INKED: What was your first tattoo experience?
AMI JAMES: It’s funny that we’re having this conversation while I’m in Israel because that’s where my history starts. When I was 17 years old, I joined the army here, but before that, I went to get tattooed by a guy named Avi Psycho. He wanted to take a break while he was tattooing me and he left me in there for about 10 or 15 minutes. I just grabbed the machine and started tattooing myself. When Avi walked back into the shop he freaked out and started screaming and yelling. But when he looked at it he was like, You know what? That’s not a bad job. He asked me if I wanted to finish the whole tattoo and I said that I’d love to. That was my first glimpse. At that point, I knew it was going to be my career. The problem was that I had to wait until I got out of the army, and that didn’t happen until I was 20.
What did you do when you got out?
I went back to the States and started doing tattoos out of my house with tattoo gear my roommates had given me. Then, two or three months later, I started apprenticing with Lou Sciberras at Tattoos by Lou in South Beach.
What kind of education did you get from him?
Lou was an old-school tattoo artist. When I apprenticed, he must have been in his late 50s. He believed in the old-school ways and he gave me an old-school education. I never regretted it. It made me feel like I had a little bit of the old-school teachings. These days, if you’re a great artist, anybody will let you come to the tattoo shop and get an apprenticeship. There are a lot of Poindexters out there now.
How did you land your spot on Miami Ink?
I had this scumbag by the name of Charlie Corwin come to talk to me because he knew that I was a people person. I was only doing one appointment a week at 55 Tattoo, which was the Horitoshi family’s shop in New York City. It was a full-on Japanese hand-poked tattoo shop. This fucking scumbag comes up to me and asks me if I want to do a tattoo show. He says he’s been searching from shop to shop for two months and couldn’t find the right characters. I’m outspoken and, to some, a little obnoxious, and apparently that’s what he was looking for.
Where did it go from there?
It was kind of fucked up because this guy dragged us into a contract that basically fucked our lives up. He banged us out for all of our money for a long fucking time. He tried to fuck us for everything we had. It was a tough thing to have somebody come to the tattoo business and promise that you’re going to be represented in the right way, and that no one is going to make tattoos or your shop look bad. To some, maybe it didn’t, but it definitely didn’t represent what we believe in. It was like he took full control with his attorneys and fucked us.
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