John Haywood

John Haywood, middle name's Wezley, but it’s spelled with a ‘z’, Artist, Painter, Musician and Business Owner (Tattoo Parlor):

"I live in Knott County, Kentucky, at the confluence of Big Doubles, Little Doubles and Buffalo Creek.

I spent about 10 years hanging around Louisville and Morehead, going to college. [Majored in] Art, graphic design as an undergrad, and painting as a graduate student. 

Mostly for a living I run a tattoo shop here in Whitesburg. I make a little money playing music every once in a while, and sell a painting every once in a while. Well, maybe [I’m a jack] of three trades! But, they're all kinda real similar. I’m really good at those things but I’m kinda horrible at everything else I guess. 

Where I grew up in the mountains, we grew up in the holler. We had a post office that was actually named after our family. Risner, Kentucky. The post office was discontinued in the early ‘80s. I was probably about seven or eight years old, I guess, when they quit using that post office. It was a little country store. Everybody in the whole holler I was related to somehow or another, you know what I mean? We had a family cemetery, a little church. My parents never had any trouble worrying about us, because your neighbor would be your aunt, and your cousins lived on up the holler, and you had the run of the whole holler pretty much growing up. It was a real blessed experience for me because I can’t find that anywhere else anymore. 

[Had a knack for art] Just from a very early age. In the holler there where we grew up, I had a lot of cousins, a lot of ‘em were guys and I was kinda like the youngest of a lot of cousins as far as the guys. I was one of the later guys, so all of my older cousins were real big into sports and real big into competing and all that sort of stuff so what they would do was, they’d get me out there and just run circles around me and stuff. And for me, the thing I could do that was good was this art. For as long as I can remember, I drew. My granny has pictures that I drew stuffed in an old Bible that I couldn’t remember ever drawing. But I drew ‘em. Little kid doodles. And so I just always did it. For me it was just kind of an escape from the pressures of all the real world, you know, from socializing’, because I did have a lot of older cousins that beat up on me all the time. 

So that was my thing. I was horrible and they didn’t want me on their team at ball time. I’m so tall everybody was wondering why I didn’t play basketball. See, my papaw played for Wayland, the Wayland Wasps, and they were always known for their basketball team and that’s how he got through high school, being a good ball player, you know.

[Got into playing music] Sometime around the 7th grade, when I was probably around 10 or 11 years old I started messing around with different things. My aunt lived in the old home place, my mom had three brothers and a sister and they all grew up in this old house that my aunt lived in when I was growing up. And in her house, she had these old instruments that were unplayable, but that were fascinating to me and I’d get ahold of one and just bang around on it. And then one day, my mom actually got this keyboard and we would just sit around and mess with that. 

I was into rock and roll, so I finally talked them into getting me an electric guitar by the time I was about 12 or something. One of the things about learning to play rock and roll was you have to learn a lot of basic stuff, so one of my cousins up the road, I could take my guitar to him and he would tune it, and he would tune it by playing ‘Cripple Creek’ or ‘Old Joe Clark’ and then he’d make me learn it, you know. So at the time, I would learn those old tunes but I didn’t think of it as being culturally significant. I didn't think of that sort of stuff. I was just like these are these old tunes that these people play and it’s what you gotta do before getting into the good stuff. That was always how I felt. 

I guess when the newness of the city started to sink more in and started to feel more comfortable I started to miss home more or less. So missing home, and having failed after failed attempt at having a rock and roll band… I still want to play music but I wanted to find something that was me, that was kind of where I came from so I started investigating more and more the traditional music of the mountains as a means of just strengthening what I already did. I didn’t know that I would eventually just stick to these traditional sorts of methods of playing. I thought that I would just be learning some techniques that I could apply to whatever else it was I was doing. 

But what I realized is that, when learning more about the banjo and stuff, I began to learn the history and where all the songs came from and even that the banjo is set up to play a certain way. I became more fascinated with that than trying to use it as a means to create some kind of real, I don’t know, original, commercial type music. I think a lot of it was I was in my 20s and homesick and I always thought, well if you’re not successful in the rock and roll business by the time you’re 25 you're probably not gonna be. 

I also had the art thing going at the same time. It always has worked kind of hand in hand, the art and the music, cause a lot of the art is about music. I owe a lot of what I paint these days to having gotten more into my culture and the history. It’s not just the music I’m into now, but it’s all the old ways of living and eating and all that stuff that interests me now. 

The first thing that comes to my mind is that this (Appalachian) culture is just about living. Everybody, when it comes down to it, just seems to be concerned about living. You could say we’re about so many different things, but I feel like we’ve never been about trying to make a big deal out of ourselves or anything like that. We’ve always just been about carrying on what we do. Even in people that haven’t really learned about their culture, a lot of people take it for granted, I feel like. 

But in the end it’s all still there, even, a little bit in everybody, no matter what kind of thing you're into, we’re still all this… there’s something the same in all of us. And I’ve learned a lot that through having the tattoo shop. Cause I tattoo coal miners and I tattoo artists and I tattoo an environmental activist type person and these are all people a lot of times you don’t get ‘em in the same room or it can be a mess, you know. But I see all these types of people on a regular basis, and so it’s given me this nice interpretation of everybody, everybody just wants to live here. They love it here. They don't want to leave. Some people will leave and find better things, but everybody generally, they may leave Eastern Kentucky, but most of the time they’ll find some place in the mountains to live. 

Most people don’t leave the mountains to come back and coal mine, really. They leave the mountains because they want something better. My grandfather was a coal miner, quit school in the 6th grade, worked underground, finally got black lung and died when he was 72. And the one thing he told me was to get an education; to go experience the world. He was like, ‘Don’t do what I did.’ That was his number one thing and I think about that every day I get up.

I think we’re the most intelligent people on the planet; only because we know about things that are of the earth. You can’t just walk down the street and grab whatever part you need for whatever just broke, you know what I mean? When I lived in Louisville, I lived on Frankfort Avenue, everything at your disposal, right there, anything you wanted. Here in the mountains, we’ve always had to make do just because of the bit of distance between many of us, and we’ve had to rely on each other, so a lot of us have strong family ties, which is really important to your health and everything. 

For instance, the stereotype of the banjo player, everybody thinks of the banjo player being kind of like an ignorant hillbilly, but all the banjo players I know are highly intelligent people. Even culturally exposed. Not so isolated like everybody thinks. [On whether Deliverance destroyed the perception of the banjo] I would say so. You still hear the jokes. 

I got into tattooing, I was about to graduate from college with an art degree, and nobody had any faith in me. I’d spent eight years in college to graduate with a Masters of Art. That seemed like a real kind of worthless degree to some family and kinfolk and stuff. 

When you run around with the rock and roll crowd, tattoos are the way to go sometimes. I really loved tattoos because it was art, something you can draw and stuff. So, I ended up meeting a guy. There was a co-op studio, we all worked at in Louisville and one of the artists that come in to get a space, his name was Adrian Wright, he was a real folk artist. He would do paintings there and I knew he tattooed. I helped him organize a tattoo art show one summer. Over the course of that I started meeting all these tattoo artists, and it was cool because they were really drawing every day. That was what their profession was, they drew every day and I was just so jealous because here I was just trying to get a job maybe teaching. I’ve done my fair share of teaching to compare. 

During the course of all that he said ‘have you ever thought about tattooing’ and I said ‘well I thought about it’ but I didn’t know if it was for me or not because I considered myself more of a fine artist, I guess. My oil painting style is kind of my take on the old Flemish style of oil painting, which is building layers and it’s sophisticated color and this sort of stuff, which really doesn’t apply to tattooing all the time. You gotta do it like once and get it done. But I thought about it and I talked to my wife, Kelly, about it, and they told me I’d make $600 a day. I was like, ‘I’m in!’

I soon found out you end up working for free for a year, scrubbing floors, but you learn about sterilization, you’re learning all this stuff. You’re working in a shop. I was actually an apprentice at one of the busiest shops on Fort Knox. So it was military guys all the time. Military families, rednecks, bikers, you know, everybody under the sun was through there at Fort Knox. It was like a crash course in learning about the tattoo world. I stayed there for about five or six years. 

Got burnt out and quit totally. Came back home and said ‘alright I’m coming home, I’m getting away from this crazy city life stuff.’ So when I came back home, I actually took a few little jobs here and there just doing music. I really got into my painting. Started doing more festivals. But tattooing is the kind of job where you start to miss it. Your customers are your boss, so you’re used to having someone new telling you what to do every day. So I kinda like that about it because the hardest thing about being an artist sometimes is that little bit of inspiration. I can work hard, I’m like a mule man, I’ll sit and paint all night or draw all night, but that spark of inspiration, what you’re gonna paint, what you're gonna draw, can sometimes be hard to come by. So tattooing is like it keeps me fresh drawing. May be what other people want, but I get to do what I want every once in a while.

I think the number one thing [to help the economy] is to try to find some way of being proud of where you’re from. I don’t understand. I don't even understand sometimes what’s going on in Whitesburg because sometimes it seems like it’s a big lot going on and sometimes it’s like a whole lotta nothing. I still pass people on the street every day who say this town’s going to be nothing before you know it. 

There’s a little fire here and I like it. And that’s why I’m still here. There’s still a little bit of a little core community around here that seems to be content with being here. That’s why, when I think about, if I were to sum us up, we’re just about living. Cause there’s so many people here that could go somewhere else, including myself, and make more money. You know, get more exposure to whatever, have more opportunities. But we choose to stay here. And in a way, some of us have done it collectively. Anytime I think about leaving I don’t think about myself. I think about all these other people it would affect".