An Essential Interview with Tattoo Legend Big Frank

Big Frank Harrison, tattoo legend, photo (c) Adriana the tattoo journalist

Frank William Harrison was born in 1959 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Known as Big Frank in the tattoo community, this nickname was derived from the fact that there were numerous Franks in the industry, and he stood the tallest at 6.3 feet. Big Frank has legendary status, with over three decades of experience in tattooing and early involvement in skateboarding and punk music. He has consistently prioritized passion and creativity over financial gain. In the 80s and early 90s, Big Frank was a member of the hardcore punk band Carry Nation, the manager of Zed Records (the epicenter of SoCal Punk music), the stage manager of Goldenvoice concerts, and the founder of Nemesis Records (contributing to iconic releases by Hunger Farm, Point Blank, Reason to Believe, and The Offspring). He shares that he has remained in tattooing from its underground days to today because the music industry was far too corporate for his tastes. Despite changing times, Big Frank, a permanent tattooer at the Secret Kingdom in Roseville, California, has discovered a family-like atmosphere and a love of tattoo history there.

Since my first meeting with Big Frank in Roseville, every moment of this interview has been gratifying. His contributions are duly recognized, and although his profile in tattoo publications is less extensive than that in the music industry, he remains an underappreciated icon similar to a hidden treasure. Younger generations of tattooists should become acquainted with Big Frank despite his widespread renown among experienced tattooers. His story is unquestionably extraordinary.

Above: A photograph of Big Frank at night in front of the Secret Kingdom, courtesy of Scene360.
Frank Harrison in Carry Nation hardcore punk band, photo (c) robbie robinson riffraffphotos
Frank, a band member of Carry Nation. Picture © Robbie Robinson Riffraffphotos.

Please provide details regarding your upbringing in skateboarding and music.

Before tattooing, I skateboarded on and off for 20 years, with some success in competitions. Later on, I met someone named Frank, who asked if I ever worked at concert gigs. I said “no,” but I knew I could do better than I had witnessed. I then worked with Goldenvoice and others for eight to ten years.

Authored by Patrick Kitzel, this book chronicles the story of Nemesis Records
Authored by Patrick Kitzel, this book chronicles the story of Nemesis Records.

You don’t want to discuss your role as the founder of Nemesis Records much, as it has been well-documented, but it is a vital chapter of your life.

I also ran Zed Records for about ten years. I launched my label Nemesis through the record shops. It was fun to help friends and get them more exposure.

Big Frank Harrison as founder of Nemesis Records
The man, the myth, was the founder and manager of Nemesis Records in the beginning of the 1990s.

Briefly describe the advantages and disadvantages of being a record label entity.

It stinks when money becomes the driving factor in bands.

booth banner of Big Frank with boxer baby skull
The booth banner features a skull-headed baby boxer.

What has been the appeal of punk music?

For me, punk was a place for open-minded individuals. I always felt like the black sheep who didn’t follow others over the cliff.

hardcore punk band, carry nation with Big Frank
Carry Nation band, 6’3″ Frank, is quite visible.

You were a member of Carry Nation, a hardcore punk band recognized for its values (no racism, no alcohol or drugs, etc.).

Our band was great and fun until it wasn’t. But we had a good run and played on legendary hardcore shows—strong opinions delivered in XXL and all-black clothing. We ruled for a short time!

Punk tattoo by big frank
One of Big Frank’s favorite punk-themed tattoos.

What precipitated your dive into the tattoo industry? In which year did you begin tattooing?

I was in the right place at the right time. Tattooer Bob Roberts needed someone to do walk-ins in his shop so he could concentrate on bigger projects. I started at the end of 1991, right after Bob got back from Japan.

Big frank with legendary Bob roberts
Big Frank with tattoo master Bob Roberts.

Describe in greater detail how you obtained an apprenticeship with Bob Roberts.

1982, I had just returned from England after attending punk rock shows, and I saw all these beautiful tattoos on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. Bob Roberts had seen me and my friends walking around with our painted leather jackets and liked them. Around this time, I got my first tattoo, a skull with a Mohawk, and then two weeks later, I got two more, and I never looked back. My apprenticeship with Bob only started ten years later; I had to know him well. And it was more that he got along with me well that got me in the door, not my artistic ability.

grim reaper artwork by big frank
An artwork depicting the Grim Reaper in an eccentric ocular arrangement.

Despite Roberts’ stern personality, was being his apprentice the opportunity of a lifetime? Did it benefit you in terms of gaining access to other shops?

He was never that stern with me. I gave him no reason to be; yes, it opened all sorts of doors, and people were open to me. I should have stayed with [Bob] longer, but those differed from the cards [of Life] I was dealt with.

american traditional rose tattoo on arm by big frank
A traditional American-style rose.

A handful of fundamentals or teachings that Bob Roberts gave to you.

“Draw, draw, draw!” (…) “Keep your head down and take care of tattooing, and it will take care of you,” Bob Roberts would tell me.

scene360 interview with Big Frank, photo (c) Adriana the tattoo journalist
Scene360’s in-person talk with Nevada-born tattoo icon.

Where else have you worked?

I have been fortunate to have worked with many great tattooers and shops. For example, Ken Cameron’s California Tattoo [which was later purchased by Eddy Deutsche), Eric Maaske’s Classic Tattoo, Eric Hogan’s American Graffiti, Corey Norris’ Classic Grass Valley, Filthy Bill’s Folsom City Ink (where I worked with George Hernandez), Britton McFetridge’s Royal Peacock, Mike Ericson’s Relentless (afterward sold to American Graffiti), Nick Paine and Jesse Swanson’s Faith, and finally, and now at Kevin Leary’s Secret Kingdom.

hamsa hand tattoo by big frank
To ward off evil, an alternative interpretation of the Hamsa hand.

Your aesthetic is traditional American but with an “edge”—specifics regarding your artistic styling.

My approach is straightforward: bold lines, black shading, and bright colors. I enjoy doing exciting subjects and will do my best to make them eye candy.

painting by big frank, cartoonish
Cartoon influence is surely present in Big Frank’s artwork.

Who else has influenced your art the most?

I like Caravaggio, lowbrow artists Robert Williams, Pizz, Ed Big Daddy Roth, and old Looney Tunes illustrators.

tattooer big frank at Roseville secret kingdom tattoo shop, photo (c) Adriana the tattoo journalist
Frank at the Secret Kingdom.

You have been a permanent artist at the Secret Kingdom in Roseville, California, for the last year. What led you to this parlor, and what are some positives of working there?

I have done many guest spots and have always had a good time. Everyone at the Secret Kingdom is a great artist, and I get along very well with all of them.

People in a shop can make it a paradise or hell, and I prefer a paradise with friends.

a view inside secret kingdom tattoo parlor in roseville, photo (c) Adriana the tattoo journalist
This view is from within the Secret Kingdom shop, adorned with hand-painted signs, wall art, and vintage and antique furniture.

Since arriving at the Secret Kingdom, you have completed over forty tattoo flashes.What plans do you have for these paintings?

I am getting ready to publish my art book, hopefully by this summer.

retro robot tattoo by big frank
This tattoo artist favors retro robot figures and tattoos.

With 33 years of experience in the tattoo industry, what career advice can you offer?

My best advice is to work hard, have fun, and find a balance in your life.

toy collection by big frank, photo (c) Adriana the tattoo journalist
Big Frank is a toy collector, and this is only a tiny sample of his collection at his workstation.

Which life lesson do you aspire for others to emulate?

Be cheesy, but keep the PMA [positive mental attitude] flowing. Try to make this world a better place in any way you can.

A portrait of tattoo legend big frank at secret kingdom tattoo shop, courtesy of Frank
Frank in action, an individual who is affable, humble, and versatile.

Finally, do you still enjoy tattooing, and how do you keep it fun?

I love tattooing and refuse to grow up and act my age. A wise man once said, “In a world of compromise, never compromise your values or ethics.”

Neon-lit portraits and Secret Kingdom shots © Scene360

All other photos courtesy of Big Frank