Bill Salmon was well-known in San Francisco as a prominent tattoo artist who truly cared about his customers, who in return described him as a genuinely nice person. He was a visionary who saw a patch of skin as potential for art. Salmon practiced his art over three decades from his studio, The Diamond Club, and was also an accomplished musician, favoring the saxophone, flute and guitar. Sadly, the buzzing of his tattoo gun can no longer be heard as Bill Salmon lost his fight with cancer on January 18th at his home in San Francisco.
The Diamond Club
Bill Salmon moved to San Francisco from Troy, New York, in his 20s and started working in a music store. However, it wasn’t long before local tattoo masters taught him his future craft. Salmon opened his private tattoo studio in 1991, The Diamond Club, which later opened to the general public in 2004 at Broadway and Van Ness Avenue. The studio had a motto that Salmon truly believed, “Folk Art Tattoos by Tattooed Folks”, which was the best way to describe him.
Salmon had a giant wild cat covering his chest, as well as flowers and wildlife on both arms. The Diamond Club reflected Salmon and wife Shimada’s Buddhist beliefs and was decorated in religious artifacts. One came with a twist; a banner depicting goddess Kwan Yin holding the world in one hand and a tattoo gun in the other.
Simply, he was a nice person
Fellow tattoo artist, Ed Hardy, was responsible for Salmon’s feline tattoo some decades ago, along with a huge fish that went from his back to his right leg and down to his foot. Hardy described Salmon as “a visionary” who was “super positive, with a great sense of humor.
Part of Bill Salmon’s success comes down to the fact that he was just a nice person. Everyone who knew him described him as nice. He would spend days with customers, where other artists would take hours, to make sure they were happy.
He even sent one customer away who couldn’t decide between a flower, a cupid and a homage to Mother, telling them to “think about it and come back. I’ll be right here when you make up your mind. I’m not going anywhere.” He put their needs before his own, understanding the permanence of a tattoo is something that shouldn’t be rushed.
Putting customers first
Before starting a tattoo, Salmon always saw his first job as making sure customers knew what they were asking for and that they were not under the influence of alcohol. Ed Hardy said, “He was always sensitive to the needs of his customers. He wanted to tattoo what they wanted, not what he wanted.” Salmon’s wife, Junko Shimada, who also worked at The Diamond Club as a tattoo artist, said, “It wasn’t about making money. He cared about the customer. If there was the slightest doubt, he would send the customer away and tell him to come back when he was sure.”
The death of Bill Salmon
Bill Salmon passed away on January 18th in his home from cancer at 68 years old. He had retired a year previously, with his last tattoo being a flower. It was said that he never came across a flower he didn’t like, and he specialized in them, along with fauna. He is survived by his wife of 31 years, who he met at a tattoo convention when she showed up to be a tattoo model.
The pair say they fell in love with each other’s tattoo images, and then fell in love with each other, with Shimada describing it as “love at first sight”. Not long after they started their relationship, Shimada tattooed a Japanese toy onto Salmon’s arm and he in return tattooed a small flower onto her ankle, sealing their love for each other.
The tattoo community is mourning the loss of Bill Salmon. Salmon’s work contributed to the standard that tattoos should be held to, particularly in the San Francisco area. Not only will his work be missed, but so will his music. Anyone who knew Salmon never had a bad word to say about him. Bill Salmon is survived by his wife of 31 years and by every person walking around with one of his tattoos etched into their skin.