Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Cross Country - Road Trip With Scott & the Tattoo Video Magazine Crew - Part 3

Cleen Rock One of Top Notch Tattoos

Tattoo by Cleen Rock One

After our visit with Matt Hodel at Trader Bob's Tattoo in St.Louis, Dustin and I headed north to Elgin, Illinois to meet a guy they call Cleen Rock One at Top Notch Tattoos.

It was just starting to get dark as we walked up to the shop. I could see there were lots of nice neon signage around the windows and an old school '32 Ford parked out front. We introduced ourselves to the guys who were out front smoking and they led us to the rear of the shop where Cleen Rock was working.

As we walked through the shop, I noticed it was a bright clean space with a kind of hot rod theme to it all. The walls were covered with hot rod paintings, Big Daddy Ed Roth "Rat Fink" memorabilia, and license plates from all over the country lining the top of the walls.

Cleen Rock One at work

Tattoo by Cleen Rock One

When we finally met Cleen, he was working on a sleeve but found some time to take a break to talk with us for a while. He was very cool and friendly. He reminded me of a young modern day Fonzie from "Happy Days." He's definitely a hot rod guy. In fact, he's the president of the Bare Bones car club and has a 10 car garage around the corner from the shop where he houses and works on his cars.

Cleen showed us around the shop and introduced us to the rest of his staff. His main guy is Erik Thvedt who has been with the shop for four years and does traditional Japanese with a "bold bright kind of thing." Then there's Tony1,one of the apprentices: "He's basically my Mexican connection. I can't speak Spanish. I only know swear words," says Cleen. Tony1 does mainly black and grey and is into portraits and Latino art.

Then we went to the next booth and this big guy with a big beard turns around. "This is Black Jack. He's been tattooing 13 years. He does traditional old school stuff – Ed Hardy, Sailor Jerry kind of thing." His youngest artist is Tim who likes to do new school tattoos. "He has a lot of crazy drawings and he does Asian tattoos too," Cleen says."There are no jokers working here, all my guys are top-notch artists."

Tattoos by Cleen Rock One

They have a wide selection of body jewelry on display as well. Their piercer is named Dras,but he was in Las Vegas at a piercing conference when we dropped by. "Dras is the best piecer I've ever met," says Cleen.

Elgin is Cleen's hometown. He has been tattooing there for 10 years."We are a street shop, but we pretty much only do custom work. All my guys have their own clientele. We will do flash off the wall, but with our twist on it," Cleen adds. He actually apprenticed in the same building back when there was a crack house upstairs above the shop. Even though he doesn't do drugs, he says it was "pretty cool because the crack heads would bring in bags of CDs for $15.00 or a box of Dickies shirts for $15.00. You could buy anything for $15.00. It was great!" Five years later to the day, Cleen opened up Top Notch in the same building.

Cleen showed us all his tattoos, remembering the artist and the story behind each of them. His hands were done by Lucky of Tattooland. Jeff Zuck has done a lot of his tattoos as well. He even has the tops of his feet done – a hot rod zombie by Gunter on the top of his right foot and a bright orange pumpkin on the top of the left foot with the words "LEAD FEET" tattooed across the toes.

While we were in the shop, Cleen's dad happened to be there and told us the story of when Cleen was 18 and came home and said he was going to work at the tattoo shop. His dad said, "Not those guys, they're losers. Your working at the ski lift!" (Cleen used to be a snowboarder when he was younger.) But Cleen stuck to his guns and went to work at the tattoo shop. And we're glad he did! He's got a killer shop with an incredibly talented crew.

If you’re ever near Chicago, you need to go to Elgin and meet Cleen Rock One and his Top Notch crew. There is a casino near by and plenty of hot spots around town to keep you entertained.

For more info visit www.topnotchtattoos.com.

Top Notch Tattoos
216 E. Chicago Street
Elgin, IL

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