Talk about getting
close to the band! Eaves
drop on this Mötley conversation with renowned Sunset
Strip Tattoo ink pusher Greg James, conducted during April 2001, as he
yaks about the many times he's got under the Crüe's skin and left his
mark on their lives forever. Greg's art has helped create the Mötley
image, that has helped them to sell over 40 million albums worldwide.
This site traces the complete history of Mötley Crüe Greg and I'd like
to step back in your career to begin with. Can you tell me about how you came to be a tattoo artist, and working
at one of the world's most famous studios - Sunset Strip Tattoo?
James: Well my brother Dave apprenticed me around late 1974. At that
time, a man named Cliff Raven owned Sunset and he was at that time the
very best tattooer around, specializing in Japanese and brand new
innovative styles of tattooing. I knew that if I stuck it out and
worked, maybe I would get a shot at working for him. He truly inspired
me. His partner in 1985 was Robert Benedetti, an amazing and innovative
tattooer whose work impressed me. I based a lot of my tattooing style
on those two guys. I felt I was ready and went to talk to Cliff. He and
Robert liked my work and felt they could take me to a higher level of
tattooing, so they gave me a job. About a year later, Cliff retired and
sold the business to Robert. Robert was known for tattooing all the
celebs in Hollywood, so after about two years he was ready to slow down
working, and he has been retired for about eight or nine years now. I
started taking over his clients and started to become friends with
Nikki Sixx around late '86. After doing a few tattoos on Nikki, I got
to do some work on the rest of the Crüe.
So what was the first tattoo you inked on Nikki, and what do you
recall about that session?
To the best of my memory, which is not so f@cking great, it was on
Valentines Day around 1990 and he had called and set up an
appointment. He wanted a cherub or cupid like angel with a ribbon with
his wife's name in it. Funny thing was, when they came in for the
tattoo, I had spelled Brandi wrong on the stencil. I had Brandy. Whoops!
So a quick change of a letter on the stencil and a few hours later the
tattoo was done.
I am not sure if that was the very first tattoo I done on him but I
sure remember that day the most. It was always cool having the guys
come to the shop. They would always go out of their way to be cool to
everyone and give autographs, and sometimes buy a tattoo for someone.
We had a lot of times like that, when they would just come in.
That's cool of them. So Nikki had already had his right sleeve done by that
Yeh Robert Benedetti, the guy that owned Sunset Strip Tattoo, did the
How much of his left sleeve did you then do, after the angel?
I did the octopus on the upper part of the arm and on the chest, and
after their Japan tour he had a Samurai done by Horiwakka on his
lower forearm, and then as time went on I finished the left arm. I
think I finished most of it in Vancouver, BC. They flew me in and put
me up, to do tattooing on them while they were recording with John
Corabi. We turned the hotel room into a tattoo shop. There is a video
of it out there somewhere... fucking fun!
Cool. So that's where they had the album's working title Til Death Do
Us Part tattooed on them then, was it?
No, they did those tattoos right before Vancouver. The guys were in
the studio in L.A. and it was happening real good. One night they ALL
came in and got the [Til] Death Do Us Part tattoos. I didn't get to
do any of those 'cause I was working on another guy for a while. Eric
[Blair] at the shop did John and a guy named Kobo did Mick. I think
Eric did Nikki also and... well shit, I just can't recall who did
Tommy... maybe Mike.
It was a great night and I think after I was done with the guy I was
working on, I tattooed Nikki with a tribal piece as a cover of some
weird thing on his leg. It was a very rare and cool bonding moment for
the guys. They were so having fun and into making music and just ready
to kick some rock'n'roll ass! We had a great night and it was
pretty late when it was all said and done. All done without booze,
chicks, drugs, and whatever - just tattooing and music and some good
times. I remember John singing Shout At The Devil as would be sung
by Frank Sinatra. Very Funny!
[laughs] Nikki's back job was also progressing at this time. What can you
tell me about that?
Well it was pretty straight forward. Nikki found the design and I drew
it up and we started doing it. We did it at the Sunset Strip shop and
I think after we did the outline, we worked on the tattoo every week
until it was done. It was fun having him at the shop that much.
Would that be your favourite tattoo you've done on Nikki to date?
I think when his daughter drew the heart tattoo that is on his leg
probably would be. I have a lot of favourite tattoos on Nikki, but that
day was real special. I was at their house tattooing Nikki and Donna,
and Stormy drew a design. Nikki got me to tattoo it on his leg while I
was doing a dragonfly (from memory) on him. I did a sun on Donna and
her son's name [Rhyan] that day. Also, it was cool as I had my son
David with me and he was swimming with the [Sixx] kids. After, we all
had dinner. Nikki and Donna cooked.
CC: Wow. That's certainly sounds like a
very special day. Kevin Brady from Sunset
inked a lot of the Crüe's early tattoos then designed the album cover
flash art on Dr.Feelgood. What do you recall about that?
Kevin is a very talented artist and it was fun. I learned a lot from
watching him do the work. It was interesting times... full party mode
at that time. I won't say anymore about that.
CC: Can you say then what the
vibe within the studio was like, when the album went Number 1?
GJ: We were ALL very excited to be
involved. It was 'Mötley RULES' around the shop. I can't
remember all the kids that wanted to get Mötley tattoos but it was a
lot. They made a great impression on the local music scene as I am
sure the whole country. We would get collect calls from girls and guys
all over the world asking for Vince or Nikki or Tommy or Mick... like
they were hanging out all the time or maybe lived there or something,
hoping to talk to one of them or find out something. I think our phone
bill was as much as the cost of the tattooing we did on them for a
couple of months. After a while, we just had to hang up. Some of the
calls were funny!
The video clip for Dr. Feelgood shows the Sunset Strip Tattoo
logo. Were you able to be on set for any of the filming?
GJ: No, as a matter of fact they did it
all on a sound stage and we didn't even know until the video came out.
Right, OK. The Sunset Strip Tattoo logo was then visible again as part
of the New Tattoo stage set. Did you see any of these shows, and how
did it perhaps compare in your opinion to other Crüe shows you may have
seen over the years?
GJ: I was able to go to
some of the rehearsals and see them put the New Tattoo show together.
That was very cool. I liked that show. My favourite was the Maximum
Rock tour with The Scorpions because I got to go out with them for a
week. All in all, I think the shows got better musically and were more
You also designed some flash for Nikki's bass
guitar which he used on that last tour. How did that come about and
what was the process in getting it on his aural weapon?
GJ: I was hanging out
at rehearsal, and well... every time the guys do something, they like
to have a sort of tattoo tie in, like New Tattoo. I was going to
tattoo, or do or paint designs, or do something to Randy's drum kit,
but it got too involved and there wasn't enough time. Nikki said he
always wanted to have a tattooed bass.
GJ: I think if time
and money were no object, and then if the ideas the boys come up with came
to light and happened, people would shit themselves... the imagination
CC: We've seen some
tattoo artists go on and play in rock bands recently; guys like
Kevin Quinn in American Pearl, and Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst. Are you a
player yourself and ever had aspirations of rocking the stages
around the world?
GJ: Oh yeah... I play guitar. I know how to play
the E cord.
GJ: Kevin Quinn in American Pearl... RULES.
CC: Yeh I think they're a great band too. He's
tattooed a fair bit of the Buckcherry guys I believe... and I notice
your name in the new Buckcherry CD with a thanks next to it, which is
cool. Tell me a bit about those guys.
GJ: Well Kevin did a lot of work on
those guys and since his band got signed, he hasn't been tattooing
much. The guys from Buckcherry, Josh [Joshua Todd] and Keith [Nelson]
mostly, started coming to us. I did two on Josh's hands and a spider
on his stomach. Eric Blair did one on his neck and Paul Timin did the
other on the neck and is in the process of doing his lower (I think)
right leg. I did a nice rose and name thing on the guitarist Keith.
These guys rule and their
new CD [Time Bomb] is great. They are a bunch of fun when they
Yeh they're one of my favourite bands... and my sons. Who are some of the other bands and
celebs that you have tattooed in your career to date?
GJ: I have had
the privilege of tattooing so many celebrities since I have been at
Sunset, it is amazing. I know I should have made a list but to me it
was never that important. All I know is that they are all cool to me
and the shop, and in so many ways they are just like us. Most of the
time, I don't even know they are famous until someone says, "Do
you know who that is?" I guess I lead a very sheltered life... I
am consumed with tattooing most of the time.
CC: Yeh sure.
GJ: I did tattoo THANKS on Ozzy's hand once.
Robert [Benedetti] did all the cool stuff. He is an amazing guy! On our
website there is a partial list of famous people and celebs we
have done. The list is growing and we don't really keep track all that
much. So many people complain that we don't take photos of their
tattoos or of them posing... well, after you have been tattooed the
last thing you want to do is hang around for a photo, and also we feel
that if we did that, then a lot of people would want the same tattoo,
and that would just get boring.
CC: True. We've spoken about Nikki's
tatts a lot, but what are some of the tattoos you have done on Vince,
Tommy and Mick?
GJ: When I was in Vancouver with the Crüe, I did
the back of Tommy's left arm with a koi and water. I also finished some stuff on various parts of his
body. Paul [Patterson] is working on him currently and I think Eric
[Blair] did one on him a few years ago. On Mick, I did the skull band,
a rose and skull design, and most recently the spider on his right
arm. On Vince, I did the barbed wire and the name Skylar, the chest
design of a cross, the tiger stripe back piece and various small
tattoos. I also did some work for John when he was in the band.
CC: That's a lot of hours there.
GJ: Yeh... all the guys have been great to
tattoo. They ALWAYS appreciate it and always send you their friends.
They are big tattoo fans and on many occasions they have bought
tattoos for customers when they used to come to the shop.
CC: Hey, they can buy me one anytime! My
artist says my skin is really good for inking. Who has the best and
worst skin in Mötley generally, for tattooing do you feel?
GJ: They're all good!
CC: I hear that the needle configuration called
Rakes is as good as double flats with less needles. Have you ever
am not sure what those are.
CC: Oh OK.
GJ: Maybe over here they are called
Magnums... in any case, I just use flat shaders for large areas and
small rounds for the tight stuff.
CC: Sure. Does Nikki prefer flats or rounds?
GJ: He and the guys don't have a
preference. We've got a deal - we don't make music and they don't tell
us what to use on their tattoos.
CC: Well that sounds like a wise deal
The Fan Ink section on Chronological Crue
shows heaps of Crüe related tattoos adorning fans around the world.
You mentioned earlier about Crüeheads coming in to get tattoos. Are there
any Mötley related tattoos you've done on fans that stand out in your
GJ: Well, mostly it has been small
ones such as a rose like Nikki's, or something like that. I did the
dragon and tattoo machine from the cover of New Tattoo on a friend of Vince's, and a
few years ago I did an Allister Fiend real big on this guy named
Mobean. My favourite has been the cartoons of the guys from their
Greatest Hits CD. I have done those on this girl named Star. We did them
as big as we could around her ankle. She is the nicest girl and a
huge fan of the Crüe.
CC: That sounds cool. They are welcome to submit
pictures of course. What are the most recent
pieces you have done on the Mötley guys?
GJ: Well, the latest is a treble clef on Nikki's
hand [as shown in the many pictures herein] to match the bass clef he had
done in Japan on the other hand, and his newest daughter Frankie's
name on his wrist. That is when this last photo [below] was taken.
CC: Yeh that's a cool photo. One last question:
if you could look into your crystal ball, what do you see the Crüe up
to in five years from now?
GJ: Five years from now? That is a big
question. I can't imagine what I will be doing. Hopefully doing cool
tattoos. Well I will go out on limb here and guess that the Crüe with
Nikki's direction and all the talent of the guys, will bring something
that resembles some great rock'n'roll music back to us. I think it is
up to all of us to not accept the churned out bullshit that some of
these suits try to market to us. Good old rock and "love songs
written from their dicks" quoting Sixx!
GJ: Can't believe I said that. [laughs] Maybe
Randy and Tommy on drums. I would like that. Two drummers would kick
ass. Some bluesy rock riffs ala Mars and hard ass kickin' bass and of
course Vince's awesome front man show. After some time off, I think
the guys can do it.
CC: Let's hope so. Thanks very much for your time Greg. I'll
save some skin for you if ever you're down in Australia, or if I ever
make it across the Pacific one year.
GJ: Thanks Paul, for including me
in this. Let me know when it is all done and up. Love to meet you
sometime. Shout at the Devil.
For Nuthin' : Simply say the words "Mr. Crüe Tattoo" when
booking your next appointment with Greg James and receive a special discount courtesy of
In 2012, Greg opened
his own shop!
4531 Van Nuys Blvd,
Sherman Oaks, California 91403
to Alex Berthod for the introduction.
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