Live Fast, Die Young

The rise and hard fall of rockabilly barber Jake Bricks

Photo by Marry Bricks KingmanFor five years in the 1990s, Chicano and rockabilly greasers from near and far made the pilgrimage to Jake Bricks' tiny barbershop in Orange.

On May 12, Bricks took a bullet to the head. Police are calling it suicide. Bricks' family says he wasn't the suicidal type.

On Dec. 1, 1999, Bricks, 30, was arrested for felony possession of a stolen handgun and held at the Theo Lacy jail in Orange in lieu of $250,000 bail—an amount his family couldn't come up with, according to his wife, Andrea Bricks.

Bricks was set to go before Superior Court Judge Dennis S. Choate in Santa Ana on June 19 to determine whether he should be sentenced under the state's Three Strikes law, which could have put him in prison for 25 years to life without the possibility of parole.

"He didn't want to spend the rest of his life in jail," said well-known OC hillbilly rocker Big Sandy of his last phone conversation with his longtime friend, who was behind bars at the time. "He thought of taking his own life, but he couldn't do it."

Andrea Bricks maintains her husband "was not a suicidal man in any way." Andrea is facing her own sentence: she is dying from terminal small-bowel cancer.

With leniency unlikely from the court system, a terminally ill wife and a 3-year-old son he might never see again as a free man, friends say Bricks apparently found the cards stacked against him.

On the night of May 11, he fell out of his cell bunk at Theo Lacy and cut his right elbow. He limped and told guards he felt dizzy. They took him to Western Medical Center in Anaheim for treatment.

While leaving the hospital, Bricks jumped a police officer and, according to Sergeant Joe Vargas of the Anaheim Police Department, "beat the hell out of the guy and took his gun."

Police say Bricks bolted for an idling medical transport vehicle, a Geo Metro, and drove off, speeding down the streets of Anaheim with police cars giving chase. After passing the Anaheim police station, the Metro hit a parked car and came to a stop.

According to police, officers who approached the vehicle saw a muzzle flash inside the Metro. They say they found Bricks slumped over the steering wheel, dead.

Police will provide no other details of the incident while it is under a district attorney's investigation. But Bricks family attorney Michael Molfetta said he questions the police account. "Based on my experience as a former district attorney, the information reported is fishy," he said.

"We have our suspicions," said Andrea. "Jake was not a violent person. Jake has never expressed suicidal thoughts. It doesn't make sense that he would turn a gun on himself."

Andrea says she believes Jake may have broken out of custody "to make one last attempt to come home to say goodbye to me and the baby before he served life."

Bricks' impact on Orange County's rockabilly scene was evident at his May 18 burial at Forest Lawn in Cypress. Among those in attendance was Glen Glenn, a 1950s-era musician who autographed Bricks' arm in the '80s; Bricks got it permanently tattooed on his skin. The Fabulous Thunderbirds' Kid Ramos, who was one of Bricks' first customers, was at the funeral, as were Dave Stuckey and Brian Poole of the Dave and Deke Combo.

Friends and family took some solace in knowing that Bricks was buried in the same place as legendary '50s rocker Eddie Cochran.

"Jake was so much in love with the music," said Big Sandy (who was born Robert Williams). "That was the passion that he and I shared."

If you wanted a rockabilly haircut, you went to Jake's Barbershop. It wasn't just a place to tighten a frazzled mop, though; you went to Jake's to drink beer, listen to old records and see Bricks' daily show of shuffling about the floor while cutting hair to the slap of an echoing string bass. Big Sandy even wrote a song about the place.

"It was just about hanging out, that's all—the way they did on The Andy Griffith Show at Floyd's place," said Big Sandy.

Bricks, who was born in Orange and lived there or in Garden Grove his entire life, adopted his vocation from his own barber, went to barber college and, with his first wife, Mary, found a space at the Orange Plaza on Olive Avenue. He opened Jake's Barbershop in 1990.

"He thought he would be able to be true to the '50s lifestyle and not have to work the 9-to-5 by opening an original-style barbershop," Big Sandy recalled.

Bricks soon cultivated a following of suburban rebels, Chicanos and international rock stars such as Morrissey and Boz Boorer of the Polecats. The usual routine had him leisurely cutting away at his customers' mops while chain-smoking, talking on the phone or taking a quick break to run across the street to buy more beer. By afternoon, the shop would be full of customers patiently waiting for a new 'do as they read the latest edition of Hustler magazine hidden within a vintage issue of Custom Hot-Rod.

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