“I've always been about getting the chicks,” says Omar Romero, 32, of Altadena, a man known not just for running Vinny's, one of the best barbershops in town, but also for being one of the top rockabilly sound engineers in the world.
Romero's interest in the fairer sex birthed an “obsession” with hair. “I loved Desi Arnaz, Johnny Depp in Cry-Baby and, of course, Elvis Presley.” Still, whenever he went to a barber, the results were underwhelming. “I never once got a haircut that made me happy.” So he started honing his own haircutting skills on family members.
At 16, Romero met a girl who connected him with Ralph Upshaw, proprietor of Ralph's Barbershop in Pomona. He apprenticed with Upshaw before making the rounds in the L.A. area and eventually opening his own shop in Virgil Village three years ago. Named Vinny's after his oldest son, it has since doubled in size, with Romero's longtime friend Arya Abarghoei managing the expanded side.
Around the time he picked up his shears, Romero also started picking up music. “I wanted to drum, but drummers don't get chicks,” he says. “Frontmen get the chicks.” There was just one problem. “I couldn't sing to save my life,” he says with a laugh. His first band, the Screaming Solo Flights, had a Western swing influence.
His love of playing music led him to pay close attention to how a record sounds, particularly the vintage sounds of the 1950s. “It could sound like a big studio or someone's closet,” he says. This interest led to a gig as a recording engineer for internationally renowned rockabilly label Wild Records.
Entirely self-taught, Romero sees his challenge as making what could be boring sound fresh. “Every album these days sounds like Interpol or The Black Keys,” he says. Little Victor, a 1940s-style blues artist, came to Romero looking to ape vintage sounds. “Anyone can do that,” Romero says. “I wanted to do something special without pretending to be some other thing.”
The most important part of Romero's life, however, is family. He married Jennifer, a hairdresser, in his shop last February. Victor Banuelos, another barber in the shop, was best man. He and Jennifer have a 15-month-old son, Victor; Romero's older son, Vinny, lives in Germany.
Romero first saw Jennifer in a Los Angeles Magazine feature about Drybar, a salon where she worked. She had a boyfriend at the time, but Romero said to himself, “Screw whoever she's with.” Citing an inspirational book in his life, It's Not How Good You Are, It's How Good You Want to Be, Romero says, “That book taught me to take chances. I didn't want to be just another Joe punching the clock. If it weren't for that book, I never would have asked her out.”
[Correction: An earlier version of this article erroneously described Romero's son Vinny as being an adult, but he is still a child. We regret the error.]