It seems fitting that a man who helped start a revolution named his latest business End of the Trail.
Modesto resident and End of the Trail Tattoo owner Charlie Cartwright, considered a pioneer in the black-and-gray tattoo style, is one of the stars of the new documentary "Tattoo Nation: The True Story of the Ink Revolution." It opened nationwide and in Modesto on Thursday.
The film follows the evolution of tattoos from outlaw art form to mainstream form of expression. The epicenter of this revolution was Cartwright's East Los Angeles shop, Good Time Charlie's Tattoo Parlor.
"Tattoo Nation" producer John Corry said Cartwright's contributions to the tattoo world are famous within the industry. He hopes the film will introduce more people to the craft's modern pioneers.
"It's hard to sound-bite Charlie Cartwright. He's one of those guys who accidentally stumbled into tattoo history because he was himself," Corry said. "He has a way of thinking and operating that is different than most of us. He was the first to say, 'Bring in your own ideas.' He said, 'I am interested in what you want to put on your skin to express your feeling.' That now is the norm in tattoos, but it wasn't before."
Cartwright, now 72, founded Good Time Charlie's in 1975 with business partner Jack Rudy. Instead of having customers pick tattoos from a wall of pre-drawn art, the men asked their clients for their own ideas.
Together, the men helped popularize the fine-line, black-and-gray form of tattoos that previously had been seen only on prison inmates. Their intricate and expressive artwork gained popularity among the Chicano community in East L.A. and since has spread worldwide.
Cartwright retired from tattooing in 2000. His 48-year-old son, Nick, and 27-year-old grandson, Alex, now run End of the Trail at 520 McHenry Ave. The shop sign still says "Good Time Charlie's" over it, like his original East L.A. shop. But Cartwright doesn't mind that few people in town know his history.
"Oh, people don't know. I'm just crazy old Charlie, but I don't even care," he said Thursday evening as "Tattoo Nation" opened at downtown Modesto's State Theatre. "Even my granddaughter said after she saw (the film), 'Grandpa, I didn't know all that about you.' "
Cartwright, the son of a Kansas Pentecostal preacher, began tattooing as a teen. He got in trouble shortly afterward for tattooing his 10-year-old brother. When he was older, he tattooed out of his car in front of pool halls in his hometown of Wichita.
He began working professionally in 1973 in the parlors along the Pike in Long Beach. It was there he earned his nickname, "Good Time Charlie," after a repeat female client came in and heard the song "Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues" playing on the radio.
"She said, 'You've never got the blues. You are Good Time Charlie.' And I started signing things that way, G.T.C. Good Time Charlie," he said.
In 1977, Cartwright sold Good Time Charlie's to renowned San Francisco tattoo artist Ed Hardy, who kept it running with Rudy. Hardy has since developed a clothing and accessories empire built around his artwork.
Cartwright moved back to Kansas for 10 years and opened a tattoo parlor there called End of the Trail. Then he came to Modesto in 1987 and started what has become the oldest continually operating tattoo shop in the city.
Nick Cartwright was 10 when his father opened his iconic East L.A. spot. He grew up in the tattoo world and was pleased to see his father celebrated in the film.
"They couldn't do it without him, it wouldn't be right without him," he said. "He's the godfather of it. They needed him to tell his side and his part to do it right."
The film, by director Eric Schwartz, is narrated by "L.A. Ink" star Corey Miller and features appearances by celebrity tattoo enthusiasts including musician Travis Barker and actor Danny Trejo and other famous tattoo artists.
The documentary has received positive reviews in the Los Angeles Times and The Hollywood Reporter. It opened in 155 theaters in 140 cities Thursday night and will play at the State through next Thursday night.
Corry said the film will be available on DVD and online starting in May.
All these years later, Cartwright still does things his own way. The phone at End of the Trail plays a recorded message, and he refuses to carry a cell phone.
"I might be known all over the world, but here I'm just known as hard-core old school," he said. "But what else can I be? I'll never be new school."