trim and a tune
Akers is the rock 'n' roll barber
of Monroe County
|Madison barber and guitar
player Chris Akers, right, sings a song for bass player and Holliday
school teacher Lloyann Lucas as the two practice in Akers’ Barbershop. One of only two barbershops
in Monroe County, Chris’ shop is a favorite hang-out for area
In some ways, Akers’ Barbershop
is like countless other barbershops in small towns. A red and white
barber’s pole out front provides
the only indication of the trade practiced inside. Old men sit in wooden
theater seats and wait for their turn in a 1950s Paidar barber chair.
Chris Akers trims one white head of hair after another while discussing
sports, the weather or a death in the community.
But something is
decidedly different about this shop, located along Highway 24 in Madison.
The first clue comes as you enter a tiny vestibule that separates Chris’ barbershop
from a workshop next door. The entryway is lined with concert posters
and the sound of rock ‘n’ roll music, old R&B
or bluegrass seeps through the walls. Open the shop’s interior door to
and you enter a world that is part small-town institution, part museum and
part music studio.
“I love playing
guitar and I love music,” Chris
says. “I guess
it comes through when it’s what you really like.”
no doubt about Chris’ interests as you enter his shop. A
worn Fender Stratocaster guitar hangs next to a pair of amplifiers just
to the side of his barber chair. By all appearances Chris is ready to put
down his scissors, pick up his guitar and launch into a solo at any moment.
And, in fact, that
happens almost every day. With a population of barely 600, Madison
is hardly a thriving metropolis and the hair-cutting business is sporadic.
In between trims, Chris has a lot of time to practice. When not playing
guitar, Chris offers lessons to area players and fixes a few guitars.
Other times, musician friends stop by to play.
hair for a customer. Akers Barbershop is one of only two such businesses
in the county and is situated halfway between Paris and Moberly
on Highway 24.
a great place to kill an afternoon,” says Kelly Ray,
a drummer from Shelbyville who frequents Akers’ Barbershop, occassionally
with a set of congas in tow. “You always get a jam session there
just about any time of the day.”
For Chris, his shop
is simply a reaction to his own experiences in barbershops. “I
wanted a place where the youth felt good, because when I went to
the barber shop it was always a real stiff place.”
nothing stiff about Akers’ Barbershop. Old 45-rpm records
hug the ceiling. Fishing tackle, railroad artifacts, record album
covers, historic photos and sports banners share wall space with
antique barbershop items, old tools and pot metal model marquees
pried from automobiles.
have too sedate of an atmosphere. I did not want to have a black and
white checked floor with Italian opera playing in the background and
a little snap-up thing around my neck,” says Chris, a 46-year-old
barber who forgoes the traditional white barber’s jacket and
cuts hair wearing blue jeans or even overalls.
Chris says he fashions
his establishment after Harry Smith’s welding shop
and pool hall, a local gathering spot he remembers from his
childhood in nearby Holliday, where he continues to live today.
was just full of these old guys in overalls that spit tobacco and
smoked cigars and talked about politics and the neighbors and the
usual garbage,” says
Chris, who was allowed to hang out with the old men, despite
his young age.
came from television, which provided a somewhat different ideal of
the barbershop than what he learned at barber school.
was a kid I was always watching Floyd on ‘The Andy Griffith
Show’ and thinking, ‘That’s the guy
who can go fishing whenever he wants,’” says
Chris, a gregarious bear of a man with a hearty laugh
who is always ready with a quip or a humorous anecdote.
of music came from his parents. His father headed a
Western swing band. His mother sang in a dance band.
practices or plays with other musicians to while away the time
“It was kind
of a fight because Dad was by the cradle saying, ‘Now
this is Bob Wills. Listen son,’ and Mom’s
over here going, ‘This
is Nat King Cole,’” Chris says, imagining
his parents’ early
attempts to influence his musical tastes.
his first guitar when he was 8 years old, but like
most people of his generation, he was raised on
rock ‘n’ roll.
Chris played in bands throughout his youth but
his claims to fame were limited to playing local gigs
and later working occasionally on recording sessions
in Kansas City and Columbia. While success eluded
Chris, he always fit the part of the rock star
and rarely, if ever, saw the inside of a barbershop.
“I was the
thing barbers hated,” he says. “I played in a band
and from about seventh grade on I did not get
my hair cut for years.”
After high school,
Chris expanded his repertoire to include jazz guitar and even played
with his mother’s
band. For a few years, he was active on the bluegrass circuit and
played mandolin and acoustic guitar at old time music festivals
As much as Chris
enjoyed playing music, he realized the life of a professional musician
was not for him. “There’s a lot of guys I know that have
real thin soles. They have four pairs of
jeans and live on a bus,” he says. “I
didn’t want to live like that.”
the mid-1980s Chris earned his living at
a series of day jobs — factory
work, construction, driving a school bus — while
supplementing his income playing music
on weekends. Married at the time, with
a child on the way, Chris made a decision
to change his life. He enrolled in barber
school and applied himself to his new trade.
After barber school,
Chris landed a job cutting hair in Moberly but says he soon
became frustrated with the conservative
work environment and an employer who didn’t appreciate his irreverent
style or “hoodlum musician friends.”
“I thought, ‘This
is not what I wanted out of being a barber,’” Chris
In 1986, he bought
a tiny barbershop in Madison, one of only two in Monroe
County, and created his ideal hair-cutting
|The walls of
Chris' barbershop are filled with an eclectic mix of memorabilia
and historical artifacts.
has always been a place — kind of like
a Masonic lodge — where
you go to find out what’s
going on,” Chris says. “I’d
say it’s an awful lot like
Harry Smith’s old welding
But with a rock ‘n’ roll
twist, in Chris’ case. In
fact, it wasn’t long
before Chris brought in his
guitar to bide the time between
the first week I was sitting
here and thinking, ‘You
know, this Wall Street Journal
the farmers, businessmen
and retirees who come into
have come to accept rock
music on the stereo or
the occasional jam session
as just part of the scenery.
pretty funny,” Ray
walk in the door and
Chris will say, ‘Let
me finish this song and
get right to you.’ A
lot of times people come
in for a haircut and
say, ‘Aw, play
fact, Chris says, sometimes
the confluence of crusty
old barber patrons
and pimple-faced guitar students
be some kid in having a lesson and I’ll
get a hair cut,” Chris
thing, some old farmer
that I didn’t
know played guitar
will speak up: ‘You’re
making that D all
wrong. Let me show
like that happen,” he
almost Norman Rockwell