top of page
GJT Koi red and gold header.png
Greg James_edited_edited.jpg
Koi & Water, GJT Logo.png

Greg James

Greg James tattoos Rick Stratton's memorial tatt_edited.jpg

Timeless Artistry. Custom Tattoos. Unforgettable Experience.

From his start in 1976 tattooing with his brother, Tennessee Dave, Greg James has long established his reputation as a skilled, understated, and thoughtful tattoo artist. Revered for his attractive tattoo style and humble technique, Greg's custom artwork is worn by many notable clients and recognized around the world. From single-needle black-and-grey work, to classic Americana tattoos, Greg honed his craft and artistry through many years tattooing in Los Angeles, California.

"I wanted to do superlative work. So, I made a choice. I would either quit tattooing or try to get in with Cliff Raven at Sunset Strip Tattoo. Cliff hired me. That's the beginning of the story." - Greg James

After years working with and learning alongside pioneers and innovators in the Japanese tattoo industry, Cliff Raven and later Robert Benedetti, at The Sunset Strip on Hollywood Boulevard, Greg emerged as an eminent figure in the tattoo community. Through building the stature of this legendary studio for 25+ years, Greg's reputation solidified as "the real star at Sunset...the tattoo artist's tattooer". In 2012 Greg opened his own tattoo studio, Tattoos Deluxe, in Sherman Oaks, California, before bringing his 48+ years of tattoo experience from Los Angeles, CA, to Elizabeth City, NC.





Greg 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. CC: So what was the first tattoo you inked on Nikki, and what do you recall about that session? GJ: To the best of my memory, which is not so fucking 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! GJ: 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'd 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. CC: That's cool of them. So Nikki had already had his right sleeve done by that time, right? GJ: Yeh Robert Benedetti, the guy that owned Sunset Strip Tattoo, did the right arm. CC: How much of his left sleeve did you then do, after the angel? GJ: 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! CC: Cool. So that's where they had the album's working title Til Death Do Us Part tattooed on them then, was it? GJ: 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. CC: Oh OK. GJ: 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! CC: [laughs] 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. CC: Would that be your favourite tattoo you've done on Nikki to date? GJ: 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 funny! 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. CC: 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! CC: 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. CC: Cool. 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 is amazing. 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. CC: [laughs] 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 come around. CC: 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 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. 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! CC: [laughing] 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.   Sumthin' 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. In 2012, Greg opened his own shop!

Tattoos Deluxe
4531 Van Nuys Blvd,
Sherman Oaks, California 91403
Phone: 818-783-1323



Tattooing for me started out in around 1967 when my parents were moving from Chicago , Illinois, to Arizona, so they asked my older brother, Dave, to keep an eye on me until they got settled in. I was going on 14 and my brother ( Tennessee Dave ) was a tattooer in one of the oldest shops in L.A., West Coast Tattoo. When not in school I was at the shop making needles, sweeping and cleaning - basically learning the tattoo game. Stayed with my brother about 4-6 months and then went to Arizona and finished High School. My brother Dave was one of the biggest influences on my life, he had a way with words .... always making light of the worst situations, find Art in everything I see , the sky , nature , buildings, animals...if you look you can find art in everything. I also find people are the most interesting... I guess that is why tattooing works for me. Your Canvas always has something to say. After High School I had been working as an Automotive Machinist but I had decided that Tattooing was for me around 1974 when I came back to L.A. to tattoo and live with my brother. He had sort of apprenticed me when I was younger, so after some lessons I practiced on a Homeless Wino my Brother called Robert Burns after the cigars the guy smoked. We never did find out his real name, I tattooed him for free fo a whole week straight and then my brother Dave says that’s enough your ready to work. I did around 4-5 eagles and panthers on poor Robert, you learn the shading doing those designs. I started tattooing with Tennessee Dave in Downtown L.A. ( 5th. and Main ) at West Coast and a few shops on the Long Beach Pike. We worked for Captain Jim , he had three shops at the pike. Those days Friday through Sunday we would open the shop in Downtown from 10AM. to around 5 PM, drive to Long Beach until sometimes 2 - 3 AM. A lot of great artists worked on the L.B Pike in thosedays. When I was younger, my brother was getting tattooed by some of the best tattooers , Bob Shaw, Phil Sims , Don Nolan, (Don gave the Nickname Tennessee Dave to my brother ), Zeke Owen and others. That was my first exposure to Japanese Style Tattooing, I fell in love with that kind of work. The Pike was great because you would see work from all over the World, it was there I got to see in person tattoos by Sailor Jerry, Ed Hardy, Mike  Malone, and my biggest influence was Cliff Raven. When we would sometimes get someone come in the shop with a real Japanese Body Suit it was nuts ... we would beg the guy for pictures and to make him show us the work. Back in those days, of course, there were the Great Tattoo Masters of Japan but we had very little access to their work, not like today with the internet. I have Great Respect for the Japanese Tattoo Masters. Back then you really had to seek out someone and find them to get access to there work. I have always been influenced by the Japanese style tattooing, I love the way the tattooing looks and the way it fits the body and also the fact that the images are timeless and do not date the wearer. I love bright, solid colors in tattoos. Around 1975- 1976 the work of Good Time Charlie and his crew was making a name in the business for doing the fine line work. I remember my brother saying around that time that he may have helped Charlie out with some Professional equipment. This guy my Brother and I worked for, Captain Jim, for some reason decided to buy the building Charlie and his Crew were renting and kicked them out and then took over the shop. He already had measured things and had signs made, the shop called Tattoo Heaven was open and running a few days after the escrow was done. I was unfortunately given the task to go and try to run this place. I had zero knowledge of the East L.A. culture and also the single needle work. My desire for Japanese style tattooing was well known and I was working and developing it as best I could. I was copying Cliff Raven flash designs and putting them up when I met Creeper. He had worked for Good Time Charlie and when I got moved out to East L.A. he agreed to come work there with me. He SAVED me and taught me the culture and the rules and showed me how to do the fine line single needle tattooing. In around October of 1985 I was feeling that I had to have a change, the years on the boulevard had taken a major toll on me and I decided that if I can’t do what I wanted to do that it was it - I was going to quit tattooing. Tattooing was going into a down turn, the economy was not doing great and there was an increasing  scare of HIV and then thankfully was proven that there was never an incident of infection by tattooing. I went to Sunset Strip Tattoo and met with the Manager Martin Robson, Martin was an amazing and talented artist and very humble. For some reason he had known of my work and they were looking to hire someone, so he arranged a meeting with Cliff. Cliff Raven hired me to work in his Sunset Strip Tattoo Shop, the shop he bought from Lyle Tuttle in the very late 60's. I was SO excited...I couldn't believe it. This shop had become one of the most famous places inthe world to get a tattoo! I really looked up to Cliff and admired his tattooing, his style had the biggest influence on me. He mentored me for about a year and then he was moving away to the desert 29 Palms, he was winding down his career and was getting ready to retire. Cliff sold the shop to his partner Robert Benedetti and Robert decided to keep me on. He kept helping me and I learned so much those year, it was a GREAT time for tattooing. Basically in the 80's there were not many shops around and I was lucky enough to be working at one that had the best reputation for tattooing celebrities. Cliff Raven did Ringo Star's only Tattoo ( a shooting star ), Peter Fonds'a Nautical Star. Robert Benedetti had done Cher and so many others ... ( long list ), Robert was sort of retiring at the time so I sort of inherited some of his clientele. That is when I met and got to tattoo Nikki Sixx and Tommy Lee and all the guys from Mötley Crüe. It was coming to the end of the aids scare and people were starting to become educated on the facts and beginning to get tattooed again ... the biggest thing was the ROCK STAR TATTOOS. All the rock stars were getting tattoo work done, and a lot of celebrities as well - although they kept it on the quiet side. Robert was tattooing Guns and Roses and I had Motley Crue in the chair, some fun times. We always treated them good and respected their privacy. Tattoos were fun then ... no real serious meanings, it was just about whatever you were into and music and FUN. The best thing about being a tattooer is the relationship you get from the clients and the instant satisfaction of the completed tattoo, and  also seeing how proud and happy the work makes people feel. The only downside is since tattooing has become so mainstream the average person just thinks getting a tattoo now is like buying a TV or something, they only think of the cost, not knowing that what they are actually buying is the artists time, skill and experience. The perfect client is someone that sees your work and lets you do their idea in the style that you work in and doesn't feel that they have to control or direct you because they are smart enough to trust the fact that if they liked what they see then they will like what they get. A customer can fuck up a tattoo with just a few words because all they have to do is start to direct you and then you can no longer think for yourself, your brain just says I will just let them tell me how they want it and then you are no longer comfortable to go all out on the work. We know it is hard to give up that control, but that is part of the process, just like the the pain and the cost....No one enjoys the process of getting it but that is the only way you get the results. In Japan the Master has a consultation with you and if he connects with you and agrees to do the tattooing it is accepted that he has the knowledge  to know what is right for you. When you look at REAL ART you HAVE to be humble, I consider myself as a Fine Craftsmen and I feel very lucky to maybe have other tattoo artists look up to my work. I continue to work hard and always trying to learn more to finetune my skills and the craft I put into tattooing, I think the clients motivate you and if you are lucky enough to get to your salad days, hopefully you won't have to compromise yourself much and just be able to do the things you like to do. I am always motivated to do what I like instead of some demand on my time. Tattooing used to be closed to the public because we wanted to protect the craft and the business so it was hard to get information. If someone wanted to learn it was hard, they had to really try hard so you knew they were serious and that you could show them whats important and teach some ethics , and maybe trust them. They would carry on what you were doing and you would give them all your knowledge and hopefully take it further than you could. Now it doesn't matter. ( People .... they go on E bay buy some stuff , tattoo your friends , open a shop , hire a bunch of others ... teach a bunch of 'it don't matter whatever, I famous I’m on TV'. Whatever they never had to sit in a street shop and tattoo some gang banger high on PCP, or drunk off their ass......that was paying your dues, I think. I appreciate all the great guys that continue to share and I think it is important but only to those that give a shit. If someone is serious and does it right I will share everything I have learned, for my whole career tattooing has been very good to me and I thank and respect all the fine people that have come before me and that have helped me along the way. I do appreciate all the new talent in our industry, as well. I worked at Sunset Strip Tattoo for 27 years and in 2012 I left and opened my own shop, and Called it Tattoos Deluxe. I bought the shop from my old apprentice Eric Blair ( Subculture Tattoo ). I picked the name because if you want a tattoo you would most likely want to have a Deluxe one done.  Deluxe meant that something is better than just a regular thing in the 50’s and 60’s. Also the letters TD are initials for Tennessee Dave. My son David works there with me, he was apprenticed by Robert Benedetti in around 1999 and worked only part time tattooing until I opened my shop in 2012. He had worked a couple of years with his Uncle Dave and when Dave closed West Coast Tattoo, David tattooed at Sunset Strip Tattoo. I continue to work five days a week and trying to stay busy. My guys at the shop David James, Chris Bass and Noah Baxter keep the shop going. They are great tattooers and I am very proud of them. I am also lucky to have my old friend Pascal aka BUGS doing his appointment’s at my shop. I also have guest spotting my buddy Eric Blair, also my old friend Kevin Quinn. Why get and average tattoo when you can have it DELUXE!


kingpin logo tattoo supply.webp
eternal ink logo_edited.png


ADDRESS : 1401 N. Road Street, Elizabeth City, NC 27909

  • Facebook
  • Instagram


Web and graphic design by Carly Sutherland.

bottom of page