Meet the Merchant: Lyon King owns Red Dog

Lyon King, who has been tattooing since 1972, recently took over ownership of Red Dog Tattoo Long Beach.

“I wanted to tattoo my whole life, ever since I can remember. I was 15 when I got my first one. A week later, I got two more and did my first one.”

I’ve been tattooing since 1972. I’ve worked in 42 different states plus Mexico and Puerto Rico. I owned 21st Century Tattoo in Portland for over 20 years. I came here in a guest spot, then a summer spot and wound up buying the place. I’m very happy here.”

“The first tattoo I got was a rebel flag and it said “Rebel” underneath it, I was 15. It was done by hand with India ink needle and thread. A week later, I got two more. My friend Randy did it for me. The first one I did by hand was on him. It was an Aquarius sign.”

“Lyle Tuttle. He’s the father of the modern tattoo renaissance. He tattooed Janis Joplin and his son tattooed Cher in San Francisco. I was in Richmond, California and my closest competitor was Pinky Yun. I also had Ricky Tattoo Studio over on Alameda, who just come over from Hong Kong and was in his prime — he was a tough act to follow. They made me get really good, really fast.”

“There have been trends through the years. When I first started tattooing in 1972, 25 percent of our clients were women. They would get little roses and butterflies generally on their chest or lower stomach. Then we went through the phase of the unicorns. Then the 1990s came along and dolphins on the ankle were the unicorns of the 90s. Then came the kanji symbols, tribal armbands and the so called “tramp stamp,” which is actually an elegant tattoo done on the lower back. Now we have what we call the “White girl 2016,” and that’s variations on the infinity sign or the feather with the little bird silhouettes flying out of it. The new place that women are often getting them is right below the bra strap. A lot of people get married at the beach so we do a lot of anniversary and commemorative tattoos.”

“They tell a story of who you are and where you’ve been. It’s marking a period in time. I can remember every tattoo — who I was with, the songs on the radio, the cars I had, the girl I was dating — it’s etched in your skin.”

“Yes and no. If they request something that’s not going to last, or not going to work. We’re not the moral tattoo police, I’ve never refused anything from that point of view. I feel a tattooist should be a clear conduit to transmit the client’s vision of what they want.”

“These two brothers came in. One of them wanted “I hate my life” and the other one wanted “and I want to die.” It was one I was about ready to refuse until I heard their story. They had mental problems and were institutionalized. And one day, one of them said “I hate my life” and the other said “and I want to die” and they looked at each other and started giggling and laughing. And whenever they were having a bad day it became their mantra. It turned out to be a positive thing for them.”

“Generally, it’s painful wherever you have nerve endings close together, like over major organs or blood vessels. Over the solar plexus, anything on the center of the body. Armpits are no picnic. If it feels good to lick it, it probably hurts to tattoo it.”

“Versatility number one. I’m very good at — and very much enjoy — doing cover up and fix ups. I’m good at seeing the negative space. With cover ups you’re not just blasting over it, you’re having to disguise it. The solution to tattoo nightmares I would say is my forte.”

“The trend now is they’re becoming way more visible. Twenty years ago, people would say ‘It has to be where my shirt sleeve covers it.’ You’re seeing more above the collar line and below the wrist. An old-time tattooist would tell you “it’s illegal to tattoo below the wrist.”

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