In the Flesh: Houston Musicians Talk About Their Tattoos

Categories: In Print

Metal Master
"Big Gabe" Bayles, 
Scorpion Studios

Most of Gabe Bayles's skin is covered in ink.

His own art is black and white, all of it a bit old-school. But this tattoo artist's preferred canvas is not his own arms or legs; rather, it's the skin of others, musicians included.
Better known as "Big Gabe," Bayles has been a tattoo artist for a decade, inking some of the most magnificent pieces in the city on guys like the ones in this profile. Though not musically inclined himself, he figures he's worked on at least a couple hundred Houston musicians, as well as many other non-musicians connected to the local scene. (He prefers to keep the names of his subjects private.)

Bayles is a master of his craft; it can take months to get an appointment with him, but the wait will be worth it. Huge murals down backs, traditional Japanese koi or anything else you can dream up -- he does it all. But you won't find him replicating something off the shop's walls to do it; all Bayles's designs come from his own imagination.

Nicknamed "Big" for a reason -- both his larger-than-life personality and his physical size earned him that description -- Bayles is surprisingly gentle with his craft. But not that gentle. His tattoo needle burns like hot coals under the arm or near the bone, but he's good at talking his clients through it. Sessions with him are full of some good old-fashioned rock and roll pain, that's for sure.

Heavy metal blares over most sessions at Bayles's shop, Scorpion Studios. He and his fellow artists tend to stick to the darker stuff, although you may catch Warrant or Ratt on the stereo during an "off" day. The guys here tattoo for three or four hours at a stretch, so one session with Bayles will be just enough to get an outline down on his fleshy canvas.

With him, a tattoo is a commitment. A full sleeve can take a year or so, plus a lot of cold, hard cash, to finish. But for those folks who flock to him, it's worth it. You'll just have to endure a lot of metal, and shoptalk about how old Ozzy Osbourne is, to see it through.

But then, people who are having tributes to their favorite music -- their life's love -- inked on their bodies should have it done by a guy like Bayles, whose bright graphics and deep shading can do their work justice.

"My experience when tattooing musicians has been pretty great," Bayles says. "With these guys being artists themselves, it offers me the opportunity for artistic freedom, which makes the tattoo that much more fun to do."


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