Well-coiffed hair is inherent for any great sense of style. A put-together ensemble can only get you so far if your locks are lacking. So, when we found out that 20 percent of D Magazine’s “10 Most Stylish” in Dallas have trusted their split ends with the same gentleman, we knew we had to meet him.
Expectations were high for Juke Higgins. After all, Leon Bridges had called this guy out in the pages of Vogue and on stage at Austin City Limits. The Dallas Contemporary’s senior curator Justine Ludwig, who once saw Bridges break into an impromptu performance in his shop, has followed him faithfully for three years. “Juke is funny and has some great stories. It’s like getting a haircut and a show,” Ludwig told us in an email. “He’s a fascinating person and the best barber in town.”
Higgins did not disappoint. Over the phone, the Dallas native shared his journey from the Marine Corps to co-owning his own shop in downtown Dallas, and the beatboxing origins of the name “Juke.”
When did you first fall in love with cutting hair?
72 hours after I graduated high school in Dallas, I was in San Diego for the Marine Corps. (I didn’t want to work at Quiznos.) Marines have to get their hair cut every Sunday; that’s the rule. Most people were going for the cheaper option just outside of base, but some cats from New York led me to this barber shop in the city that was just this old school, incredible beautiful, Americana experience. That was my first exposure to the idea that it could be a job to cut hair.
I clicked with the master barber there and started coming every day after work to sweep in exchange for him teaching me to cut hair. I worked for free for two years.
Did you know right away this was what you were meant to do?
I always thought I would perform in some aspect as a kid. (“Juke” came about because I thought I would be pro beatboxer.) When I found hair, it was clearly my passion. I wanted to know more. I wanted to be good.
Marines were my first clientele. There are photos of me cutting hair in Afghanistan. Once the word got out that I knew what I was doing, I was cutting my commanding officer’s hair. I loved being that guy. I loved knowing everybody.
What happened when you got back to Texas?
I took some bad advice and got a “real job” as a manager of this warehouse in West Dallas for a while. I was married with kids at this point. Ultimately, I wanted to do what I loved. I started over and went to a barber school in North Dallas. My first job was at Brass Tacks in Oak Cliff; I became the head barber there when they expanded to Lakewood.
Next, I became manager at High and Tight where I met Roberto, who’s now my partner at Sovereign Barber Shop, which we opened up downtown in April. He’s a huge inspiration. We would just brainstorm ideas off each other.
How did you end up working on Leon Bridges’ hair?
On my second day at Brass Tacks, sometime in November of 2014, the owner had set up this after-hours event for the Have a Heart Foundation with this local musician from Fort Worth, Leon Bridges. Before he went on, one of his backup artists told him he needed a haircut. His style was so authentic and cool. I wanted to cut his hair, and I wanted to show off for my new boss, so I pulled out all the stops. Afterwards he said, “Bro, that was awesome. I’m coming to Oak Cliff to get my hair cut now.” A month later he got signed at Columbia Records.
How long did you work with him?
I cut his hair exclusively for a year and a half. He shouted me out on the stage at ACL which was cool. He shouted me out in an article in Vogue later that summer — my mom was so excited. He started traveling a lot though, and the time when it was practical for me to keep cutting his hair ended. Plus, Leon Bridges loves barbershops, so it wouldn’t be right for him to be tied down to just one.
Justine Ludwig is also a client of yours. What do you enjoy about working on women’s hair?
She has this fierce look about her. I just think she’s strikingly gorgeous and straight up girl power.
I don’t think of her haircut as a men’s haircut. She told me once that I’m the only barber that has cut her hair where it still looks feminine.
So many of your clients are ride-or-die with you. Why do you think people stay so loyal?
I try to make people feel good about themselves, and I think that’s why they get addicted. My friendship is my business. It also just so happens that I’m really good at cutting hair.