Talking to a legendary tattoo artist while parked in front of Lowe’s




I’m not a tattoo guy. At no point in my life have I been the slightest bit tempted to get a tattoo. I suspect my lack of interest in getting inked has less to do with the aesthetics of tattoos and more to do with their permanent nature. A person’s art tastes change over time. I like the print I currently have hanging in my kitchen, but I know I’ll be ready to replace it with something else in a year or two.

Though I’ll never have a bulldog inked on my bicep, I nonetheless was thrilled to have the opportunity to interview legendary tattoo artist Lyle Tuttle for NUVO Newsweekly. I prefer to chat with people who, on the surface, appear to have little in common with me, as the experience takes me out of my comfort zone and results in a conversation that’s rich with discoveries. Also, I inevitably realize that the person has much more depth and complexity than I realized going into the interview.

Annie Leibovitz took this photo of Tuttle for Rolling Stone’s 1972 Christmas card

Such was the case with Tuttle, who, with a body covered in tattoos and a client list that included Janis Joplin and Cher, was regarded as a bad-boy iconoclast during the counterculture era of the 1960s and ‘70s but who, in reality, is a Korean War vet who adores his family and prefers the slow pace of small-town life to the hustle and bustle of the big city. “I’ve never been a rebel,” he said to me at the close of our conversation, which took place over the phone, with Tuttle speaking from his home in the quiet Northern California town of Ukiah (he lives in the house he grew up in) and me sitting in my Prius while parked in front of a Lowe’s.

Tuttle was quite generous with his time. We talked for just shy of an hour. Unfortunately, I unwittingly hit the pause button on my digital recorder at the start of the interview, a gaffe that went unrealized until the interview hit the 15-minute mark. By then, Tuttle had told me captivating stories about his time in Korea and the experience of getting his first tattoo (a heart alongside the word “Momma”). I regret not being able to share these stories in my NUVO Q&A, but Tuttle gave me numerous engaging nuggets in the 40-some recorded minutes that followed.

I’ll continue to conduct phone interviews in my car, which provides surprisingly good acoustics. But, going forward, I’m going to use two digital recorders, just to play it safe given my gaffe-tending ways.