Tag Archives: bj betts



Usually I hurl multiple topics at a single blog post to reflect my general state-of-mind, but you’ve got to give the whole post to this one. Seeing as he just messaged me at the same time as I was watching Sade’s tour film, I have to highlight my friend BJ Betts’ spectacular bragging rights. This man had an experience few will ever match — he actually got a tattoo from Sade in 2011. Has anybody else got one of those?

Betts himself is the tattooist I always turn to for work and he’s a scriptmaster general too — one of those tattoo industry dudes with fancy writing that belies his vast presence, and he somehow wrangled this. With a shoe collection that rivals the best of the best (and an enviable New Balance armoury — bear in mind that one of one personalised NBs are for true masters) and ink from Sade — who remains ultimate wife material — Betts has things that we can’t have. if there’s anything to take away from this strange, oddly aspirational story it’s that if you want something — no matter how eccentric — ask the right person and it might just happen.

There’s a lot I could interview BJ about, but this is by far the most pressing matter, so I asked him how it actually went down.

ME: This started with you tattooing Sade’s band prior to the show. Are those band members pretty tattooed already?

BJ: There’s, like, a few guitar players and bass player, percussion and back up singers. Initially, I tattooed this guy called Paul Denman who has been with Sade since the very beginning and was also in Groove Theory, Sweetback and a few other bands. He’s been with her since ’82 or ’83 — whenever Sade was formed. I got in touch with him through my friend Mike at Fender because my wife tried to buy tickets for Sade’s show in Philadelphia and immediately they were fucking sold out — my wife understands how much I love her. All the guys in Sade play Fender and Gretsch. So he said that Paul was his friend so he could get tickets.

I went to see the show and then he was like, “We’re gonna be back in Philadelphia in a few weeks and I’d really like to get tattooed.” I was like, “Okay, sure!” So I tattooed him, one of the guitar players and one of the saxophone players or percussion guys — I don’t quite remember. He comes to the studio and gives me one of the tour books signed by the band – which was amazing enough. Sade’s pretty reclusive — she keeps her private life private.

After I tattooed Paul he was like, “If there’s anything you want just let me know.” I told him that I’d like to meet Sade. He said, “Listen dude — we’re playing Atlantic City tomorrow night.” That’s maybe an hour-ish away from Philadelphia. He said “Just let me know and I’ll talk to them.” Then I told him, “I’d really like her to tattoo me.” He said, “Dude — she doesn’t tattoo!” I said, “That’s the point! That’s why I want it” I would be the true hyperstrike one of one. Paul said, “This is so ridiculous that she might go for it.”

We go on our way and he phones me the next day at 5:30 and says, “We just had a meeting before the show — she says she’ll do it but you need to be here by 8:30 before she goes on.” I just finished tattooing and I called my wife and said, “We’re going to see Sade in Atlantic City and she’s going to tattoo me. Get your stuff together and let’s go.”

What did she say to that?

To be honest all she probably heard was the going to see Sade bit. She probably discounted the tattoo bit as not even real. So off we go. I pack the bare minimum — one tattoo machine, one needle, one tube. We get to the event and Atlantic City on a Saturday in the summertime is out of control — it’s so busy. We’re maybe ten blocks away from the venue and it’s already 8:30. I’m getting calls like “Dude, where are you at? we have to get this moving!” I told him that we’re stuck in traffic and it’s not even moving. He’s like, “Alright! Hang on a second…” I hear police sirens and he says, “Do you hear those sirens? That’s the police and they’re coming to escort you.”

So the police come and I follow them to the venue. The police are like, “Come on! This way, this way!” I leave my truck parked on the side of the road by the venue and they’re like, “We’ll handle it! Just park!” We get out the vehicle and they’re throwing lanyards around our necks. I’m setting up and on the other side of the wall I can hear Sade warming up her voice which, by now, is really fucking me up. I’ve tattooed a lot of celebrities over the years and it’s usually whatever. I never thought about the weirdness of this until you mentioned that it was weird. If you want to do something because you want to do it it’s not that weird. This is when it hit me — Sade is ten feet away behind the wall. This is somebody I’ve listened to as long as I can remember. I get set up and Paul said, “I’ll get her.” It took all I could to not fan out.

What’s your favourite Sade song?

I don’t know. At this point I’d probably say Is it a Crime? or Kiss of Life, Cherish the Day — even Soldier of Love is up there. Sweetest Taboo…the classics.

Back to the story…

So she came in and I went to shake her hand and she just pulled me in for the hug. I think the only thing that helped me keep it together was having to talk her through tattooing me. I had to make sure it didn’t go bad. Actually, scratch that — how could it possibly go bad? I’m getting tattooed by Sade.

It was on your leg though…

It wasn’t like it was on my face. She wrote Sade 2011 and put an X on like a kiss.

How was she?


I mean as a tattooist.

Oh, it was horrible! I set the depth of the machine so it wouldn’t be that bad. She couldn’t harm me more than was necessary. I set it accordingly because she hadn’t done it before and hasn’t done it since. She kept saying to me, “Are you sure you want me to do this?” I was like, “Fucking absolutely!”




I’m still in NYC so this blog stays barren until I get back at the weekend. Just to prove I’m not dead and that this site hasn’t come to an abrupt halt, here’s a couple of shoe-centric images. My friend and favourite tattooist Mr. BJ Betts broke out these Gucci Tennis from 1988 at the weekend during a road trip to Delaware. He had these dyed black and requested the addition of a ripple sole from Dapper Dan in Harlem during an NYC trip back in the day and rather than retting a resole, that ripple has been glued over the existing unit to give them a running shoe/court/hiker appearance. Nice piece of custom footwear history from Betts’ insane collection and proof that he was stunting very, very hard while I was starting middle school. I miss the days when people engaged in expensive antics like that to avoid wearing the same shoes as the next man.

And continuing my occasional rappers-in-AM95s series, who could forget Onyx in The Source and HHC, promoting their second album in 1995 and acting all sporty for the photographers? Fredro Starr’s metallic windbreaker (which I believe was Polo Sport like Sticky’s hoody) and Air Max combination was this season’s tech-running look way ahead of its time. Interesting departure from automatic weapons and combat boots. He carries the facial expression of a teenager who just found he needs a code to look at porn or death videos on the family Dell desktop though.



…or entertainment’s getting more extreme. Possibly a mix of the two. Having had my psyche fist-fucked by ‘A Serbian Film’ a few weeks back (incidentally, in terms of performances and cinematography the film is excellent. That’s what makes it so effective), I’ve been aware that perhaps I do have limitations when it comes to cinema. I hate to be the “that scene” man—but to describe what showed me that I have limits like some ultraviolent version of Clarence Odbody, proving that decades of cinematic carnage haven’t left me so emotionally dead that I can’t be offended—on this blog would land me in trouble. Just know that you’ll emerge from a viewing feeling wrong. Very, very wrong.

Reading the ‘Crossed’ sequel, the Garth Ennis-free ‘Crossed: Family Values’, I’ve found myself a little shocked too. here’s the thing though—it’s a horror story, so its job is to horrify me. Like some ungodly mix of ‘The War Zone’ s incest theme, ‘Wise Blood’s southern gothic and Romero’s ‘The Crazies’, whereas ‘The Walking Dead’ is getting an AMC television outing, this won’t. Ever. The third issue culminates with unspeakable scenes to match the madness Srdjan Spasojevic brought to the screen. It really does take it there. Again, it’s curiously refreshing to find out that my moral core is operational.

Years ago, my benchmark for disturbing funnybook status was Miracleman #15. Kid Miracleman’s destruction of London and Miracleman’s solution to the problem at the comic’s conclusion messed with my head for years. Alan Moore went all out, and John Totleben’s artwork was as close to Bosch’s depiction of hell as ever resided in my polybagged stack. I found myself returning to the issue to gawp, yet 22 years on, I’m left trying to forget the events that David Lapham and Javier Barrano have conjured up. Like I said, I’m getting old. Both books do their job remarkably well. Still no sign of the ’80s ‘Miracleman’ reprints. i wouldn’t want to direct you to a link to each issue as a CBZ download or ‘owt like that…

A couple of spreads stand out. There’s nothing like a heavily detailed scene of horror to take me back to a misspent childhood. After my media diet of the last month or so, ‘Miracleman’s armless mother figure seems almost quaint.

This week has been all about stroke books. Not that kind. We’re talking letterforms and the history of letter design. Revisiting Ian Lynam’s fine ‘Parallel Strokes’ for typeface insight, and finally delving into the 2005 UK translation of Gerrit Noordzij’s 1985 essay, ‘The Stroke’, breaking down the qualities of letters, it’s been interesting to look beyond the explicit meanings of each word and letter in an attempt to understand the design and spacing that makes up the paragraphs of drivel I pump out on the regular. A fair proportion goes sailing way above my oversized cranium, but I’m enjoying the pretty pictures in Noorddzij’s book regardless.

This rush of research was instigated by my good friend Mr. BJ Betts releasing his ‘Street Shop Lettering Version 4.0’ font guide, with flash and accompanying booklet. He might look thugged-out, but Mr. Betts has ludicrous skills with lettering. It got a first look at The Reference Council courtesy of my buddy Nick Schonberger. There’s more tattoos than ever out there, and the warm weather brought it out in force. Bad lettering is a fucking plague, and Betts has the solution.

Michael Corrente’s film ‘Loosies’, set for release in 2011 looks set to have lots of soul-searching, NYC underground settings, and, best of all, a cast that includes Vincent Gallo, Joe Pantoliano and William Forsythe. If that causes you no joy whatsoever, I suggest you exit this blog immediately. It’s worth mentioning at this juncture, that I still can’t understand the excitement around ‘The Wackness’. Ben Kingsley certainly didn’t deserve a Razzle for it, but it’s an overrated nostalgia trip regardless. Please god, let ‘Loosies’ bring back the spirit of Toback’s ‘Fingers’…

There’s a lot of sites with a jacket fetish that seem so clueless that they make for car crash reading. The One-upmanship Journal isn’t one of them. Crazy knowledge fused with a clobber fixation makes it the best out there on the topic, and the recent entry on One True Saxon resonated in a major way. The brand doesn’t hold much weight now for substance, you need to head on to Garbstore, where former OTS mainman Ian Paley moved to, but as the One-upmanship entry points out, it was a brand well ahead of its time. I recall a serious case of sweatshirt envy at a raglan sweatshirt with the dog logo on the sleeve while living in Nottingham a decade ago.

The lowkey collaborations, the web presentations and that camo application made it a pioneering brand back in the early ’00s. I recently found a pair of the old OTS shoes that harked back to classic Clarks (is this the Rufus model?). They’ve seen much better days, but these Wallabee remixes were, I believe, made in the Padmore & Barnes factory just prior to its 2003 shutdown on shoe production. The camo suede collar is infinitely superior to any dimwitted, garish Clarks Originals makeups that seem to do the blog round regularly. These were dirt cheap in the sales before the brand seemed to go to the dogs to some degree. Happy days…