lovers who DO NOT currently have any ink on you! Many men and women who find themselves entering this scene, will undoubtedly start seeing many individuals around them with multiple tattoos. Tattoos and rockabilly have a long standing history, which you can read about in our previous post. […]

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