American rock musician David Lee Roth has helmed hard rock band Van Halen for nearly three decades, and is renowned for his over-the-top stage performances and energetic personality.
Because Roth is such a veteran of rock music, many fans might assume that he fully embodies the clichéd stereotypes of the scene — piercings and tattoos included. Yet the opposite is true, and Roth revealed in a candid interview that he didn’t get most of his tattoos until he was a senior citizen.
Roth began working with Van Halen back in the 1970s
Roth first started singing in his teen years, before getting to know Eddie Van Halen and Alex Van Halen. At the time, the Van Halen brothers were fronting the Los Angeles rock group Mammoth. They brought Roth on to be their lead singer before the band changed its name to Van Halen.
“Van Halen quickly became a hit, featuring Roth’s expressive, sometimes primal vocals and Eddie Van Halen’s revolutionary guitar work,” reports Biography.com. During the ’70s and ’80s, the group released multiple certified platinum albums. Roth split ways with the band in 1985, joined them again for a brief reunion in 1996, then returned full-time to his lead singer role in 2007. This comeback continued until the band retired in 2020.
“Off stage, Roth and his bandmates developed quite the reputation as one of rock’s most hedonistic acts,” notes the outlet. “Roth himself has said that Van Halen made Led Zeppelin look like Boy Scouts.”
Despite this reputation and partying lifestyle, Roth revealed that there was one aspect of the hedonistic music scene that he didn’t take part in: Tattoos.
Roth didn’t get most of his tattoos until he was a senior citizen
“We lived our lives like roughnecks,” Roth once reminisced to BuzzFeed. “I did my share of drugs. I had my long hair and all that crap. Every day was an adventure.” Yet even though he maintained quite a wild, public image, tattoos were never Roth’s thing until more recently.
In an interview with Vogue, the rockstar says that he got his first tattoo in the late ’70s when the art form was still relatively socially unacceptable outside of the rock scene and biker scene. “Eventually, though, I took a much more gentrified approach: I waited until I was 60 and got the whole Japanese tuxedo,” he says. “It took me 300 hours of sitting over two years.”
Even though he waited until he was older to get fully inked, Roth explains that he’d planned it all back in his rockstar heyday. “I planned it for the 30 years prior,” he tells Vogue, “and it’s my design: kabuki faces, the original showbiz, rendered Edo style—it looks like a woodblock print.”
Roth now owns a tattoo company
Even though Roth waited decades to get his many tattoos, the musician appears to fully embrace the art form today. He’s even gone so far as to invest in tattoo business called Tattoodo. It’s a global online community of tattoo enthusiasts, artists and studios that provides tattoo inspiration, services and education.
“I started this project with three of us sitting around an upended plastic bucket for a table at my house in L.A.,” says Roth. “Now, there’s 34 of us and we have offices in New York as well as L.A. It’s taken three years and close to $7 million, and I’m involved in every single element of every part of it.”
Roth explains that he loves tattoos because he views it as being very similar to his musical ventures.
“It’s a language—ink—that everybody shares, especially if you don’t speak the same language,” he tells Vogue. “With ink, we read each other’s signs and icons. In that way, it’s much like music.”