Editorís Note: For over 40 years Andy Anderson has been molding, flaking, pearling, striping, and shooting his way through life. A cornerstone of custom bike finishers down South, Andy has been squirting out legendary paint from his hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, since he was in his teens. We were lucky enough to get the spray gun and masking tape out of his hands long enough to ask him a few questions regarding his past, present, and future.
What year was it when you started professionally?
I never intended to be a custom painter or bike builder as a professional. I wanted to be an illustrator doing album covers. The painting was just something that happened at the right time and really worked for me. One of my first paying jobs was in 1969 or early í70 doing some pinstriping. By í72 C&S Custom Cycles had seen some of my work and that led into being their painter. My grandfather was very supportive of my work, so I pretty much set his garage up as a paint bike shop until I got my own shop in 1976. What/who got you into painting?
There really wasnít anyone that got me into it. I was just interested in it. Got into it because I thought I could do a better job on my own bike than anyone else. There was an older guy in the area named David Garfinkle who had chopped a í46 Knucklehead. Heshowed me how to mold frames in fiberglass, but he didnít paint. At some point around that time I discovered a painter in California who was selling epoxy clear and primer like Paint by Molly used on the AEE bikes. I called and spoke to him and was given a lot of useful info. My first jobs were candies out of spray cans. I didnít know where to buy real paint. I eventually borrowed a compressor to put the clear coats on. I even cut my own 1/8- and 1/4-inch tape from a roll of 3/4-inch masking tape because I didnít know you could buy that size. Iíd even heard guys taking rolls of tape to a deli and getting them to slice them on the meat cutter.
Were you a rider who got into painting bikes or vice versa?
With one of my best friendís families being one of the original Harley dealers in the area it was a natural choice. Thereís something about motorcycles that attracted me at an early age. I was riding with a license at 14. Nobody in my family had a motorcycle when I was young, but my cousin and I loved them. He was like an older brother to me. The painting happened because I immediately wanted my bike to be different. That has never changed.
Were there any other painters who influenced you?
I started reading Cycle Guide Magazine because I saw some of Newtís drawings of a Yamaha custom Twin Jet 100 on the front. I canít remember the year. In Modern Cycle June of í69 Larry Watson had an article. Those articles fueled the fire. The later í60s, I think Tom McMullen wrote an article on customizing his Knucklehead called the Mindbender. This is where I was most influenced. He used Molly on his paintwork. Later on I respected other painters such as Art Himsl, Yosemite Sam, Kelsey Martin, Ron Finch, Bill Carter, Jeff McCann, and later Arlen and Dave Perewitz. What has influenced you outside of the motorcycle world?
Iím not sure because I was so absorbed with motorcyclesthe only other influence might have been some of the rock artists of that time. The guys who did album cover art. Mouse and Kelly, Rick Griffinthose guys. Being from Nashville and away from the hotbed of choppers, how did your style come to be?
I went to California in 1972 to see what was going on and met a guy by the name of Custom John who I bought my epoxy clear from. I even visited Street Chopper and met Steve Stillwell. At this time the first Mr. Knuckle bike had been shown in Daytona and made it into Street Chopper in a 1973 issue. Getting to California and seeing in person the work of AEE Choppers and Mollyís Paint was a real inspiration! I love to do flake with a strong emphasis of panel contour layout along with a lot of layering of candies and over-and-under stuff. I love color! I like to use complements, rainbows, and combinations of color families, warm and cool and neutrals. Knowing that you did a lot of wild paintjobs back in the day, what does your main business consist of currently?
In 1978 the gas crunch and recession hit me pretty hard. I couldnít pay the bills and had to figure out how to generate some cash. I had a buddy in art school who had done silk-screen shirt printing. He showed me the basics, and I printed a few shirts for the local bike shop and some one-off work for the Allman Brothers band. It took me 300 shirts to get about 100 good ones. At that point I figured thereís no way anyone can make money at this and I canned it all. Six years later and needing to pay bills I went to the bank and begged for a small loan and bought my first press. I had officially opened Anderson Studio Inc. My art reputation brought in some accounts, which led to what we primarily do today, printing music merchandise and bike shop shirts. This printing has allowed me to keep the doors open and still carry on my paint and motorcycle work.
With the EPA coming down on paint shops in the past few years, how do the new paints stack up to the old paints?
It was a real adjustment learning the urethanes from the old days of lacquers. I personally loved the lacquers. You could work on as many jobs at one time as you wanted and never worry if the paint was gonna stick. Since I was using epoxy clears, my work is still as good today as it was 35 or 40 years ago. Adhesion can be an issue if you donít sand properly, and paint layer bonding is critical. I really have to plan the job based on what stages can be done at what time and sequence.
We heard that if you make it big in the country music biz, you pretty much buy a Harley and a tour bus and have it painted by you. Is that true?
Well, I havenít done a tour bus in about 20 years or more. Those things are real suckers to paint, and even with the best respirators, there are too much fumes for me to handle. My lungs canít take it as well as they used to. I have painted quite a few bikes for some of the music guys, but itís usually through the Harley dealers, so Iím not sure they really know who did it. Jimmy Buffett, for instance, personally worked with me in í71 on what he wanted on his tour bus. Neil Young was nice enough to meet me and go over art I did for him. I painted and did designs for Charlie Daniels, Barbara Mandrell, Marty Robbins, and many others. What do you think of the current state of choppers compared to 40 years ago?
When the chopper thing hit in the late í50s all the way into the í70s, it was all new. Everything that was done was a new concept, design, or idea of a chopper. It might have been slightly inspired by something someone else had tried, but most of the work early on hadnít been seen before. It seemed like every issue of Street Chopper had a different style from a different part of the country I hadnít seen before. At least for me, each issue was like a Christmas present. You looked forward to new styles and creations. That part hasnít changed.
The bikes are way more ridable than in the í70s and more powerful. To see some of the old-style choppers come back around is really cool. These guys are doing a great job in adding their own version of what was done 40 years ago. I love it and like seeing more color and creativeness coming back.
What current bike projects do you have of your own?
My own personal motorcycle is an í83 Shovelhead thatís extensively customized. Itís an ongoing project that seems to never get finished. Every time I start back on it work comes in that needs to be done. I have to still pay bills, so itís on the back burner till whenever. Also in the mix is an í04 Road Glide and a few others that are shop projects, rigids and softails.
What do you do for fun outside of the paint world?
For the most part the paint and bikes are what I do for fun! Now I donít do much else because Iím here most of the time. When Iím not Iím with my family. And my wife and I have just had our first grandchild. I used to do a lot of underwater photography. Iíve also done a few triathlons and marathons in the last 10 years, but most of all I just try to keep fit enough to stay away from the doctors.
What is your finest achievement?
Besides the usual answer of family, a new granddaughter as well as a 34-year marriage and doing what I love for 40 years, I think being in Street Chopper again 39 years later is pretty cool to me!
Any last words?
I really enjoy everyone in this industry. I have done it this long because I love motorcycles and the people in it. I am truly honored that anyone would be interested in seeing what I do. Thank you for the privilege to be in Street Chopper. I thank everyone who has allowed me the opportunity to work for them. I hope that along the way I have brought them all some satisfaction and pleasure with the work I provided. I hope to be doing this for another 40 years.