- Associated Press - Monday, January 30, 2017

IUKA, Miss. (AP) - As a kid, Terry Lambert played guitar in a band called The Playboys, a provocative name for a bunch of guys from Iuka.

“People around here knew us and knew we were OK,” he said with a smile.

The guys won a talent contest at the MidSouth Fair in the 1960s and were invited to New York to perform on the “Ted Mack Amateur Hour.” In 1964, the band performed an all-night session with Isaac Hayes at American Sound Studio in Memphis, the same place where Elvis Presley would later record “Kentucky Rain” and “In the Ghetto.”

“We were good in our time,” 70-year-old Lambert said.

But music wasn’t the only thing in his blood in those days. When he took time to look to the future, his direction seemed clear.

“I decided the Lord meant for me to be a barber,” he said. “I was playing with a barber chair from the time I could remember.”

He grew up around plenty of role models.

“I’m from a long line of barbers,” Lambert said. “My daddy cut hair for 45 years. I’ve cut for 50. I had three uncles, my daddy’s brothers, that cut for a lot of years. Then my mother’s daddy cut for many years. That’s a pretty long line of barbers, but it looks like it’s playing out with me.”

He got used to the smell of talcum powder and osage rub. He listened to the men talk, as his family members clipped away. When Lambert was 20, he enrolled in Moler Barber College in Memphis and then took his place in the family line.

“I just came up this way,” he said.

David “Bootie” Curtis has been right there with him, though Curtis sits in the barber chair and remembers, while Lambert works and reminisces with him.

“The first time he cut my hair was almost 50 years ago,” Curtis said. “We were in the National Guard at Fort Ord in California. He set up a barber chair in the latrine and cut hair.”

“I would sit them on garbage cans and lean them back to the sink,” Lambert said.

“He didn’t charge then,” Curtis said.

Back home in Iuka, Lambert began by charging $1 for a haircut.

“I have risen up to $8 now,” he said. “Most of them give me $10, but I charge them $8.”

He’s able to keep his prices low because he doesn’t have much overhead. In the late 1970s, his rent got to be a problem, so he decided to build a one-room barbershop next to his house.

“I helped the carpenter. We had a nice time building it,” Lambert said. “It was in the fall. My wife would bring our food. I’d say, ‘Have you ever heard of dinner on the grounds?’ Of course, he said, ‘Yes,’ and we spread out a blanket and ate.”

He keeps track of his first cut in the new building in a musically inclined way.

“I opened here just about the time Elvis Presley died,” Lambert said. “He died in August, and I opened in November 1977.”

The red building got a new roof a few years ago, and the carpeting has been replaced. Lambert added a porch and a bench about the same time he enacted a no-smoking policy.

“Some of them would go crazy wanting a cigarette,” he recalled. “I said, ‘Well, you’ve got a porch, you’ve got a bench and you won’t lose your place in line.’”

“I don’t think I could stand the smoke now,” Curtis said.

“When you get away from it, it gets kind of tough on you,” Lambert said. “I could come to the house after 9 or 10 hours and my wife would tell me, ‘I can smell it on you.’”

Hair styles have changed over the years, and Lambert will go with the flow, but he doesn’t always have to. Other than the gray, Curtis‘ haircut isn’t much different than it was some 50 years ago.

Another fellow drives from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to Terry’s Barbershop when his vintage 1960s flattop needs to be cleaned up.

“The farthest-away customer I had was a man who lived in China. He was a political official. His son-in-law worked for NASA up here, and he came in one day,” Lambert said. “One time, a guy from England came in. He and his wife were traveling on the river, and he heard about me.”

Lambert used to cut hair five days a week and spent 10 to 12 hours on the job, but he trimmed back to Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. after a health scare.

The red, white and blue pole out front is from his dad’s shop. The barber chair inside is a hand-me-down, too. Lambert and some friends looked it up on the internet one day, and they think it was made in the 1920s or ‘30s.

My daddy said he always liked it better than any other,” Lambert said. “I feel the same way.”

Several chairs line the walls of the shop. Men are welcome to sit and chat while they wait, or they can stay after they’ve been served.

The place feels like a clubhouse. He’s got pictures on the wall of his dad using the same, old chair. There’s a shot of Lambert and his wife, Linda, from their wedding day. A picture of her from second grade hangs near a photo of a very young Lambert with “Smiley” Burnette, a cowboy comic and Gene Autry’s sidekick.

Lambert keeps the radio tuned to Kudzu 104 for classic country music, and some of his favorite musicians are on the wall. Hank Snow is there, so is Hank Williams.

He has Darryl Worley’s autographed photo. It was a gift from Worley’s father, who drives about 25 miles every three weeks to get one of Lambert’s flattops.

The wall also features a picture of The Playboys from that appearance on the “Ted Mack Amateur Hour,” and a display of guitar strings hangs near the door.

“Sometimes you get the music going,” Curtis said. “People will be in here, and Terry will get the guitar.”

“I don’t do that very much,” Lambert said. “Sometimes, somebody will bring a guitar, and we’ll mess around.”

He said the barber’s life was meant for him, though he’s not sure he’d do it again if he were starting out today. That has more to do with modern trends than the nature of the work.

“I look for barber poles when I go through small towns,” he said. “That’s how I size up a town, and, a lot of times, I won’t see a barber pole in the town.”

Lambert knows his place, and he knows his customers. They greet him on the front porch when he arrives in the morning, or they dribble in one after another throughout the day.

“I asked him if he planned to retire,” Curtis said.

“I want to go as long as my legs will hold me up,” Lambert said.

Fifty years is a long time by some measures but not by all.

“Looking back, it’s been like a breeze,” he said. “It’s like the Bible says, ‘It’s a vapor.’”

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