Barber brothers are authentic Vegas guys
November 15, 2016 3:01 AM
by Dave Dye
Joey “The Barber” Trujillo looked up at legendary boxing trainer Angelo Dundee and muttered to himself, “Oh no. I’m in trouble.”
Trujillo had been given a special pass with the title “Angelo Dundee’s assistant” that included access to Sugar Ray Leonard’s corner on fight night against Tommy Hearns in 1981 at Caesars Palace.
Earlier in the day, Dundee went to Trujillo for help.
“He was losing his hair,” Trujillo said. “I gave him what I used to call ‘The Watergate,’ the cover-up.”
The Watergate consisted of a spray designed to cover bald spots.
One problem: “I forgot about the lights. About the third round, he started dripping black. Sugar says to him, ‘Angie, Angie, you’re dripping black and you’re not even black.’”
Leonard became obsessed with Dundee’s hair malfunction and wasn’t paying attention to anything else between rounds.
Dundee finally pleaded before the 14th round, “Go knock him out and let’s get the heck out of here.”
Leonard did just that and nobody was happier than Trujillo.
“That saved me,” Joey said. “He (Dundee) forgot all about the hair.”
It’s been 50 years now since Trujillo helped a new barbershop get going when Caesars Palace opened in 1966. His two younger brothers, Willie and Johnny, joined him there and they became the very popular barber brothers of Las Vegas.
Joey worked at Caesars for 27 years before moving to the Gold Coast and eventually ending up at The Orleans, where he’s been since it opened in 1996. His wife, Toni, son, Gilbert, and daughter, Valerie, all work in his shop these days.
Willie, two years younger than Joey, left Caesars for the old Dunes before his tragic death at age 39.
Johnny, 10 years younger than Joey, ran a shop at the Stardust from 1978 until the casino closed in 2006. He moved on to the South Coast, which is now called South Point. He’s been there for 10 years.
The brothers have given haircuts over the last five decades to famous entertainers (Frank Sinatra) and athletes (Arnold Palmer), not to mention crooks and con artists. After all, this is Vegas.
It all started for them after Joey got married and realized he couldn’t support his wife working in a gas station back in his home town in New Mexico.
To save money, Joey had started cutting Willie’s hair and Willie cut Joey’s hair. They quickly realized they had a knack for it and began saving for barber school.
Johnny later decided to follow in their footsteps. He insists he was shy in the beginning, nervous about having to cut the hair of famous, wealthy and powerful people, but that’s all changed.
“I learned from Joey and Willie,” Johnny said. “Now I don’t stop talking. I’m telling stories all the time. That is what relaxes them (the customers).”
For the last five years, Johnny has been going to the home of 90-year-old comedian Jerry Lewis once a month.
“He cracks jokes, sings a little bit, his mind is great,” Johnny said. “But you’ve got to cut him quick. He wants me to finish like right now. I don’t talk too much.”
It’s the older brother, naturally, who has the majority of first-hand stories. He could write a book.
Joey was the personal barber for Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, whose life in Las Vegas as a gambler and his connections to the mob were portrayed in the 1995 movie “Casino,” starring Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Sharon Stone.
Rosenthal flew Joey with him to Guadalajara, Mexico, one weekend to help him look good for “business meetings.”
When they landed in Los Angeles on the return trip, Rosenthal told him, “Joey, see those guys in the black suits? They’re FBI agents. You might get a phone call. Tell the truth. You’re not doing anything wrong.”
Sure enough, Trujillo got the call a couple days later. The FBI wanted to confirm what he had done over the weekend.
“I told them I went on a trip with a client and made him look good for his meeting. He (the FBI agent) said, ‘OK, that’s all we wanted to know.’”
Other well-known clients included Ralph Lamb, the late Clark County Sheriff who took on the mob and was later depicted in the TV show “Vegas” with Dennis Quaid playing the role of Lamb.
Joey also cut the hair of Jimmy Chagra, a major drug dealer. “I didn’t know what the hell he did,” Trujillo said.
His motto over the years became: “Here’s the cops (pointing one way), here’s the mob (pointing the other way). Joey in the middle.”
He would tell Lamb, “Even if I knew something, I wouldn’t tell. I’m not a snitch.”
Joey once gave Sinatra a good tip on a horse race. He also received a $500 tip from a Prince from Saudi Arabia.
He and Johnny have had to adjust to changing hairstyles over the years, but neither is considering retirement just yet. Not even Joey, who is 75.
“Barbers don’t retire,” Johnny said, laughing. “They have to kick us out of the barber shop.”