The music playing when you walk into the St. Augustine Family Barber shop on Anastasia Boulevard isn’t Muzak or from a Top 40 radio station. The tunes instead come from a record player stacked with single 45s playing jazz and other selections from the 1950s and ‘60s.
The walls of the place are adorned with instruments, photographs and paintings of musicians. Sitting in comfortable chairs, waiting their turns, are mostly older men. Holding court in the middle, telling stories, jokes and cutting hair, is Joe Rocco.
“This is a guy’s sanctuary,” said regular customer Tom Perkings. “He is one last of the last real barbers around.”
Rocco, who considers himself a musician who cuts hair, plays the guitar with local groups around St. Augustine.
“Jazz got me into barbering. I had an injury and I couldn’t play music and I was aspiring to be a jazz guitarist,” said Rocco. “Although I didn’t know that I couldn’t be because I am not that talented, but I cut my hand and I walked into a barber shop where a jazz musician was a barber and he said, ‘Why don’t you do what I do?’ and I said but I already play guitar.
“’No, he said, cut hair. You’re Italian you would be a natural.’”
Rocco said the next thing he knew he was in barber school. And that was 40 years ago. By his estimation he has cut more than 1 million heads of hair since.
“Forty years, but who’s counting? The first 35 I did not want to do it,” said Rocco jokingly.
Rocco’s barbering started in San Francisco in the 1970s. After 10 years on the West Coast he moved to New York City and then Washington, D.C.
Over the decades Rocco, who has barbered for awards shows at Radio City Music Hall in New York, has cut some famous hair. Black and white signed photos of customers Nathan Lane, Barry Bostwick, George Carlin and Al Pacino decorate the wall by his single chair.
“I was doing the Tony Awards and they started announcing that Al Pacino was going to arrive in 15 minutes,” said Rocco. “All the people around me who were doing hair and makeup were getting a little bit nervous.
“Al Pacino walked in and it was looking at him in a movie. It could have been a flat screen TV. He went and sat down and became invisible as my boss did his makeup … (My boss) came over to me and said, ‘Don’t fuss with him very much. He doesn’t want to be fussed with.’
“So I walked over and put my hands on his shoulders and said, ‘How you doing?’”
His service in St. Augustine is traditional. Cuts are with scissors and clippers. Necks are shaved with a straight razor and haircuts are finished with a shoulder massage. No appointments are necessary for men and women with short hair.
For women with long hair who want a shampoo, hair style and color treatment, Rocco takes after-hours appointments. Just call the shop and leave a message.
“I don’t usually pick up because it might be a relative,” joked Rocco. “It could be my mother on the other end of the phone.”
“Here is the good news, if you put a barber pole up — this older timer told me when I was starting out: ‘Some guy is finally going to ask you for a haircut. So do a good job,’” said Rocco. “I said, ‘What is the bad news?’ ‘The guy may never leave.’”