When he isn't mistaken for Tommy Stinson of the Replacements — it happened several times in one night at last month's Outlaw Music Fest — Jon Clifford has become one of the most recognized guys in the Twin Cities music scene.
He doesn't play music, though. Instead, the 58-year-old south Minneapolis native is in the business of trying to make other people stand out like rock stars.
"I'm a goofy, skinny hairdresser who has a lot of really cool friends and clients," is how he humbly put it.
Through his HiFi Hair and Records near Loring Park in downtown Minneapolis — hair salon + record shop = genius — Clifford has become a beloved booster, cheerleader and benefactor within the local music scene. He's sort of the Minneapolis equivalent of Los Angeles radio jockey Rodney Bingenheimer, a friendly fixture and superfan with a haircut as cool as his taste in music.
None other than the Replacements recently tapped Clifford — plus his shop, his dog Fred and his 1963 Pontiac Catalina convertible — to star in a video last year for "Takin' a Ride," from the band's newly reissued 1981 debut album.
Other local musicians clamor to get their LPs on display in Clifford's record shop, which adjoins his salon. He rightly called it "the coolest waiting room in the world."
"People will call and ask if we have a certain record in stock," Clifford said with his politely mischievous grin, "and I'll say, 'I don't know. It's a record store. Come down and see what we have. That's what it's here for.'"
Twin Cities rockers also line up to perform at the free parties Clifford throws in the alleyway behind his salon — a storied, cobblestoned patch of downtown real estate where long-gone Loring Park mayhem havens like the Loring Cafe and Nick and Eddie also held events.
Clifford started the parties coming out of COVID lockdown in 2021 as a safe/outdoor way to bring back live music and help his friends' bands make some money. (He pays the sound engineer; attendees pay the musicians through donations).
Two summers later, so many acts have asked to be included in HiFi's alley bashes, he had to draw names out of a hat to whittle down the lineups. "I couldn't have possibly picked them myself," he said.
Other installments in this year's series include: Dan Israel, Thunderheads and Tommy Bentz (Aug. 20); Trailer Trash, Saddle Sores and Boozewater (Sept. 17); and the Belfast Cowboys, Jailbreak and the new, nearly all-female all-star group Favourite Girl (Oct. 1).
If it sounds like Clifford is trying to nudge his way into the music business, though, that's wrong. He sees his musical endeavors as a natural offshoot and complement to his true line of work: cutting hair.
"Haircuts have gone hand-in-hand with rock 'n' roll since Elvis and Buddy Holly," he said, a tradition that spiked — no pun intended — with the advent of punk during his teen years.
"My friends and I all wanted to have the cool haircuts of the day, but we couldn't afford them. So I started cutting my own hair, then my girlfriend's hair, then my other friends' hair. And it just snowballed from there."
Hellraising at Horst
He admits to something of a "wasted" — and at times even transient — youth until he finally took up the call in the early '80s and enrolled at Minneapolis' Horst Education Center, a precursor to the Aveda Institute, both founded by famed stylist Horst Rechelbacher.
The school, he said, was "basically 100-150 kids with no rules, going crazy, partying to no end. But we also all took what we were doing very seriously and raised the bar, I think."
After managing some of the first Regis outposts in Knollwood and Southdale malls in his early 20s, he followed his first wife to Grand Rapids, Mich., where they ran a salon "geared more toward disposable incomes" called the Coiffeteria (still open).
His first marriage over, Clifford returned to Minneapolis in 2005 and worked for Aveda. It wasn't until his father began a terminal battle with cancer that he decided to open his own salon again in 2011 — this one truly his own, with a set cost of $60 per haircut (a punk-rock price considering other stylists with his pedigree charge $100-plus).
"My dad was the one who really got me into music and inspired me that way," he said.
"When he was dying, I decided I wanted to open my own place — a real rock 'n' roll hair salon that would be the kind of place I would want to go work at every day, and be happy working at until the day I die."
The end result, in his own words, "is more like a museum, and maybe a college dorm." The chairs are covered in animal-print vinyl, like seats in a vintage hot rod. The walls are lined in memorabilia, from autographed LPs and posters to an entire hallway of Rolling Stones photos and do-dads.
Among his most prized possessions are: a rainbow-checkered suit Slim Dunlap wore on stage with the Replacements; a copy of 1979's "Big Hits of Mid-America, Volume Three" compilation signed by many of the musicians on it (Suburbs, Hypstrz, Curtiss A, Suicide Commandos); and another framed LP of the, um, cheeky 1981 Loverboy album "Get Lucky" signed by the woman whose red-leather-clad derriere was purportedly used for the cover photo.
Some of the coolest items on the walls came courtesy of two well-known former employees of the HiFi record store: Hüsker Dü sound engineer and Garage D'Or Records operator Terry Katzman (who died in 2019) and longtime First Avenue guru Steve McClellan (who's now living in Cloquet, Minn.). Clifford lovingly called them "a real-life Odd Couple" and said, "I miss them so incredibly much."
Of course, many of the musicians featured on the walls of both sides of HiFi also happen to be clients, including Flamin' Ohs frontman Robert Wilkinson.
"I go get my haircut from Jon because he knows how to [mess] it up proper," Wilkinson said, praising Clifford for bringing "heart and soul to our powerful arts and music community."
"He helped to create community and helped us heal by putting on these alley shows during some of the most challenging and hardest times in our lives."
A sign he's not just a hanger-on superfan, Clifford didn't have much to offer when asked what sort of tales of debauchery or insider scoops he hears while his rock-star clients are in his chair.
"I mostly ask them about their families or what they're doing outside of music," he said. "That's honestly what I'm most interested in."
You're likely to hear Clifford talking about his own family, too, including his wife of 14 years, Aimee, and their sons Max, 20, and Cash, 16. Or you might catch him talking about the latest improvements to his elaborate backyard patio and bar area behind their south Minneapolis home.
As content as he is at home, Clifford said he has achieved the career goal he set out when his dad died.
"I have no plan to retire in my lifetime," he insisted. "I consider myself fortunate I get to do what I love to do, and have been able to do it the way I love."
The Alley Series
With: Eleganza, 5 Cent Reality, the April Fools.
When: 2-6 p.m. Sun.
Where: Behind HiFi Hair and Records, 1637 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.
Info: Free, all-ages, facebook.com/hifihair.