Watch what you wish for- you just might get it!
When I was little we lived at 4136 Brush Street, Brush and Superior and to the left corner from our house was Alexandrine. That's the same neighborhood where the Flame and the Frolic showbars were and my music school was right there too.
That was quite a special corner because that's where our favorite ice cream parlor was and on the other corner, the neighborhood's favorite barbershop. And since I had grown up in that neighborhood, the barbershop grew up with me. The barbers there and I became friends.
I was very young, maybe seven or so. But at least once a week or once every two weeks I had to sit in the barbershop, and wait for what seemed like an eternity. Well, while I waited I had to listen to the barbershop gossip of some of these old guys of the neighborhood or to some of the young pimps who chose this as their favorite barbershop.
At that time, the conk was very popular among black men. A conk is a perm. And they called it several other things like a fry! The process took quite a long time because they had to lubricate the scalp so that it wouldn't fry. And sometimes if they didn’t do it right, the poor pimp left with a fried head! I had what they called "good" hair, wavy and smooth. It was wiry but went in the right direction. So, I watched all this and listened to gossip about wives and mothers-in-law and girls of the night. Those were the pimps' girls. At seven I got tired of this fast. I wanted to be out riding my bike or playing the piano. Which was always last because I hated to practice indoors. I couldn't practice outside or under a tree. That's why one day I got so fed up with waiting around listening to all of this and having to sit and wait while my barber chatted with guys sitting around, I said to myself: if I have to do this all the time, I just don't want any hair, so I don't have to come back to the barbershop anymore.
Lo and behold, years after I made this wish, after I came out of the army - maybe twenty years later- one morning I woke up and my hair was on the pillow. Not all of it yet, but the rest came out shortly after. I'm sure that had something to do with stress and the situation I had to face coming out of the army with my music career that had stopped for 2 years. And face my personal situation as I was living with my wife Shirley at her parents’ house. When we broke up, I ended up taking my piano and going to live in L.A.
My hair fell out in patches. Because I couldn't stand looking like that, one day I shaved it all off, not realizing that soon it would become my image. I became the bald-pate piano player when the fashion had gone from conk to Afro. Then I couldn't change it anymore, although sometimes for some reason, it would start growing again. I had a condition called Alopecia universalis: no hair anywhere. I even had to draw my eyebrows.
At that time everyone had Afros, so I really stood out. Dexter called me Smooth, children loved to touch my head. I had fun with it. When I picked up my wife at the hairdresser, I used to come in, touch my baldhead, and ask, "What can you do for me?
Eventually, when I went back to New York, I began to work with bassist Don Pate; we’re still good friends and he still is not bald-pate. It doesn’t rub off.
In Alex Kayser's 1984 book "Heads," I was featured along with another 183 heads. An anonymous quote appears as epigraph on the first page: "God created very few perfect heads. The other ones he gave hair."