Jeff Manes | Sun-Times Media file
IF YOU GO
Still Crazy – Roy Boys II. 801 Central Avenue, Lake Station. (219) 962-1199 or (219) 765-2041.
Updated: October 2, 2013 6:19AM
“No I’m no angel
No I’m no stranger to the dark
Let me rock your cradle
Let me start a fire with your spark
Oh come on baby
Come and let me show you my tattoo...”
— Gregg Allman
Debra Cooper is the ex-wife of the late, legendary tattoo artist “Roy Boy” Cooper. She lives in Lake Station and has raised one adult son.
Cooper, 47, also is quite a tattoo artist who owns and operates Still Crazy – Roy Boys II in Lake Station.
“I was born in Gary but was living in Portage by the time I was a year old,” Cooper began. “I went to Portage High School. My maiden name is Hill.”
How long have you been creating tattoos?
“I started tattooing when I was 16. I had like work-release while in school. Roy Boy would pick me up with his motorcycle right in front of Portage High and then take me to his tattoo shop in Gary. I did my apprenticeship there.”
Were your parents OK with that?
“Yeah, they freaked out. But my mom did give me permission to get my first tattoo, a butterfly, when I was 16.”
Did Roy Boy do it?
“Yes. I was just so taken by the art. I loved it. I could have been a professional swimmer; I threw that career away. I had at least seven years of my life invested in swimming. I wanted to be like an Olympic lake swimmer. That was my dream, but I fell in love with tattooing.
“When I was 17, I got another tattoo. Then Roy said he wouldn’t tattoo on me again until I turned 18. Once I turned 18, I got like 40 hours of tattoos on my chest. Nobody could believe I’d do something like that. I mean, my background — where I came from.”
“I grew up in a church three days a week; revivals and all that stuff — Nazarene. I’m adopted, so I’m a little different. You know what I mean? I was brought up with the best parents ever. They’re angels. They’re my angels.”
You and Roy’s son?
“Cody’s 18 now and owns a tattoo parlor across the street from where his father’s place was. He goes by his middle name; his first name is Diamond. I’m very proud of him.
“Cody was a BMX rider, like a trick park rider. He was on his way to go pro. But since he’s been riding bicycles, he’s had like nine concussions. He can’t have no more.”
Concussions are nothing to take lightly.
“Cody adapted himself to tattooing. He was in here everyday for like two years taking it all in. He’s doing well now. Right after his father passed away, he was having some problems.”
You’re writing a book.
“Yes, ‘Tigers, Tattoos and Turmoil.’ It should come out in about a year.”
That’ll be an interesting read, I’m sure. I watched part of one of the videos you and Roy created several years ago while at a motorcycle rally in Sturgis, S.D. It was very good.
“We worked hard on those. Roy could multi-task. He had his business, we had the tigers, the boat — we did it all.”
“He had an offshore race boat. It was a Phantom; it could do about 90 mph on Lake Michigan. Roy also had a jet car that could go 300 mph. He wrecked that, flew up in the air, and hit three telephone poles. He was in the hospital for three months and then at home for three months.
“They should have taken his leg, but I wouldn’t sign the papers because I knew he would’ve killed me if I had. I kinda feel bad about that now. If I would’ve given them permission to amputate his leg, he might still be living. “
Why do you say that?
“Roy got bitten in that wound area by one of our tigers. That leg was dead and wasn’t healing properly. It was all black before he was bitten. Plus, he was abusing drugs and he was drinking. His body could only take so much. He died of liver failure about three years ago.”
How much older was Roy than you?
“Almost 20 years. We were married in ‘91; it lasted about 15 years. What was so cool about being with Roy was I was so young and naive. I just went with the flow of everything. It was a journey for me. I mean, I got to go to Sturgis, Daytona, Key West... I was so young... You know? I mean, we would get pulled over in a motor home and the cop would think I was kidnaped because Roy Boy was so much older than me. It was some crazy stuff we went through in our lives — bizarre.”
How long has this place been here?
“I’ve been tattooing here in Lake Station for more than 25 years. In the ‘80s, I was with Roy Boy on Broadway. We worked together maybe eight years. I saw too much. It was just too wild. I wanted to have a baby and move out of there. So, he let have me open up a shop in Lake Station.”
You learned from the best.
“Roy helped me out a lot. But I earned it. I worked my ass off for Roy Boy — 12, 14, 16 hours a day.”
You did a lot of modeling back in the ‘80s.
“Yeah, I’d go to the national tattoo conventions. I won Best Tattooed Female of the World several times. Roy Boy won Best Tattoo Artist several times.”
Thoughts of retirement?
“I’ll be workin’ for a long time. I love my work. I’ll work into my sixties if my hands and fingers can still do it.”
Celebrities you or Roy Boy have tattooed?
“The Stray Cats, Lenny Kravitz, Gregg Allman... .”
Debra Cooper might not be an angel, but how many of us are?