During his marathon career as a barber, Randy Johnson has never had a bad hair day. A gifted raconteur as well as a jovial cut-up, he’s royally entertained his customers as he snipped, trimmed and combed their locks.
Johnson retired last Saturday after 57 years. The last 50 were spent standing behind his chair in Randy’s Barber Shop on Lebanon’s West Main Street.
Why retire now?
“I don’t really know. I’ll be 75 in September,” said Johnson, who was born in Lebanon and made the town square his childhood playground.
Friends and customers have the opportunity to celebrate with Johnson at his retirement party from 6-10 p.m. Saturday, March 14, at Lebanon Golf & Country Club, where there likely will be more than a snippet of laughs during a “Randy Roast” at 7 p.m.
“He agreed to the party because it was the only way he could say goodbye to everybody,” said his wife, Jamie. “So many people love him. He’s been overwhelmed but it’s time.”
As for how he entered the haircutting profession, Johnson, who dropped out of Lebanon High School when he was 16, recalled, “I was married and had a child. I was working on a farm, and then I got a job at H.G. Hill (Grocery). One day my daddy came by and said, ‘You got to learn to do something.’
“I asked him, ‘Like what, daddy?’ He said, ‘I’ll have to think about it.’ He came back two weeks later and said, ‘You need to go to barber school.’
“I said, ‘How can I go to barber school? I haven’t finished high school.’ He said, ‘Let me think about it.’ He came back a few weeks later and said, ‘I told you and your brother I’d help you get through school, if you do right. You did finish eighth grade?’
“I told him, ‘Yes,’ and he said, ‘We’ll get you in barber school.’ I said, ‘I don’t have a car,’ and he said, ‘We’ll get you a bus ticket.’ ”
In March 1963 the teenager began riding the bus from Lebanon to downtown Nashville where he learned the ropes at Nashville Barber College on Broadway.
“I caught the bus at 6 a.m. and caught the bus back home at 3 p.m. I did that for about a month and started hitchhiking,” Johnson said. “When I got out of barber school, I started working at Modern Barber Shop here in Lebanon. Being a barber had never entered my mind. It just so happened that I liked it.”
After six years at Modern Barber Shop, Johnson opened his own shop Nov. 19, 1969, where he stayed for 50 years and three months.
The kindest cuts
He recollects that when he began, he charged 75 cents for a haircut. At the end, his fee was $15, $19 or $23, depending on the type of cut or hairstyle.
Johnson opened the door to his shop at 4:30 a.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and at 4 a.m. Saturdays. Over a 57-year career, he estimates he performed 450,000 haircuts. Last Saturday, he gave 24 haircuts, a bit less than his best day ever when he trimmed more than 60 customers.
Over six decades in Randy’s Barber Shop, he has seen dozens of barbers come and go, cutting, clipping and snipping beneath his tutelage. Lifelong Wilson Countian Bill Stephens has been a barber 35 years and has spent the past 17 years here. He is buying the business from Johnson and plans to rebrand it as Big Daddy’s Barber Shop.
“Randy’s been great to me,” Stephens said. “He brought me in there, and I hadn’t cut in a long time. Randy said, ‘It’s just like riding a bicycle.’ He’s one of a kind. We’re going to go in and paint and change a few things and kind of have it old school and new school. Spruce it up just a bit and hope we’ll not have to close while making the changes.”
During an interview in 2013, Johnson reminisced about some of his early years as a barber.
“When hair styling come in and I took the first hair-styling course in Lebanon in 1964, we washed peoples’ hair before we cut it and then put hairnets on them, and people hid behind the newspaper ’cause they didn’t want to be seen with a hairnet on,” he said then.
“When I started, 99 percent of haircuts were all the same, and we used some kind of hair oil tonic like Brylcreem, Wildroot Cream Oil, Just Right, Vitalis or Vaseline, and people didn’t wash their hair, let me tell you.”
Among his precious memories are those centered on the scores of Castle Heights Military Academy cadets that used to line up out his door early in the mornings waiting for a trim.
“It was a hoot,” Johnson says of the 1960s and 1970s. “That’s how I got started opening up so early. These boys had to have a haircut every 10 days. If their hair was too long, they got demerits and had to walk them off in the bull ring. They had a barber at Castle Heights called Cochise because he skinned them, and the kids didn’t like that. They would come down to the shop at 4 in the morning, and there would be 15 to 20 of them sitting there waiting for me. They was AWOL.”
Nicknamed “Rat” as a youth by an uncle, a name that only close friends use, Johnson said, “Lebanon during the ’50s and early ’60s was a great place to grow up as kid. My mother having a store on the square added on. I knew everyone on the square.”
In June, he and wife Jamie will celebrate 58 years of marriage. They have two daughters, Lisa Newman and Linda Durham; four grandchildren, Jim and John Newman, Elizabeth Durham and Lindsay James; and a one-month-old great-granddaughter, Olivia James.
Grandson Jim recently shared on Instagram: “No one had done it better. No one has done it longer. After 57 years, Randy, aka Granddaddy, is hanging up the clippers. Before him there was none and after him will be no more.”
Friends and customers of longtime barber Randy Johnson are invited to his retirement party that will be held 6-10 p.m. Saturday, March 14, at Lebanon Golf & Country Club, 1300 Coles Ferry Pike, with a “Randy Roast” to begin at 7 p.m.