In common with any great book, or two-star bed and breakfast, or quick knee-trembler round the back of Castle Cary train station, no beard is ever truly the work of one man. In an occasional series, The World of Beards looks at the faces behind the faces behind the beards. This week Steve “BurkeyBeard” Bukowski speaks exclusively to Tony Wyoming, facial hair guru to some of pop’s brightest beards.
Turn to the index of almost any book on that hunchbacked sex-monkey we call pop, be it academic or apoplectic, and chances are, under “W”, you’ll find an entry for Tony Wyoming. Pamela des Barres’ I’m With The Beard, Danny Sugarman’s No-one Gets Out Of Here Unshaved, even the notorious Led Zeppelin tome Barber Of The Gods –
Wyoming dances through all of these volumes like a five-foot two colossus of a footnote. Starting his career in the late fifties and still grooming strong today, Wyoming has taken care of the maxillio-tonsorial whimsy of four generations of rock royalty and, indeed, still owes a number of them money. I interviewed Wyoming in his elegantly minimalist kitchen (a style choice he compares to the precise beardwork that is his trademark, but that his wife attributes to a firm of bailiffs) and began by asking him how he first collided with the glittering orifice of pop.
SB: How did you first collide with the glittering orifice of pop?
SB: Which pop star did you first work with?
TW: In the late fifties, as London was getting ready to swing – at this point more of a wobble than a swing, really – the King’s Road was the place to be. I was lucky that I was working in a gentleman’s hair boutique just a stone’s throw away, in fashionable Penge. We had quite an array of stars pop in for a trim and something for the weekend – footballers, restaurateurs, minor royalty, ballet dancers, female impersonators, and so on – but I never really had a chance to explore my real passion – beards and moustaches. The owner of the boutique, Ted Grind, was really very old-school and had little time for facial hair and often laughed at my obsessions as well as my complexion. One day, Lance Grit, one of the early English Rock and Rollers, found himself in the boutique after the number 30 bus he had been travelling on skidded on some coleslaw on the Croydon Road. Ted took one look at the shaken hip-swinger and said “Bloody layabouts. Call that music? Oi! Nancy-boy Tony – deal with this freak.” I sat the stunned leather-clad lad down and in his dazed state he confided in me – for two years he had been wearing a false left sideburn and could I do anything about it? I guess I never looked back from then on.
SB: Our readers who are familiar with your work will be surprised to learn that you started your career with sidies, considering the beard-related nature of your more famous creations.
TW: Well, for me, sideburns were, and are, a sideline, if you pardon the pun. SB: Just this once. What did you do for Lance?
TW: Lance’s sideburns were never going to make the grade. Bear in mind that in those days you couldn’t get a licence to play bongos in an espresso bar unless you had two matching sidies of regulation three-inch length. Lance’s career was in the balance, so we worked together over a matter of months on designing a full and extremely wide waxed tache that would reach up to the hairline, drawing the eyes away from the false sideburn. Looking back, it was a really ambitious project, but I was young and world seemed full of possibilities. Funnily enough, I bumped into Lance years later at the Speakeasy. He said, “Piss off and leave me alone”, which I found really quite moving.
SB: You really came to the attention of the alert pop fan in the late sixties with your groundbreaking work with David Crosby, eventually becoming the world’s first ‘beard roadie’ when you went on tour with him.
TW: Well, firstly, I know for a fact that when the Beatles did their last tour, Mal Evans, their road-manager, would often catch George Harrison cultivating some bum fluff totally in contravention of Brian Epstein’s instructions. Mal would hold down George and remove the fluff with a piece of gaffer tape. I once joked about this with John Lennon and he called me “a gormless twat”. He was a great man, with such a gift for language. That said, I suppose I was the first beard roadie, although these days my business card reads “Beard Solutions Consultant”.
SB: So how did you and David Crosby meet?
TW: By sixty-seven I had my own boutique in trendy Neasden and a steady client list of pop stars. That whole hippy look was very good for business, but that tache McCartney grew to cover up the fact he was dead meant that the pointed Edwardian was the only facial furniture any self-respecting pop star would be seen in. I was in a rut, creatively speaking, and was desperate to branch out. Crosby had left the Byrds and was in town doing press for his new band. I don’t remember if it was CSN or CSNY at that point – Crosby certainly had at least outline planning permission for the Y – and he wanted a new look. He was really getting into the whole cowboy thing; guns, rotting teeth, syphilis, and, of course, moustaches. I was introduced to Crosby at the UFO club and when he said he was looking for someone to advise him on, as he put it, “a great big handlebar”, I jumped at the chance. I burnt down the boutique for the insurance, bought a passport and never looked back.
SB: What are your memories of touring in the USA?
TW: Crosby was very pleased with the handlebar but it was a high-maintenance piece, so when he was putting together that first Crosby Stills Nash and Young tour he asked me if I could tag along and help out. The day before that famous Madison Square Gardens gig, was re-pointing Crosby’s handlebar when I noticed Stephen Stills paying a lot of attention to what I was doing. Eventually, Stills took me to one side and asked me if I would help him with a handlebar of his own, but only if it was bigger than Crosby’s. Their rivalry was legendary. The “handlebar escalation war”, as I called it, got silly in the end. By the close of that first tour both Stills’ and Crosby’s handlebars needed a complex net of cables strung from the lighting rig just to stay off the ground. Look back at the Woodstock film – you’ll notice they never move an inch. Now you know why – the tache support systems literally rooted them to the spot. The second tour was even more ridiculous. Stills and
Crosby needed separate limos, dressing rooms, and sometimes, venues just to accommodate the handlebars. When the taches started getting their own riders and groupies I knew it was time to leave. I also remember a sticky situation crossing the Mexican border some time in nineteen seventy.
Crosby had nagged me into building a “stash tache” – a special compartment in the handlebar where he could hide his Peruvian flake. Well, the tache was frisked at the border but luckily the guard came across a whole beef taco that Crosby had dropped in there by mistake a couple of evening before. When the guard held up the taco with a questioning look, Crosby simply said, enigmatically, “badminton” and we were waved through customs on the grounds of ‘confusion’. It was a close thing, though. An inch or two further frisking to the left and it would have been a very different story. Oddly enough, I never really clicked with Neil Young, despite his strong record of beards over the subsequent years. Neil’s approach to his beard and tache was ‘the rougher the better’. He liked first-take trims as they seemed more honest to him. He wasn’t afraid of mistakes; in fact he loved them. A bit of missed stubble here, a little divot into the beard there. He was obsessed with keeping his beard real and vital. This approach was so different from someone like Mick Fleetwood, with whom I worked years later. With Mick we would spend hours and hours in the studio overgrooming his beard again and again, sometimes even trimming each hair in turn to build up the perfect beard. There’s a lot to be said for that technique, but the risk is that you primp so much that you lose the original rough magic of the beard.
The serialisation will continue…