Allman Brothers, Janis Joplin Tattoo Artist Lyle Tuttle Dies
Lyle Tuttle, a pioneer in the world of tattooing, has died at the age of 87.
The artist played a major role in bringing body art to the mainstream and left his permanent mark on many celebrity clients, including Janis Joplin, the Allman Brothers Band, Kiss' Paul Stanley, Cher and Joan Baez.
A statement on Tuttle’s Instagram reads, "We are heartbroken to communicate that our beloved friend Lyle passed away peacefully last night. ... He will always be our favorite tattooed prince. He lifted us with the magic in his soul and his bright spirit across oceans, time and space."
The full post can be seen below.
Tuttle became fascinated with tattoos at an early age. At 14, he noticed soldiers returning from World War II with various designs permanently inked on their bodies. “It looked like romance and adventure to me,” he said during an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle. “I know war isn’t like that, but I was fascinated.”
Tuttle quickly got his first tattoo. He would go on to have 95 percent of his body covered in art by the time of his death. He began tattooing throughout San Francisco in 1949. It wouldn’t be until many years later that Tuttle inked his first celebrity.
In 1970, Joplin ventured to Tuttle’s tattoo parlor and asked him design a bracelet-like piece around her wrist. Upon its completion, the singer asked for one more tattoo, a small heart on her breast. “Just a little treat for the boys,” she called it. “Like icing on the cake.”
Joplin became one of the world’s first tattooed celebrities, her artwork resonating with the women’s-liberation movement. A 1973 New York Times article chronicled the growing popularity of tattoos among women, pointing out that body art was no longer just for “tugboat Annies” and “women who work for Barnum & Bailey.” The same article referred to Tuttle as the “West Coast guru of the electric needle”: “Wherever tattooing is legal, Mr. Tuttle says, women are getting tattooed on their wherevers.”
In 1971, it was the Allman Brothers' turn to be inked by Tuttle. In an interview with Relix magazine, drummer Butch Trucks looked back on the experience. “There was a guy in San Francisco by the name of Lyle Tuttle, and Dickey [Betts] had really started in on tattoos," he recalled. "So he would go over and drop acid, and Lyle would just free-form on Dickey.”
When someone suggested the idea of a band tattoo, the drummer was hesitant. “I agreed I’d get a tattoo as long it was really small and out of the way," he said. "We came up with the idea of this little mushroom on our right calf. When we started the band, we did a lot of psilocybin and it had become a symbol of the Allman Brothers. So we all got into this hotel room in San Francisco and Lyle started tattooing everybody. I had a full bottle of Jack Daniels in me and that sucker still hurt — how Dickey sat around free-forming full of acid, I’ll never figure out.”
Tuttle retired from tattooing in 1990, though he continued occasionally decorating clients at his own discretion. Throughout his life, his passion for his chosen art form never waned.
"Tattoos are travel marks, stickers on your luggage," the artist proudly proclaimed on his website. "Tattoos are special, you have to go off and earn them. You can go into a jewelry store and buy a big diamond and slip it on your finger and walk out. It's not like that when you go into a tattoo shop and pick a big tattoo and pay for it. Now you got to sit down and take it."