Henry "Hank" Savini

Oldest Working Electric Tattooer

"You coming? "~"Yeah man, we'll be there in about an hour "~"You said you're bringing 2 of them with you this time? "~"Yeah man, see you in a little bit..."

Them ladies.  The only thing he loved more than Tattooing and Mikie the cat, was a lady in his lap...

The first time I met Savini was at the 92 National convention in New Jersey, I was still an apprentice and my boss Moose(RIP) said,"Hey Ron, Savini is here and they're nominating him for the lifetime achievement award for Tattooing 46 years! C'mon, I'll introduce you to him!"

That was longer than Moose had been alive and only a couple of people who were alive had that kind of time under their belt as a tattooer.  To me, it was unbelievable. To Hank, it was just another day in the life. As decades passed, I too learned to correlate Tattooing as just another part of my life, but it was something that I needed. As did Henry, so I will explain...

I had been visiting Savini regularly, especially for the last few years and one time I called him and made arrangements to come over for a tattoo with a friend. As plans often fall through, I called Hank a few hours before the scheduled time to let him know, he responded in a low voice, obviously disappointed, but we scheduled for the same time next week and that was it. Or so I thought...

The following week, I called to let him know that we were on the way, and for the first time ever, he spoke at me, rather than to me, and said rather harshly "You're really coming this time?  You're not going to f**k me like last time??" He paused and apologized to me, for he was a true gentleman, and said, "I'm sorry Ron, but when you called last week and said you weren't coming, I was upset.  I was really excited about having a tattoo to do. You know I don't get to do them that much anymore.  I don't know if you will understand this or not, I need to do tattoos. It gets me ‘right.’ I don't know why, maybe because I've been doing them for so long. I don't know, but if I go too long without doing one, I feel ’detached’ or something. It doesn't matter because you're coming today and we're doing some Tattooing! We are?  Right?" •••long pause••••

"YES! Yes we are brother. I'll see you in 30 minutes." I knew exactly what Hank was talking about. I never flaked out on him again....

Yeah man, Savini was the genuine article.  He's the only tattooer I have ever seen do Tattooing NOT for money and personal gain. For the past 25 years, Hank Savini gave every penny he made from Tattooing to the local animal shelter and rescue service. He loved his pets, they provided him with love and companionship, especially in the latter part of his life. Could you imagine being a tattooer for 70 years and how lonely it would be??? He had his retirement pension from his Post Office job and the Navy pension. Yeah, before he began Tattooing in 1946, Savini served in the United States Navy during the 2nd World War. Like many sailors, Savini collided with the sweet perversion of Tattooing. He was tattooed on by Percy Waters, Amund Dietzel and the man who would bring him into the tattoo business, his dear friend Sailor Ned Resnol. Among other Tattooers of legendary status. So, he began his Tattooing career in 1946. But for over 30 years, until his retirement, in addition to Tattooing from 12-? every day, he would be at the Post Office very early for his shift. He tattooed full time into the mid 1990s.

He never stopped Tattooing, but he didn't tattoo as frequently as he did. He used to say that no matter what, he does at least one per year so he could stay in the game. He always laughed when he said that. To this day he still has an ad in the Yellow Pages, and it wasn't uncommon to catch him cleaning up after "a couple tattoos" when you showed up at his joint.  Because, as he would say, "I still have a listing in the phone book! Landline. I have a cellular phone, but it's for emergency use only." Very seriously, he spoke of the cellular phone...

Henry Savini was one of those Tattooers who literally tattooed until the day he died, well, he took it as close as humanly possible. That's the story I'm going with, his personal life ain't no business for anyone. But he didn't tattoo like that for the money, he did it because he had to.

Savini was the Tattooer’s Tattooer in the final years of his life, frequently getting visitors from the tattoo business eager to meet the Oldest Living Electric Tattooer in the World and collect a little souvenir tattoo. Hank would bitch about it from time to time because he was just doing little things. Skulls and roses. Stars. Novelty tattoos. He'd stop in the middle of something and blurt out "I need this f**king money for the animals or i wouldn't be doing this. I'm tired of all this small shit! I want to do a nice big Dragon, with every single color I have in it! Or a f**kin’ Tiger! You know, with the orange and that Gold that National has! Yeah, that's what I want..." And at 92 years old, he could put a "BAD ASS" tattoo on you, without skipping a beat using a single needle liner and a 4 flat. Savini made his machines sing. In several languages. As long as he was wearing that plastic brace on his index finger to stabilize his machine. He fashioned it from black plastic that he acquired from those "FLEX\COMBS" that the barber would give you free with a fresh haircut. And, he was most certainly LTTC, with stainless steel 1/2" knurled S&R tubes, but switched to those giant ones after Tattooing for 55 or 60 years. You know, those big fat 5/8" deals...

He never complained about carpal tunnel syndrome or hyper extended chicken dicks like this sensitive generation does. He never took a pain pill in his life and he certainly never had a holistic massage hand specialist visit him 3 days a week to relieve his pain from the side effects of those brutal coil machines that are made of metal but are just junk man because nobody can get one to stay in tune. 《HEAVY SARCASM 》

When I hear some 4-year wonder bellyaching about how trashed their hands are so they had to switch over to rotaries, I ask them what they're going to do in 50 years. Or 60. Or to be 93 years old like Old Man Savini. 

When he passed away on April 30th, 2019,  Hank was, and still is, the LONGEST RUNNING, WORKING ELECTRIC TATTOOER IN THE HISTORY OF ELECTRIC TATTOOING, serving in our Craft for a staggering 72+ years! And at nearly 93 years of age, he could do a more solid job than any "Award Winning" millennial ~ effortlessly.  As his work remained true and vivid much longer than the standard 6-12 time period of the present day, and when someone would come back to his shop, it was for a new tattoo, not the 4th installment of 15th shade of blue...

Yes, Henry Savini, Lyle Tuttle and Bowery Stan Moskowitz were the last 3 remaining legacy Tattooers in the world, Hank and Stanley never went into any kind of retirement, and Stanley is still Tattooing today. Regardless, these 3 men were the last direct link to the men who pioneered Electric Tattooing and had first hand exchanges of information and equipment with the likes of Wagner, Dietzel and Waters among other people who are OG STATUS legends.

One day at the shop, Hank asked me to hand him an envelope from the drawer in his cabinet.  He reached inside and handed me a sheet of flash and asked me what I thought it would be worth. When I saw the name of the artist who made it, I said, "WHERE IN THE F**K DID YOU GET THIS HANK!?!" His reply, "Oh, me and Ned Resnol, you know, Sailor Ned...he doesn't get the respect he deserves, he did a lot for Tattooing and people just don't pay him any mind...me and Ned were visiting a friend in Milwaukee a few years ago and I bought it from him. I never liked it that much because I don't like how he drew the ship's masts and I can do it better myself, and I just forgot about them.

"Then last week, [name withheld] came by for a visit and was looking around through my stuff and he said that it might be quite valuable. If it is I want to sell it and give the money to the animals because I haven't been doing much Tattooing...[name withheld] has been coming around here a lot lately. I don't know why he won't have a tattoo put on by me, he really likes all my stuff."... For the record, the name that I read on those mint condition flash sheets was {A.DIETZEL}


His cabinets were overflowing with relics like this, but Hank was as casual about them as we are about TATTOO BRAND or CHERRY CREEK wall flash! Wow man.  If you didn't take advantage of Hank while he was with us, you literally passed up nearly the last chance you could listen to someone talk about things that are pertinent to the history of Tattooing, before they became history!

To describe the average visit with Savini, by my accounts, it went a little like this...Arrangements were made to meet at the shop, which was around the back of his house at the basement door at 5 or 6PM. This was because Hank never got out of bed before 4PM. He was a night owl, another thing that we shared in common. Sound familiar? Upon entry, you would find yourself in the waiting room. An approximate 6×12' paneled room with vintage convention posters that hung there since the day he returned from them, as well as fantasy art and flyers from the local animal shelter and rescue service. There was a theater bill from a movie that his brother Tom had done the special effects for too. He would speak to you briefly through the door to his shop when the door opened to him standing there in his pajama pants and a loose fitting button up V-neck shirt like the Italians would wear, and a yin yang or a skull print bandanna would be tied around his head like Rambo would have done...his smile split his face in half from ear to ear, noticeably excited about having some company, but more so because he knew that in a moment he would have one or two lovely ladies sitting on his lap while he told the greatest stories for a while before he would ultimately be Tattooing on some or all of us. He would introduce you to Mikie, the biggest feline I've ever seen, then find out what he was going to be Tattooing on us.

I was there one time to have him put a black panther head on me, and he had a few stencils laid out for me to choose from. I naturally chose the most Traditional American style profile on his bench, and he immediately told me NO, and picked me a more modern one that he executed in single needle, black shade with blue tint, white highlights and full color detail shading. That old Sailor art was moot to Hank, and contrary to the belief of most people, Savini was a Master of the single needle, high detail full color spectrum Tattooing.  If you think about it, it makes complete sense, and when you observe the photos, you will see what an amazing Modern Tattooer that Henry Savini really was. He was a fast Tattooer too. Not Zeke or Ernie fast, but faster and more precise than Tattooers 60 years his junior.

These experiences are truly priceless and I consider the time I spent with Savini part of the highest points of my career to date. Especially when he would have me assist him, prepare stencils, and observe his technique from the initial shave to the final piece of tape on the bandage. After 20+ years of thinking that I knew what I was doing, I admitted that I did not; and after I learned Hank's application techniques, I finally started Tattooing correctly. Only took about 30 years...

Hank was a natural story teller, a hostage taker if you want the truth, except for when he was putting on a tattoo.  During this time, he was mute. Completely focused and in a state of critical thinking the entire time he practiced his Craftsmanship. He would remain the professional tattooer at all times, even when he was doing designs that he had done hundreds of times before, decades before you and I were born, but the second that bandage was taped on, that crooked smile lit up the shop and the real experience began...

Hank would laugh and carry on for several hours. Speaking of Sailor Ned, DeVita, Paul Rogers and Nick Bubash among others as if they were Tom, Dick, Harry and Joe Sh*t the Rag man most casually. It was a one-way conversation with mouths closed and ears open when Hank spoke, until he would ask someone a question that was pertinent to the topic of discussion and if the answer was in retrospect to what he was saying...it was refreshment time, and you could guarantee another 4 hours of the Hank Show. Minimum.

At 1AM in an old time tattoo shop, if someone offered you a drink, well, I expected a nice cold beer, especially after he had been carrying on about his beer drinking and Hell raising days for 4 hours... He would work his way up to the kitchen, return 10 or 15 minutes later carrying a round, red colored, STONEYS beer (a local brewery) serving platter with a 6 pack of gold colored pull tab cans on it.

As the feeling in the room escalated to that of a night of beer drinking and story telling among old friends and was about to peak, one of those golden cans in Hank's outstretched arm would make contact with my eagerly grasping hand... what happened next can only be described like that feeling you get from hearing fingernails scratching down a blackboard and the needle scratching across a record on the HI-FI. Simultaneously.

The hand that was awaiting a nice cold beer in reality found itself clutching a room temperature (usually around 80°) can while Hank boasts about how he quit drinking beer in 1987, but still likes the taste of it from time to time, so he keeps "THESE" around and apologizing for them being warm because his ice box broke several years ago and since his 2 forty year-old "lady friends" bring meals to him now, there's no need for him to buy a new Frigidaire but he'll be sure to have some real beer for next time...

When in the company of a living legend like Hank Savini, if he was to bring you a glass of monkey sweat, you would graciously accept it, drink it down and say "yes sir " when he asked you if you would like another.  I did this on every occasion that I visited with him until that case of 1989 HAMM'S "none percent alcohol beer product" was gone. I was never in my life happy to drink a ginger ale... To me, it was such an honor to be in such a personal and intimate setting with Hank, I wouldn't risk being anything other than fully grateful for his company and his hospitality. And for his generosity to share his life experience with me and to confide in me as anything other than his most genuine friend. He helped to redefine honor and respect to me just like he did with my understanding of Tattooing just a couple of years earlier.

My personal experiences with Savini made the greatest thing in the world, TATTOOING, even greater than I could possibly imagine. That, my friends, is an undeniable example of how real and powerful Tattoo Magic really is.

On April 30th, 2019, the world's oldest living Electric Tattooer was called to work at the Great Tattoo Shop in the Sky with Sailor Ned and Ernie Carafa. He left my world a little bit better than it was before he came into it, and he had shown me that you can never stop learning and expanding your knowledge of a permanent indelible mark placed under the skin, more commonly known as a tattoo.

Pat contacted me yesterday and asked me to write an article for the NTA newsletter about the man called Savini and my experience with him. 

If you are reading a NTA newsletter, you damn well know who Hank Savini was and you don't need me to refresh your memory about what a great person he was, and the example he led to be followed by his successors in the Craft. So, I'm giving you exactly what Pat asked me for—my experience with a Legitimate OG American Tattooer, the longest run in the history of Tattooing to be exact, and how I was affected by said experience. I hope that you have enjoyed the read, if you didn't, go slam a f**king HAMM'S!!!