People get tattoos for a variety of reasons. For some, it’s to honor a loved one or a memory. Others simply like collecting art, and a tattoo gives them a way to keep a piece forever. Regardless of their motivation, Meade Countians have a local artist available to them for their needs: Tray Benham at Big Daddy’s Tattoo, located at 138 Broadway St. in Brandenburg.
Tray, who owns the shop, says that most people don’t know his real name isn’t Tray. His name is actually Garland Benham III. Kids in his first-grade class used to tease him about his name, saying “Isn’t that what you put on Christmas trees?” He and his parents sat down and came up with the nickname Tray, referencing the “third” in his name.
Raised right here in Brandenburg, Benham started drawing at around age 6. His family couldn’t afford canvas or large amounts of paper, so he would draw movie monsters, Star Trek characters, and things out of MAD magazine on the inside front and last pages of old books. He even did some artwork on the walls of his room. He says he was disciplined for it, but it was worth it.
It didn’t take long for Benham to start getting “paid” for his work.
“I remember in third grade up to fifth or sixth grade, kids would trade me toys or cheese and cracker snack packs just to draw UK Wildcats beating up the U of L Cardinal or drawings of them with big muscles and all kinds of crazy stuff,” said Benham.
At an early age, Benham looked up to artists like Big Daddy Roth, and was very inspired by comics like DC and Marvel. As he grew older, he picked up different styles of art mostly inspired by emotions or music in his teenage years, which were spent skateboarding and drawing.
“If it wasn’t for art, there’s no telling where I would have ended up,” said Benham.
Once Benham got to high school, kids started doing homemade tattoos, but they “couldn’t draw a lick,” according to Benham. They would pay him to do the drawing, and they would do the poking.
Benham’s brother Virgil came back from the Army with tattoos, and Benham was so infatuated with them that he talked his brother into going with him to some tattoo shops in Radcliff. This resulted in Benham getting a spot to apprentice under a tattoo artist that was world renowned. He showed Benham the ropes both of tattooing and business.
Benham got the nickname “Big Daddy” from an early customer of his. At that time, tattoo shops were “old school and hard to deal with,” according to Benham. He made the man feel at home, laughed with him, and they shared a lot of the same thoughts and ideas. The man ended up getting lots of tattoos and spread the word about Benham, telling his friends that he was the man to see if you wanted a tattoo.
“He’s a big ole boy. Just ask for Big Daddy, he will know I sent ya,” the man would say.
Benham liked the name.
“The name stuck with me for a couple of reasons,” said Benham. “I was a big ole dude, and Big Daddy Roth was one of my favorite artists.”
Benham says he feels like he was on the forefront of the world changing for tattoos. Gone were the days where only criminals and bikers got tattoos. Professional athletes, doctors, teachers and rock stars were now heavily tattooed. Benham says that styles he created in the 90s are still being produced and copied by artists today.
“I would say I was one of the artists that created the art form of New School, which was a mix of graffiti art and skateboard art,” said Benham.
Soon, Benham began being recognized for his work, winning awards at tattoo conventions, being on the cover of magazines, and tattooing famous rock stars traveling through.
In 1997, Benham opened his first Big Daddy’s Tattoo in Radcliff. It exploded in popularity, and two years later, he opened his second location in Elizabethtown.
By 2009, Benham was getting burned out, but he was chosen as a contestant on the popular television show Ink Masters. Benham says that, due to medical issues and not tattooing much in recent years before that, he didn’t do as well as he’d like, but that wasn’t the end of his time on the silver screen. He then appeared on the show “Lizard Lick Towing” as well as being interviewed on various news channels. Benham even walked the red carpet at the Kentucky Derby.
However, as Benham moved further and further into the public eye, the attention brought on anxiety. He decided to regroup and go back to his roots by opening a shop in his home town of Brandenburg. He doesn’t tattoo as often as he once did, instead spending more time with his family and loved ones as well as creating paintings.
Still, Benham breaks out the needle and ink when the time comes. Tony Moran, who is known for playing the unmasked Michael Myers in the 1978 horror classic “Halloween”, traveled from California to Brandenburg just to get tattooed by Benham.
Benham says that he loves this world and everyone in it, and he’s very appreciative of those that have supported him for all these years.
“Every bit of it makes me who I am and pushes me to keep climbing that hill.”
Benham says he doesn’t know what’s next for him, but he plans to roll with the punches.
“If the world keeps going crazy, I might run for President,” said Benham.
He’s also looking for an in to appear on Dancing with the Stars.
“Let’s make it happen. I’ve got moves for days,” said Benham.
Check out Tray Benham on his various social media platforms, or just pay him a visit at one of his three shops in the area.