As I sat and squirmed in my chair trying to scratch a place in the middle of my back, I wasn’t very happy that I made a trip to get a haircut. Have you ever noticed when you go to the barber that those little hairs that fall inside your shirt collar can make you itch for the rest of the day?
It kind of makes you understand the “hippie” movement, at least the hair part of it. Although I never understood my middle brother Alan’s desire to have a six-inch afro, it must have been somewhere in the early 70’s, I ran in from playing down the street to find my brother sitting in the living room looking like he had a fight with an electric toaster and lost.
One thing that makes me wonder is why folks go to a salon to get their hair styled. They can do most anything there from your hair to your nails. They even got them places where you can get a full body wrap.
Now when I was growing up, men didn’t go to a salon. A salon was for women. That’s where women folk went to get their hair glued in place before they went to church on Sunday.
Back then, men folk went to barber shops. If a man was caught going in to a beauty salon, it took a month of Sunday’s to live it down.
While memories of my first haircut have faded, I am told that I was really not too much of a squirmer in the barber’s chair. I knew that if I didn’t behave that would be my last time sitting down for a while.
After our family moved from the big city of Little Five Points out to the country in Chamblee, my Dad and I settled on going to a barber named Mr. Saxon. I don’t believe I ever knew his first name, but Mr. Saxon cut my hair from my third birthday all the way through my senior year in high school.
One thing I have learned in my life is that loyalty to a barber is one of the most important choices a man can make. No matter where Mr. Saxon moved his practice through the years, that is where we went to get our hair cut.
Haircuts back then didn’t cost an arm and a leg either. It took me years to not cringe when pulling more than $2 out of my pocket for a haircut.
Initially, the old barber shop had been in business since the days of Civil War reconstruction. As I sat in a red leather swivel barber chair, I would look up above the mirrors on the wall at the shotguns which were mounted above each barber chair in case some restless mountaineer needed to be reminded that he was in town.
Hill folk would ride into town and not only get a haircut, shave and a boot shine, but take a shower and house their horse out back while they were in town.
Mr. Saxon always managed to keep my Dad and I properly trimmed. After my cut, I would always help out by sweeping up the hair clippings on the gray tile floor. Through the years, it was amazing how I always seemed to sweep up a dime or two to put in the old red carousel Coca-Cola machine when I was done.
Through the years, Mr. Saxon imparted many words of wisdom on this impressionable lad. Probably the one that stuck the most was “Always remember, no matter who you meet in life, your mom and dad will be the best friends you will ever have.”
By the time I had reached my senior year, Mr. Saxon was growing near retirement. While he was once a whiz, time was taking its toll. The loyalty within me insisted that he would be the one to cut my hair before my senior photos were taken. Unfortunately, that haircut left a lasting memory and was not a great testament to his many years of talented barbering.
By the time I reached Georgia State University, trends in the outside world were making franchise style shops the place where people went for a trim. It was difficult for me to take my first steps into such a place, but eventually I did. Unlike the old barber shop, almost every time you went in there would be a different butcher on duty.
As my musical star began to rise, a fellow musician from Chicago, Sue Koskela, had taken up the trade and become an award winning stylist. Thankfully for me she was kind enough to take me on as a client and would always travel in to handle photo shoots and album covers. She settled near Knoxville for many years, and I would regularly make the six-hour round trip from Atlanta to have her work her magic. I am not exaggerating; what she did was magic. I knew when I walked out of there, I would not have to do anything to my hair and I would be sporting whatever latest style suited my look and shape of my face. Every time I went elsewhere, I usually looked like a cross between the Frankenstein monster and “Mo” from the Three Stooges.
When I joined the cast of “In the Heat of the Night” as “Officer Randy Goode,” my head and hair became the responsibility of whichever hair and makeup artists were assigned to oversee my look. They had to make sure that we actors looked consistent throughout scenes that were filmed out of sequence. In one of those happenstance moments, we got a new and short-lived hair artist who decided to give me a different look for an episode entitled “Heart of Gold.” I had one of my largest feature appearances of the early series. It was amazing to me how detrimental that look on camera was for me. I never realized until that point how much a person’s hair style has to do with how they are perceived by other people.
Good grooming is something we can all do to make the world a better place, but finding a good barber these days can be as hard as finding a six-ounce bottle of Coca-Cola for a dime.