Interview with Robert Williams
excerpt from 1990

Johnny Brewton:
The early days in New Mexico when you were growing up, you hung out with kind of a tough crowd didn’t you?

Robt. Williams: Yeah, I ran around with the gangs and Pachucos.

JB: I’ve noticed the pachuco theme reflected in a lot of your paintings; is that where you started your switchblade collection?

RW: Yeah that’s right. I was born in New Mexico and my parents were married and divorced a couple of times. So I had moved back and forth in Albuquerque. Albuquerque was pretty much a frontier town up until about the first world war and it still maintained a real criminal air about it, still till this day. In the fifties it was listed with the F.B.I. as like the highest per capita crime in the United States, and I understand that still exists in today. It’s awfully easy to get into a fight in that town, tremedously easy, I don’t know what it is about that town. I’ve been out of Albuquerque since ‘63 but I still run across people that say they’ve gotten in fights in Albuquerque in way or another. It’s a really rough town.

JB: Were you involved in gang or other related criminal activities there?

RW: Oh yeah I Was in several gangs.

JB: What were they called, do you remember the names?

RW: Ah, I was in a gang called the Tick-Tocks in the mid-fifties. The Tick-Tocks were like Anglo-Pachucos. And ah they were aligned with a group which were called Stomps. And stomps where gang member that were cowboys. You could find Stomps or Stomp gangs all through Arizona, Texas, New Mexico and I probably would imagine that you could’ve find ‘em in Southern California at that period of time.

Suzanne Williams: Yeah, you could.

RW: They wore real big belt buckles that were used as weapons. They would get a section of a car bumper and cut out a nice domed area and solder loops on the back and make a buckle out of it.

RW: So I was in some big gang fights and stuff. But ah the reason I was involved with these people and these people weren’t intelligent people was that I had a personality that, was not uh, I want to say pedestrian, but not pedestrian... conservative and was always looking for new and romantic things. You know I was a born artist and when you’re in a small American town with a hundred thousand people there isn’t like a pool of these style of people to run around with. So your next logical thing to do is to run around with these aberrant people.

RW: So that unfortunately, turns out to be sometimes criminals and gang members. There was a romance in the fifties that a lot of people perceived and I was involved in this romance of the fifties. I remember wearing a motorsickle jacket. I got a motorsickle jacket in 1954. A real beautiful black leather jacket, it was horse hide. I’m telling you this for contrast because a year or so ago I was in "The Soap Plant" and some sensitive liberal young people come in the there, that were looking for a place on Melrose to buy leather jackets that were off animals that died naturally. What a contrast it was that these sensitive delicate people were looking for these fuckin’ motorsickle jackets from some animal that didn’t suffer...

JB: I know what you mean.

RW: When I remember the first day that I had worn my motorsickle jacket to this one junior high school that was predominantly Latino. I had to fight so fuckin’many people to wear that jacket that I just didn’t wear the jacket.

JB: The black motorcycle jacket was definitely a powerful symbol of snotty delinquent independence at one time.

RW: I shed a lot of blood in that jacket to wear that fuckin’ thing. I thought twice about walking down the street with a black leather jacket because you’re opening yourself, fucked, for trouble. It read like this: you looked cocky in it see. Today you just look like a punk rock stylish person. But in 1954-55 you wore a black leather jacket you looked cocky.

JB: Who were your heroes growing up?

RW: Well, I knew about Von Dutch as early as ‘53. Do you know who Von Dutch is?

JB: For the sake of those who don’t know you may as well fill them in.

RW: Well, Von Dutch is the guy that Roth styled himself after. Ed Roth styled himself after Von Dutch. Von Dutch was far more flamboyant and talented and interesting than Roth. Roth was considerable in his own right. Roth lives up to his legend as far as I’m concerned Roth rivals Buffalo Bill!

JB: I agree.

RW: But Von Dutch is even more than that. Von Dutch is still very much alive and uh, sought after. He’s a big hero now. (Von Dutch invented pin striping and the modern customized hot rod)

JB: What about music, who were you listening to back then?

RW: Music. I remember Bebop in 49’ and 50’. And I watched Bebop turn into Bop. Then Bop turn into Hard Bop then Rock n’ Roll. I was a hip person when I was young. I was on top of fuckin’ things, ya know.

JB: You haven’t changed a bit then.

RW: I was cognizant of social trends that were happening. I wasn’t what was called a square by any means.

JB: Back to Ed Roth. We know how you got started with Ed Roth through an ad, but what was it like working with him?

RW: The first time I met Ed Roth was in 59’ or 60’ at car show in Albuquerque. And he was showing at the Civic Auditorium. It was load in day before the show, they were loading the cars in. And me and some of my friends went over there. And I ran around with some aggressive wild assholes. Ya know some people that would pull some real shit and so the Beatnic Bandit was sitting right there in the doorway . . . . .


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