CHOSEN FEW & EAST BAY DRAGONS | AMERICA’S BLACK BIKER SET REVISITED

chosen few black motorcycle club

Chosen Few Motorcycle Club– Photography by Gold Mustache Photography, Elliot M. Gold

Soak in the retro soil & oil biker shots from the Chosen Few, and East Bay Dragons motorcycle clubs… In 1959, the Chosen Few MC officially formed out in LA on the cusp of the chaotic 60s.  As they tell it — “The 60s was a hell of a time. With the Civil Rights Movement, The Viet Nam War, Flower Power & Free Love. Sex, Drugs, and  Rock & Roll. Also the Crazy World of the Outlaw Bikers.”

If this sounds as foreign to you as it did to me, a kid who grew up in the world of white biker culture — well, consider the cultural stereotypes around bikers.

TAKE NONE, GIVE NONE – THE CHOSEN FEW DOCUMENTARY FILM

From the Chosen Few history–

“When you talk of the Outlaw Bikers you automatically think of ‘Them Crazy White Boys’ doing what a lot of folk wish they could do. Live Life Like You Want & F*ck You And Your Rules. Well Guess What? There was some crazy Black bikers who felt the same way, and didn’t give a F*ck. Thus was born the Black Outlaw Bikers!”

Black motorcycle clubs emerged throughout Cali in the 50s & 60s, and fought against racism and stereotypes of the day for their right to live the outlaw biker lifestyle — like the East Bay Dragons, Fresco Rattlers, Outlaw Vagabonds, Defiant Ones; down South in LA were the Choppers, Soul Brothers & of course, the Chosen Few.

Chosen Few motorcycle club

Chosen Few Motorcycle Club– Photography by Gold Mustache Photography, Elliot M. Gold

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JACK NICHOLSON IN REBEL ROUSERS | SPRINGERS & STRIPES

 

rebelrousers

Jack Nicholson on a ’45 Flathead Harley Bobber (with Springer forks) in “Rebel Rousers”

This could very well be one of the coolest shots ever, from one of the absolute worst biker flicks ever made– Rebel Rousers. Shot in 1967, it actually had a pretty decent cast– Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern, Diane Ladd (Dern’s wife), and Harry Dean Stanton. The film was shelved and then dusted-off in ’69, when Nicholson’s star power was boosted by the release of Easyrider, and all of a sudden Rebel Rousers seemed like a sure thing hit release. Trust me, just watch the trailer after the jump, and that’ll be all you’ll ever need to see of this flick. Jack Nicholson’s get-up and Harley are the only memorable bits– Nicholson looks like a 60’s psychedelic tribute to Lee Marvin’s iconic, misfit biker character Chino from The Wild One. Gotta love the stripes. They both also rode Harley Bobbers on screen– Nicholson on a ’45 HD Flathead for Rebel Rousers, and Lee Marvin tore it up on a ’49 or ’50 Flathead in The Wild One.

JACK NICHOLSON REBEL ROUSERS

 

Bruce Dern and his custom BSA pre-unit twin from Rebel Rouser’s

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ED “BIG DADDY” ROTH | RAT FINK KING OF SOUTH CALI KUSTOM KAR KULTURE

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Ed "Big Daddy" Roth

Ed "Big Daddy" Roth

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Probably best known for his iconic “Rat Fink” cartoon creation (I’m personally not a fan of Rat Fink, or any rat for that matter…) Ed “Big Daddy” Roth (3/4/32 – 4/4/01) is synonymous with SoCal’s Kustom Kulture & Hot Rod craze of the late 1950s & 60s.   He had a deep bag of tricks– an all around renaissance man skilled as a barber, cartoonist, display merchant for Sears, and expert auto painter / customizer.   He’d been to school for auto engineering and served a stint in the Air Force from 1951-’55. After the service, Roth supported the wife and five kids workin’ for the man at Sears– until ’58 when Roth finally opened-up shop full-time (working with “The Baron” and his grandson Kelly) and was well on his way to stardom. Insane fiberglass bodywork, and intricate custom paint jobs were his speciality. Legendary Kustom Kulture contemporaries of Ed Roth’s included Sam & George Barris, Dean Jeffries, and Kenny Howard, AKA Von Dutch.

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Ed "Big Daddy" Roth's business card

Ed "Big Daddy" Roth's business card

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Ed "Big Daddy" Roth on a custom Harley-Davidson chopper.

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Ed "Big Daddy" Roth's shop

Ed "Big Daddy" Roth's custom shop --Roth Studios.

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ed roth sticker

"SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL FUZZ" --Ed "Big Daddy" Roth

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HOG WILD OVER HARLEY-DAVIDSON | THE “HOG BOYS” OF EARLY H-D HISTORY

Ray Weishaar hog boys harley

Harley-Davidson “Hog Boys” racer Ray Weishaar taking good care of the team mascot.

The term “HOG” has been affectionately associated with Harley-Davidson for decades.  It’s a workhorse term for the iconic motorcycle company that serves many purposes. Harley-Davidson is identified as HOG on the NYSE, they coined H.O.G. as an acronym for “Harley Owners Group”, and Harley-Davidson even attempted to trademark “HOG” IN 1999– and lost when it was ruled that “HOG” had become a common generic term used for large motorcycles, and therefore was unprotectable as a trademark.

All that said, the ones originally responsible for the “HOG” handle were a roughneck group of farm boys that rode for the H-D racing team  back in the 1910s-1920s who’d take their little pig mascot on a victory lap after every race their team won– giving them the name “Hog Boys.”  They deserve a great deal of respect– more than one paid the ultimate price and left it all on the track for the sport that was their life– racing motorcycles.  These guys also had their careers interrupted by our great country’s call to serve in WWI. More than likely, many of us today cannot begin to fathom the depth of their personal commitment and sacrifices.

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ray weishaar harley davidson hog

Ray Weishaar was undoubtedly one of the best known motorcycle racing stars of the 1910s and 1920s. He rode the board and dirt tracks of the country for the Harley-Davidson factory racing team. Ray Weishaar is seen here with the famous team Harley “hog” mascot on the tank of his bike.

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RALPH “SONNY” BARGER | AN OUTLAW’S TALE OF HARLEYS, HIGHWAYS & HELL

 

Sonny Barger

Sonny Barger aboard his 80-inch Harley stroker with high bars and long tailpipies, 1959. This bike design was considered pretty progressive for it’s time.

Ralph “Sonny” Barger, long considered the Godfather of the Hells Angels MC (having  started the original Oakland chapter) is definitely an original “one percenter” if there ever was one.  There’s a lot of very interesting history behind Sonny and the Hells Angels that I can’t post, so if you’re itching for more, check out his books.  Here’s a little collection of pics, along with some of Sonny’s personal accounts on his life and times, and the history of the club– and be sure to check out the vintage Hells Angels video at the end of the post.

From Sonny Barger’s autobiography–

“When I saw The Wild One, Lee Marvin instantly became my hero. Lee’s character, Chino, was my man. Marlon Brando as Johnny was the bully. His boys rode Triumphs and BSAs and wore uniforms. Lee’s attitude was ‘If you f*ck with me, I’ll hit you back.’ Lee and his boys were riding f*cked-up Harleys and Indians. I certainly saw more of Chino in me than Johnny. I still do.”

Sonny Barger of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club.

Sonny Barger of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club.

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(Photo caption above) Ralph “Sonny” Barger, (C, front row), President of the Hell’s Angels Oakland chapter, announces at a press conference that the notorious California motorcycle gang would not stage a demonstration 11/20 against anti-Viet Nam marchers. Oct. 16th, during a VDC march through Berkeley, several of the club broke through police barricades and assaulted several demonstrators. Barger said his group was calling off its plans because the marchers “may provoke us to violence.” LTR: Top, Tiny Walters, (L), Ron Jacobson. Seated, Skip Workman, Barger, and Tom Thomas. Oakland, CA  –November 19, 1965.

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THE 13 REBELS MOTORCYCLE CLUB | 1953’s “THE WILD ONE” INSPIRATION

13 Rebels MC member Arden Van Scykle

13 Rebels MC member Ardin Van Syckle. We’re talkin’ standup guys, not hoodlums– former flyers and servicemen in WWII looking to keep the rush alive. They were solid citizens who loved the sport and brotherhood of riding– accomplished racers, builders and all-around honorable men.

1953’s iconic biker flick The Wild One starring Marlon Brando and Lee Marvin, was loosely based on two actual California motorcycle clubs of the day having a highly charged clash in the small town of Hollister, CA.  Brando portrayed 13 Rebels leader Shell Thuet, while Lee Marvin’s character “Chino” was based on “Wino Willie” Forkner of The Boozefighters.  Fact is– the gangs were not rivals (although “Wino Willie” was an ex-member of the 13 Rebels— asked to leave actually for rowdy behavior) and the Hollister incident never happened, at least not to the extent that LIFE magazine or The Wild One portrayed it.  Yeah, some guys drank and drag raced a little– it happens.  What else happened was a counterculture was born– rolled Levi 501 jeans, boots and leathers (Hello Schott Perfecto!) became the uniform that rebels and bikers lived in, and that polite society demonized.

LIFE magazine's infamous 1947 photo that fueled the Hollister biker stories and legends.

LIFE magazine’s infamous 1947 staged photo that fueled the Hollister biker stories and legends.

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The Great 1950’s T-Bucket Hot Rod Rivalry | Kookie Kar vs. The “Outhouse on Wheels”

Norm Grabowski Tony Ivo T-Bucket

Tommyy Ivo (top) and Norm Grabowski in his famous Kookie Kar square-off at the National Hot Rod Associations drag racing meet held at the old Santa Ana Drag Strip.

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The T-Bucket Hot Rod craze started back in the 1950s, and is still alive and screamin’ today.  Norm Grabowski is the undisputed Granddaddy of the 4-wheeled art form, with his original Kookie Kar being an inspiration to the legion of copycat and followers that became a national craze.  It all started back in 1952, when Grabowski, newly discharged from the service and now a fledgling actor in California, got his hands on an old 1922 Model T Touring front half and dropped a shortened model A pickup bed on the rear.  It wasn’t nearly as simple as it sounds– Grabowski painstakingly cut and recut the frame, laboring long and hard to get just the right aesthetic and stance he was looking for.  The power was supplied by a ’52 Cadillac engine with a 3-71 GMC blower, and later evolved to a ’56 Dodge engine with a Horne intake sporting a quartet of Stromberg double-barrel carbs. The steering for the beast was supplied by a Ross box from an old milk truck.  Grabowski installed it at home, then discovered that the T-Bucket steered backwards.  He hopped in the dyslexic Hot Rod and nonchalantly drove her from Sunland, CA to Valley Custom in Burbank for a fix– having to steer in the opposite direction the entire way.  Why not?

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Norm Grabowski Kookie Kar

Norm Grabowski behind the “wheel” of his famous Kookie Kar– a signature feature being the Bell three-spoke steering wheel mounted on the column which was in near upright position.

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SOUL ON BIKES & BLACK CHROME | THE HISTORY OF BLACK AMERICA’S MOTORCYCLE CULTURE

Growing-up in and around Harley biker culture, there was never any talk of African American riders– let alone that may actually have a part in contributing to American motorcycling culture. It was like Black riders flat-out didn’t exist. Now finally, their incredible story is starting to emerge through books like Soul On Bikes and the Black Chrome exhibit at California African American Museum. The images and accounts are not just amazing to look at and enjoy– they are also incredibly inspiring.  Many thanks to The Vintagent (one of my favorite blogs) and The Onyx Rider from which many of the pics & stories came.

East Bay Dragons Motorcycle Club

East Bay Dragons Motorcycle Club– circa 1960s.

When Sonny Barger formed the Oakland Hells Angels in 1957, a few miles up East 14th Street in East Oakland, a young black bike rider from Louisiana named Tobie Gene Levingston was soon to follow in his footsteps. The two knew and respected each other, and had ridden their Harleys together in the same East Bay neighborhood.

In 1959, Tobie Gene organized the Dragons, a loosely knit, all-black men’s club, one of the first of its kind. The dragon’s earliest incarnation began as an all-black car club and originally stemmed from Tobie Gene’s big brother role to keep his younger brothers and friends occupied and out of trouble. The Dragons became ten strong, including members like MacArthur, Hooker, Tobie’s brothers Joe Louis and Jonas, Baby Joe, Sam and Cousin Rabbit. Tobie Gene became the East Bay Dragons MCs first and only president, still reigning and riding after forty-four years.

soul on bikes the east bay dragons and the black biker set book

 

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THE LEGEND OF SAILOR JERRY | TATTOO MASTER NORMAN COLLINS

 

sailor jerry tattoos

If you don’t know who Sailor Jerry is– you don’t know tattoos. Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins (1911-1973) is considered the foremost American tattoo artist of his time, and defined the craft in two eras– BSJ and ASJ (before and after Sailor Jerry). Arguably, he did more for the ancient art of tattoo than most any other single person.

sailor jerry tattoos anchor

At age 19, Sailor Jerry enlisted in the US Navy. It was during his travels at sea that he was exposed to the art and imagery of Southeast Asia. Artistically, his influence stems from his union of the roguish attitude of the American sailor with the mysticism and technical prowess of the Far East. He maintained a close correspondence with Japanese tattoo masters during his career.

sailor jerry tattoos cards

Sailor Jerry regarded tattoos as the ultimate rebellion against “the Squares”. His legendary sense of humor is oft reflected in his work– but he was never one to compromise his professionalism or take his craft and responsibilities lightly.

sailor jerry tattoos eagle

Sailor Jerry’s first studio was in Honolulu’s Chinatown, then the only place on the island where tattoo studios were located. His work was so widely copied, he had to print “The Original Sailor Jerry” on his business cards. There’s a guy up in Canada that goes by the same name, but don’t be fooled– although he’s good in his own right, he ain’t the original Sailor Jerry.

sailor jerry tattoo

Sailor Jerry remained a sailor his entire life. Even during his career as a tattoo artist, he worked as licensed skipper of a large three-masted schooner, on which he conducted tours of the Hawaiian islands. Sailing and tattooing were his only two professional endeavors.

sailor jerry tattoos bottle

Sailor Jerry went out of his way to mentor those tattoo artists whose talents and attitude he respected, among them tattoo legends Don Ed Hardy and Mike Malone, to whom he entrusted his legacy of flash designs. He also railed against flashy tattoo artists such as Lyle Tuttle, and what he called “hippie tattoo” culture.

sailor jerry tattoos sparrow

From his 20s to his late 50s, he stopped tattooing entirely as a part of a disagreement with the IRS. Believe it or not, Sailor Jerry only tattooed for approximately 12 years.

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sailor jerry tattoos pinup babes

In 1999, Ed Hardy and Mike Malone partnered with an independent Philadelphia company to establish Sailor Jerry Ltd., which produces rum, clothing and other goods. Some say that Ed Hardy sold his old mentor, Sailor Jerry, up the river– taking much credit for Jerry’s style and pocketing the dough. Sailor Jerry (and Von Dutch alike)  may be rolling in his grave.

sailor jerry tattoos care

Originally there were few colors available to tattoo artists– Sailor Jerry expanded the array by developing his own safe pigments. He also created needle formations that embedded pigment with much less trauma to the skin, and was one of the first to utilize single-use needles and hospital-quality sterilization.

norman collins sailor jerry tattoos

Tattooing legend Norman Collins AKA Sailor Jerry

sailor jerry tattoos norman collins photo

Tattooing legend Norman Collins AKA Sailor Jerry

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