Passion pays off: Jasper native becomes celebrity barber

By JENNIFER COHRON
Posted 7/15/18

As a child, Jason Walker would beg family members and friends to allow him to cut their hair. Sometimes he would pay them $5 for the privilege.Those days are now well behind Walker, a 27-year-old …

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Passion pays off: Jasper native becomes celebrity barber

Posted

As a child, Jason Walker would beg family members and friends to allow him to cut their hair. Sometimes he would pay them $5 for the privilege.

Those days are now well behind Walker, a 27-year-old Jasper native who recently got his big break as a  barber on the set of "My Brother's Keeper." The film, set to be released next year, stars T.C. Stallings ("War Room," "Courageous") as a veteran struggling with PTSD and his faith. Co-stars include Joey Lawrence, Keshia Knight Pulliam and Robert Ri'chard.

Now that he has found success, Walker can joke about how he got his start in barbering at age 10.

"I started on myself. These were horrible haircuts, horrible. My friends were like 'I will take you and pay for your haircut. Just stop cutting your hair,'" Walker said, laughing at the irony that some of these friends now pay him to cut their hair.

At 16, Walker started work at Eric's Beauty and Barber Salon in downtown Jasper.

He harbored dreams of playing in the NBA but accepted the responsibility of helping with household bills at age 17 when his mother lost her job and her health.

"It locked me into responsibility at a young age. That made me who I am today because I know the difference between what's important and what's not, the value of having long-term goals and getting there by doing it the right away. Getting there overnight is not even a reality," Walker said.

Walker graduated from Walker High School in 2010 and moved to Smiths Station two years later.

Determined to advance in his chosen field, he obtained his barber's license and then worked his way through the Rivertown School of Beauty's master's level program in nearby Columbus, Georgia, so that he would be qualified to teach. 

Walker also continued to travel to barbering competitions, where he put his design skills to the test against contestants from around the nation.

He attended his first barber battle in Atlanta while still in high school and came in third place among student participants. 

Out of the many competition categories, Walker preferred the freestyle competition, wowing the crowd with the lifelike portraits that he could create on the back of a person's head.

His Richard Pryor design is a personal favorite. He has also turned other historical figures such as Jackie Robinson, Ray Charles and Nelson Mandela into hair art.

The Mandela design caught the eye of a celebrity barber at a competition in Dallas in 2014. 

"He pulled me on stage, cut the music off and gave me a humungous shout-out. He said, 'He came all the way from Alabama. This is what I call dedication to your craft.' I was on a high after that," Walker said. 

Walker practiced his design skills on a barber shop customer who usually couldn't afford to pay for a haircut. He believes that barber schools are doing students a disservice by only teaching traditional techniques and not design.

"In the real world, people want that and will pay good money for that. One of my goals is to implement a design course in barber schools," he said.

When barber battles didn't offer him the big break that he wanted, Walker began visiting recording studios in the Atlanta area and offering his services. He was soon offered a job at Soul Asylum Studios. 

The opportunity to work on "My Brother's Keeper" came through a former client who now works as a celebrity stylist. 

His stint on the film, which lasted for 15 days in June, got off to a rocky start when there was miscommunication among the crew about the hair style of Ri'chard's character. Ri'chard, whose credits include "Coach Carter" and the TV series "One on One," got upset when he realized that he wasn't getting the high haircut that he expected.

Walker stood his ground, surprising Ri'chard with his boldness, and fixed the mistake to the star's liking.

"He said, 'I've had three barbers in my life and you cut better than all of them. Do you want to take a picture together?' He was treating me like a celebrity then," Walker said. 

Walker was also given a small role in the film during a barbershop scene, and he secured a spot for his mother as an extra in a different scene.

Walker hopes to get more work on films in the future so that he can accumulate the hours required to be in a barber's union, which would bump his starting pay on productions to $56 per hour.

In the meantime, he continues to work at a barber shop in Smiths Station on a limited basis and as needed at Soul Asylum Studios. 

He mostly keeps busy traveling from state to state to meet longtime clients.

He is also working on a barber's clothing line, B.O.B. (Best of Barber) Clothing, set to launch soon, and hosts barber arts seminars. The first seminar was held in Georgia last year, and the next will be in his hometown of Jasper.

"My goal is to change the mind of barbers believing in their own mediocrity and to be the leader of the new generation of barbers," Walker said.