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Master of the chair
Forty years of experience keeps local barber sharp
0829hair3
Hot towels and straight razors are still in use at James Wright's barber shop Nuthin' But Hair as many of his customers appreciate a quality shave with Wright's skilled hands.

Master barber James Wright stays on top of the latest cuts but takes pride in old-school techniques and equipment, including a chair that dates to the 1920s.

"I still do laid-back shaves, like in the old days, with steam towels and all that stuff," said Wright, who operates Nuthin' But Hair out of a small shop off E.E. Butler Parkway, near Atlanta Street, in Gainesville.

The Gainesville native doesn't go for fancy in his business, which features a row of tonics and lotions on a table next to his chair. Pictures from Wright's past, including a stint in the U.S. Army, line the wall.

Wright, 57, began to develop his craft at age 11 working in his father's barbershop off Old Athens Street.

"I started out shining shoes and doing everything else around the shop, and before long, I started cutting," he said.

Wright's father's shop maintained showers, something that had mystified the younger Wright for years.

"My dad died about three or four years ago and before he passed away, I asked him (about the showers)," he said.
His father told him that a lot of truck drivers and construction workers "came through here," Wright said.

They'd buy a fresh set of clothes and then "get a cut and shave ... and we'd give them two towels to go back there and take a shower," he said. "Then they'd come back out and we'd put tonic on them and have them smelling good."

Wright has been a licensed master barber for 40 years. He didn't cut locks while in the Army in the early 1970s, working instead in the post office.

He resumed cutting hair in Gainesville after leaving the military, working in his current shop for 2 1/2 years. He had a business on the downtown square, at one point, working there for about eight years.

Wright has had offers to cut in Atlanta, but he was never interested.

"Most families around here, I've been cutting hair for like three, four generations," he said.

Referring to the customer in his chair at the moment, Gary Williams of Gainesville, Wright said, "I've been cutting his hair since he was a little boy."

Staying on the point, Wright said he has seen young boys grow up, become fathers, and he'd be cutting their sons' hair - and then their grandsons' hair.

"If I could live another 200 years, I can cut hair another 200 years. It's recycling, man," he said.

Wright specializes in African-American hairstyles, which have varied over the years, from Afros to the Jheri curl popularized by Michael Jackson and others in the 1980s.

"I don't think the curl will come back," Wright said. "I might be wrong."

He has a display in his shop showing designer cuts he has done over the years, including one featuring closely cropped hair in the design of Mickey Mouse ears and another of a billiards 8-ball.

"I just do it out of my head," said Wright, who taught a class for beginners and longtime stylists on techniques, cleanliness and other styling techniques at the Northeast Georgia Hair Explosion in Gainesville in July.

He charges $20 a haircut but offers "fast cuts" for folks willing to pay higher to jump line. "The (price) starts at $40, but it can escalate," he said. "I have gotten $450 for a haircut."

Wright wouldn't even begin to put a number on how many people whose hair he has cut.

"I can't even count how many I've cut in a day," he said. "I'll count their money.

"But then I don't work fast, like a lot of barbers. They could do two, maybe three, heads to my one. I can work fast, but I don't. I believe in quality."

Cutting hair for so many years has had its rewards, Wright said.
"It's a chance to see people grow and talk to people," he said.
Williams said Wright has been cutting his hair for 27 or 28 years - or since he was 4 years old.

"He changes with the times," said Williams, who gets a haircut about every week and a half or so. "He's the best."

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