Joey Vernon

Written by Ellen Gurley

Joey Vernon / Baku Gallery
3200 N Davidson St., 28205, 704.376.4556
Interview by Ellen Gurley

Joey VernonYou began tattooing in 1992 and worked with your father until 2001. Those shops were located in Dilworth/Southend area. How did you choose your current location in NoDa?
When I originally opened Fu's, I basically "bailed out" an existing shop that was located uptown at 901-D N. Tryon St. and it was not an ideal location. We did good considering, but I felt the shop and it's artists had more to offer and so we began the search for new location. I happened to come to NoDa one day for lunch, saw a ‘for rent’ sign and here we are now nearly five years later. It was a good move for the shop, as a whole, given the attitude of the area.

I got my first from you in 1998. Since then you have done over six for me. What percentage of your clients also become return customers?

About 85% of my clients are returning because of the size of work I do on them; most of it is large scale and requires several sessions. The rest is word-of-mouth from existing clients.

First I would like to congratulate you on this day which marks twenty two years of tattooing. Since you have spent more than half of your life tattooing, one can assume that you have spent more time behind a machine than doing (well) anything else. That’s a lot of hours tattooing. You know your stuff. How have you seen the tattoo industry change since you began?
The caliber of artist has improved a great deal over the years, but at the same time it has become a very over-saturated market. Tattooing used to be an elusive and risky business to get into and not so easy to obtain your goals. I feel like it's taken a lot of steps forward, however that comes with a price. Basically anyone can get their hands on a machine and be blasting their friends at the kitchen table. It makes it even more complicated when one of these idiots makes it into a shop because they do poor quality work and dirt cheap prices. Things like this hurt our industry. They don't move it forward at all. You could look at it from different aspects as in (a) it's more cover-ups for good tattoo artists to do, but at the same time (b) it sours the general public into thinking things like "$400? This guy over at such and such said he'd do it for $150." They don't realize that they are sacrificing getting a good tattoo verses a bad one all because of the price. Just ‘cause it's cheap, doesn't make it worth a damn.

 You’ve stated before that you will tattoo spiritual pieces on clients but not religious as you can’t take a stab at something you can’t wrap your mind around. That being said, what was your strangest request/demand by a client?
I had a gentleman come in and ask me for a back piece of a Ku Kluz Klan rally. The odd thing about that was that he was a black man and he hated black people. Needless to say, his request was denied.

You have a friend that tattoos at another shop (Rodney Raines at Ace Tattoo) that you respect and admire and you travel to tattoo conventions together. Does he do any work on you?
My respect for Rodney started with our friendship as we've known each other since we were teenagers. I knew his older sister before him. And, yes, he's in the process of tattooing my ribs/thigh which is a Fudo (after which my shop is named). Fudo Myoo is the full name of the deity. Fudo Myoo literally means ‘the immovable wisdom king’. He is the guardian of Buddhism. He converts anger into compassion and cuts the ties of negative feelings and demons to eliminate us from suffering through self control. Getting that tattoo only seemed fitting and I couldn't imagine someone better to do it.

What was the best experience you had with a client / your favourite tattooing memory?
I really can’t say that I can pinpoint just one tattoo as I just enjoy tattooing. Period. Everything about it. And you can trust me when I say that I am a dying breed.

You were recently in an interview with MAV TV (Tattooing in America) and one with Tattoo Artist Magazine. And I understand that you have turned down about five interviews with TV shows. Tell me why this is.
Because I don’t believe in prostituting my industry for not the common good. It has made the client dumber (they think they can get a back piece in 3 ½ hours) and I just don’t agree with ‘it’ as a whole.

Currently you play drums in a local Viking metal band that has played all over the region called Vulture. How did this come about?
(Joshua) Taddeo and I started the band mostly just out of a resentment for a lot of heavy music that was around Charlotte. So we started sitting down and writing music and then Travis (Lakeman) joined the band. We played as a three piece instrumental for a while and then we added our lead singer, Bart Lattimore.

Will Charlotte be able to boast another Fu’s Tattoos at any point?
You never know now, do ya?

What does Joey like to do if any spare time presents itself?
Long walks on the beach, beer and fuzzy animals.

• Hire Joey for your next piece. Call the shop.

• Vulture has released a self-entitled EP. Check them out at

• Upcoming at BAKU GALLERY 
March: Beard and Mustache Club
April: It's a STHD
June: CC Evans & Crew's "Rhymes & Designs"
July: Fu's Tattoo Artists

Photography by: Ellen Gurley

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