about getting close to the band! Eaves drop on this Mötley
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.
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!
CC: Oh no!
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 time, right?
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?
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
CC: Oh OK.
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!
Nikki's back job was also progressing at this time. What can you tell
me about that?
GJ: 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.
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?
GJ: 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
CC: 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 fun!
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.
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 is amazing.
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
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 come
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?
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
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 tried that?
GJ: I 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 to me. 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 mind?
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
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 Chronological Crue.
Greg opened his own shop!
4531 Van Nuys Blvd,
Sherman Oaks, California 91403
Thanks to Alex Berthod for the introduction.
more ?? Click to see the complete
listing of Chronological Crue interviews.
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