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Nashville People: How Rodney Mitchell Went from Small Town Alabama Boy to Stylist to the Stars

 

 

Photo courtesy of 90 East Photography and Think Country and Nashville People

No matter where you go in Nashville, one thing you’ll see are a lot of beautiful people.  There may be plenty of good, Southern food here, the kind that packs on the pounds, but don’t let that fool you.  Most residents of this city are pretty health-conscious. They take care of their bodies and with that healthy lifestyle, they like to look good from head to toe.  That counts double for those in the music industry, particularly artists.  

Nashville People had the opportunity to sit down with one of Music City’s most sought-after stylists, Rodney Mitchell, and hear him tell his story.  I think you’re going to love this one. Without further delay, let’s get right into it, just as it sounded in the salon that summer day.

Nashville People:  Here we are, Rodney, in your very cool salon.  It’s eclectic, I love it. Let’s start off with where you’re from?

Rodney Mitchell:  I’m from a little, small town called Eclectic, Alabama.  That’s where I grew up.

Photo courtesy of encyclopediaofalabama.org

NP:  When did you originally come to Nashville?

RM:  I came here in 1987.

NP:  So, you’ve been here for a while, so you know what you’re talking about when you say you are a “Nashville person”.

RM:  Yes.

NP:  What made you choose this as a profession?  What inspired you?

RM:  I think I was trying to find myself and what I wanted to do back in the 80’s, and a friend of mine said, “Hey, you’d probably be really good at hair”, so I went to hair school and worked in Montgomery, Alabama for a couple of years and one day I had the opportunity to have a job offer in Nashville.  So, with a mullet and two-hundred dollars in my pocket, I went, and I took the job.

NP:  You had a mullet?  So did he! (I pointed out my husband who was wandering the salon taking photos)  It was the style back then.

RM:  (Laughing)  My ex asked me, “Why do you want to move to Nashville?”  I said, “Because I want to work on a celebrity.” He kind of looked at me and said, “Celebrities don’t go to people like us.”  I always kind of kept that in my mind. So, later on in my career, I think it was in the 90’s, I was in the right place at the right time and RCA referred over a new artist from Kansas.  Her name was Martina McBride. She sat in my chair, straight out of Kansas, and that’s how I started my career doing celebrities.

Photo courtesy of countryuniverse.net

NP:  Martina McBride, wow.

RM:  Right.  So, she was first, and Tim McGraw was my second one.  Tim and I were really good friends. Once his number one single was out, he wanted to redo his look, so I was pretty much famous for cutting his mullet off.  So, I was the guy that did that and gave him his look.

NP:  How did he feel about that?  Was he ready?

RM:  He was a little nervous, but he trusted me.  It was a good call.

Photos courtesy of Taste of Country and 90 East Photography, Think Country and Nashville People

NP:  It did well for him.

RM:  Yeah, it did.  It went well and I had the opportunity of working with Faith Hill through Tim.  They were really, really nice to me. They trusted me. I did a New Year’s Eve show with them at Bridgestone which was a huge deal for me.  Let’s see… Shania Twain was next. Her people called me because she was getting ready to film an NBC Special. We had a phone conference. She was in Canada at the time and I was working.  Someone said, “Shania Twain’s on the phone,” so I said, “Okay” and she told me exactly what she wanted. She wanted ribbons in her hair, she wanted a certain look for this special. She was very to-the-point, very in-control of everything.

NP:  She seems like an in-control woman.

RM:  Yes and she was very pleasant to work with.

NP:  Big Kenny.  I see you’ve worked with him.  Tell me about that because he’s just got this big mass of curly hair.

RM:  Yeah, he was fun to work with.

NP:  Did you have to stand on something to reach his hair?  He’s tall!

RM:  (Laughing) No, no.  He was a good guy to work with. Another exciting person was Tanya Tucker.  You know, I pretty much had to live with her on her reality show, Jason the makeup artist and myself for about six weeks, all together.  It was on TLC. It was fun, a lot of stories.

Photo courtesy of Patti McClintic,  Think Country and Nashville People

NP:  Probably a lot you can’t tell.

RM:  Yes!

NP:  Those are the best ones.

RM:  She was really, really sweet.

NP:  That’s very exciting.  You’ve worked with a lot of fashion designers as well, correct?

RM:  Yeah, I got on the fashion circuit, probably back around 2000, working with Zang Toi and Pamella Roland.  We did some really high profile fashion shows. One that I do remember was the Halston Archives show which was held in Franklin, Tennessee.  It was an event. It was hosted by Leon Hall who was Joan Rivers’s sidekick at the time. We did hair and makeup that night and Leon Hall got up in front of the crowd and said it was (the hair and makeup) better than he had seen in New York and L.A.  That kind of put me on the map that night. There were periscopes and we had people in and out of New York, it was a show! There were planes landing and then there was the story of Paris Hilton. There was a chair with her name on it and she was late, of course.  Leon Hall was making a joke about her and there was an outdoor speaker outside of the venue and she had pulled in and heard it, so that was kind of the night of… it was a night.

Photo courtesy of funinsider.com

NP:  I’ll say.

RM:  After that, for dinner Rosanne Cash sat at my table, and I’ll always remember this moment.  She was sitting there and she looked at me and said, “What would you do to change my hair?” I said, “I would turn it red.”  Ever since that moment, if you look at photos of Rosanne Cash her hair is red.

NP:  I was going to say that her hair is red.

RM:  Yeah, she changed her hair color to red.

Photo courtesy of NPR

NP:  You have the eye.  So, when did you open your first salon?

RM:  Well, I started doing hair in the 90’s and I started opening salons in 1998.

NP:  In the larger scheme, that really isn’t that long.

RM:  No. It was one of those things where I really wasn’t looking to open one.  I tell this story. I wasn’t really wanting to open a salon, I just got out of a relationship, I was looking for a place to live and I was riding down 19th Avenue on Music Row and I saw a bungalow house up for lease.  I stopped and looked through the window and thought, “This looks really neat”, so I called about it. Actually, Ray Stevens owned the property, and the woman on the phone said it was still available and it used to be a salon.  I went and looked at it and she said if I didn’t take it someone would probably lease it by tomorrow, so I had to make my mind up. So, I took it. I was going to open a salon. We tried to think of a name and I went with my middle name, which is how Rodney Mitchell started.

NP:  Not to be confused with Paul Mitchell.

RM:  No.

NP:  I’m sure you get asked that all the time.

RM:  I do, yeah.  So, I opened that one in 1998 and after that I opened four more, so five total with this one.  It’s like I went to bed, this guy who came from nothing, and beat the odds. People who told me I would never be anything, I proved that you can do it if you really want to.

NP:  This is amazing, a really great success story.  You’re also involved in fundraisers like crazy.

RM:  I am.  That’s one of the biggest things, when people come to work for me, probably 2,000 to 3,000 people who work under me or train under me, that’s my passion, charity work is very important.  That’s part of the requirement, that you have to volunteer some of your time, especially for shows we do or Gilda’s Club, that’s a really big one for me, helping women with cancer.

NP:  It’s really important to give back and it gives you a good feeling to give back.

RM:  It really is important to me.

NP:  Do you have any special charity events planned right now?

RM:  We don’t have anything lined up right now, but every year we usually do the Monroe Children’s Fashion Show, but things really start happening for us in the fall.

NP:  Do you find that your field is competitive?  Especially in this city?

RM:  Yeah… there are very few of us around that are kind of old school.  I think it’s very competitive, but being in business this long, there are very few of us that last, you have to know what you’re doing.

NP:  Something has to be said for that.  You must be doing something right.

RM:  Most people think you can just pop open a business and that’s it.  There’s a lot more to it.

NP:  I’m sure that you probably work when you’re not working.

RM:  Yes, I do. I’m really never not working.  I think 1998 was the last time I ever really slept.  The night before I opened my first business.

NP:  Is there any advice you would give to somebody that was thinking of going into this business?

RM:  I would always say to make sure it’s what you want because you’re not going to have a life.  Your life is your business. Make sure you get some great advice and make sure you always watch your money.

 

Photo courtesy of 90 East Photography, Think Country and Nashville People

NP:  I guess you kind of answered this already, but I’m going to ask it again and maybe you’ll have a different answer as I’m asking it more directly this time.  How does one actually become a “stylist to the stars”? Is it just a stroke of luck?

RM:  For me, it all played out by doing some really good work, being recognized and being in the right place at the right time.  Getting out there and networking and meeting people.

NP:  What do you think sets you apart from all these other salons out there?  What do you do differently here that would make me want to make an appointment here rather than somewhere else?

Photo courtesy of 90 East Photography, Think Country and Nashville People

RM:  We’re well-educated, well-trained, we spend a lot of money on education.  We’re down-to-earth, you know. A lot of people like us, we bring in all walks of life, we’re very down-to-earth and we do a good job.  We have a really good staff and they’re really loyal. They’ve really gotten out there and educated themselves.

NP:  That’s good because nobody wants to come out with messed up hair.  

RM:  No, no.

NP:  When you go to a salon and your hair isn’t what you hoped for, you’re going to have a bad day.  Or a week.

RM:  Or a month.

NP:  Alright, tell me how it would be if just a regular person, like me or any regular guy or gal wants to come in for a haircut or color, how will that go?  Give me a rundown. We’re not celebrities, just regular people.

RM:  Well, we’ll probably sit you down and I’ll make you one of my famous in-house Bloody Marys, then we’ll talk and have a consultation about your lifestyle and what your needs are.  Some people come in with something you’re not going to get, so I have to break the news to them. A nice consultation would be the start.

NP:   You’re saying that’s something like, if you have no hair at all you’re not going to come out with thick, voluminous hair without spending a lot of money?

RM:  On extensions, right.

NP:  You can just be a regular person though, right?  You don’t have to be a celebrity to make an appointment at a Rodney Mitchell salon?

RM:  Right, of course.  We welcome all walks of life.

NP:  As a Nashville person, where’s a place to get a good cup of coffee?

RM:  Fido, a couple doors down in Hillsboro Village.  They’ve been around for 22 years and yes, that’s the place to go.

Photo courtesy of Fido

NP:  That many years?  I’d say you can’t go wrong.

RM:  Oh yeah, they’re great.  Hillsboro Village, this whole area has a lot of good things.

NP:  A nice place to go for a quiet dinner?  Somewhere where you can hold a conversation without fighting the noise of the music or people talking loudly.

RM:  I like Virago if you like sushi.  It’s one of my favorite places to have a nice martini and sushi.  My everyday place, you know, I’m old school, you see a lot of old Nashville in there, is Bricktops on West End.  It’s a nice place you can have a nice conversation,  

NP:  Best rooftop bar for a good view and a fun time?  

Photo courtesy of fglhouse.com

RM:  Well, the place where I work.  (Rodney Mitchell also works at FGL House)  So, yeah, FGL House. Luke’s 32 Bridge is nice downtown.

NP:  Send a shout out to a local business that you love besides your own.

RM:  This is so tough, there are so many!  I would have to say D’Andrews Bakery & Cafe which is located in downtown Nashville.  It’s an old school family that used to own a department store and he’s the son. He was a pastry chef in New York and he and his husband moved here and opened up this bakery.  You can go in and get fresh coffee or a fresh pastry, something you would see in New York City or something.

Photo courtesy of D’Andrews Bakery & Cafe

NP:  It sounds fabulous!

RM:  Yes, it is!  It’s on Church Street. (555 Church Street)

NP:  How about the best pizza in Nashville?

RM:  Hmmm… best pizza?  I would say Luigi’s downtown.

NP:  Where do you go when you’re out late and afterward you’re looking for somewhere to get something to eat?

RM:  I would probably say The Diner.  It’s a good late night place that’s open 24 hours.

NP:  You came to Nashville and you spilled red wine all over your very best suit and you’re in a panic.  Where do you go to get that taken care of?

RM:  Village Cleaners.  They’ve been around for a hundred years and they’re right here in Hillsboro Village.  They’re a family owned business and they’ve been around for years. A lot of high-profile people go there.

Photo courtesy of Village Cleaners

NP:  Best live music venue in Nashville?

RM:  I would have to say Jason Aldean’s Kitchen, they’re part of my restaurant family.

NP:  If, and let’s just say, when we write our coffee table book for Nashville People, we’re going to need quotes, yours included, so give this some thought.  Yours might even end up on page one. Give me your very own quote about Nashville.  

RM:  “Big hair and Cadillacs never go out of style”

NP:  I love that.  Great quote. Then I have one final question.  When you think “Nashville People”, what do you think?  

RM:  When I think “Nashville People”, I think you never know who you’re going to run into anywhere you go.   It’s a little bit more relaxed here with celebrities. I joined the TC Restaurant Group two years ago. My client came in and I said I was getting so bored with my life, and she said, “Well, we’re about to open a restaurant called the Florida Georgia Line and I could use your help” and I said, “Okay”.  Stuff like that. I work in a restaurant, I’m a celebrity hairdresser and a manager at Florida Georgia Line (FGL House), and people run into me all the time and go, “Is that Rodney Mitchell?” I think being in Nashville you never know who you’re going to run into. People do all kinds of jobs and all types of work.

NP:  We didn’t really touch on that much, your working at FGL House.  Are you enjoying that?

RM:  I do.  Like I said, it was one of those things with my client,  who is also a really good friend and a part of the TC Restaurant Group.  She came in and I was just telling her that I had been doing this a long time and I was getting bored.  She asked if I ever wanted to be in the restaurant business. I told her that I had. I was always infatuated with it even when I traveled I was always looking at the kitchen window and the expo and now I’m living it.  It was an easy, easy crossover for me. It’s been fun. It’s like playing a character. People ask me, “So, you really like it?” I’m like, “Yeah, I really do.”

Photo courtesy of 90 East Photography, Think Country and Nashville People

NP:  It’s also a break from your normal day-to-day.

RM:  Right and I’m still doing the same thing  One time we had Vanna White and Pat Sajak come in to film something and I knew how to treat them because that’s what I’ve done all my life.  It’s fun. I still do it and I still want to do it.

NP:  That’s fantastic.  

(It was at this point that Rodney Mitchell told me one last story about a very high-profile political client he worked on not long ago.  I have opted not to print this portion of our conversation to protect the privacy of all parties involved, but rest assured, this was someone in one of the highest political offices in this country, and Mitchell was overwhelmed and honored to have been the person chosen for the job.)

RM:  Yeah.  What a life.  This small town Alabama boy that used to watch the CMA Awards on TV.  I always knew I was going to do hair but I didn’t know how, I just knew I was going to do it.  

Photo courtesy of 90 East Photography, Think Country and Nashville People

NP:  What a story!  I’m proud of you Rodney, you beat the odds and you’re an inspiration.

RM:  Thank you.  It’s a great life.

Photo courtesy of 90 East Photography, Think Country and Nashville People

Rodney Mitchell Contact Information:

Websitehttp://www.rodneymitchellsalon.com/

Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/RodneyMitchellSalon/

Instagramhttps://www.instagram.com/rodneymitchellsalon/

FGL Househttps://www.facebook.com/fglhouse/

 

 

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Patti McClintic
I’m Patti. Rock music is my first love. My daughter, who was a country fan as a teenager, dragged me in when I'd drive her to school and we would have radio wars in the car. I'd have on my rock station and she would switch it to the country station. Guess who always won? As they say, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, so I did. patti@thinkcountrymusic.com First it was all modern country, but my parents were big Merle Haggard fans. I went along with them to a Merle Haggard/Phil Vassar show at the local fair and that was it. I was hooked on the Hag. Since that day, I've become a fan of bluegrass and I continue to explore all facets of the country genre. I guess you could say, I'm all in. When I'm not up to my neck in any kind of music, I enjoy genealogy, history, my granddaughters and my addiction, SongPop. I guess it could be worse, right? I'm a Buffalo, New York girl living in a Nashville, Tennessee world, and I'm livin' the dream with my husband, my dog and my two cats.
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