Monday, June 13, 2011

Ralph "Sonny" Barger; Godfather of the Hells Angels and creator of the outlaw look.

Hells Angels legend Ralph “Sonny” Barger is probably somewhere around 75 years old, but still looks like a vibrant man in his mid 50’s, close-cropped white hair and clean shaven. He looks more like a MARINES drill sergeant than a lifelong outlaw as he moves through the room with the confidence and sureness of a sultan in his harem.
This is the man, the legend, the one who moulded the Hells Angels into what they are. It’s not a stretch to say that Sonny Barger was a visionary who essentially created the image of the outlaw biker as we know it.
Going back as far as the late 50’s until this day, Sonny Barger and his crew which consisted of cats who are LEGENDARY in the outlaw biker world: Johnny Angel, Terry The Tramp, Magoo, Junkie George, Mouldy Marvin, Cisco Valderama, with a host of other members from their Hells Angels Charter, created the image-- the leather, the hair, the grime, the hardness, the silence, the impenetrability, the bikes, and everything that constitutes an outlaw biker, especially the bikes.
Without the Hells Angels we wouldn’t have floor model Harleys that look like striped down scream machines. No Ape Hangers (motorcycle handle bars with grips above the shoulders), no flared fenders, no bitch bars (sissy bars), no spool wheels, no front end extenders. There would be less chrome, less creative custom paint jobs, less style, The HA were obsessed with going fast, and without this obsession bikes would be slower. They were relentless in stripping their bikes of all but the barest essentials. The formula was simple, less weight and bigger engines equalled more speed. Every pound they shed gained them 2 miles per hour. Thus “CHOPPERS” – chopped down motorcycles. What they did was mimicked by everyone who wanted to be a Hells Angels but couldn’t be. Their influence can be seen today in bikes designed by Jesse James of West Coast Choppers and the Teutuls at Orange County Choppers.
Bikes aside, a world without Sonny Barger would look pretty much the same, but the world of the outlaw biker, if it even existed, would look a hell of a lot different. He is the iconic outlaw biker, and all members of every club all look up to him as the godfather of their culture. He is respected for who he is but he is also respected for his vision. He saw the Angels could go international. That though American in origin, they didn’t have to be limited to American Borders. Former ATF agent Jay Dobyns refers to the Hells Angels and in part all American style biker gangs as the USA’s only organised crime export. This is all because of Ralph “Sonny” Barger. He embodies everything about the Hells Angels from their distinct image to their contradictions.
The contradictions you ask?

The Hells Angels are separate from society, but they’re rooted in it; they’re nonconformists, but they all look the same; they’re a secret society, but also flamboyant exhibitionist; they diss the laws of the land but they’re governed by a strict code, protocols, and rules; their name and “death head” logo represents freedom, individualism, toughness, and lawlessness, but both name and logo are protected by trademarks; and since the very beginning , again, this is all the doing of Ralph “Sonny” Barger.

Source: Jay Dobyns- Former undercover agent for ATF.

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