Richard Smith sends Hank Williams tunes down Main Street

November 12, 2010 • Local News

Election Day has come and gone, but a man still strums Hank Williams songs on his guitar outside the GOP headquarters every day.

The 55-year old, who has a full, grey beard and wears black Ray-Ban sunglasses and a black cowboy hat, says he is frequently confused with being the Republican’s biggest fan, or a Bob Dylan-esque mascot of sorts.

But the real reason he plays at the intersection of Second and Main streets, he says, is quite simple and less political: The tips are good.

“This is the best spot in town,” Richard Smith said, noting that he has met tourists from all over the world from his concrete perch.

The Illinois-native folk rock musician has jammed on his black six-string Behringer guitar on the same corner for more than a year, becoming as much of a neighborhood staple as the International UFO Museum half a block away— which, by the way, generates much foot traffic which means more coins drop into the open guitar case at his foot.

Smith says it’s hard to average how much money he makes a day covering Williams, Frank Sinatra, and Ernest Tubb songs. Some days he will make $30; other days, nothing. Still, he dedicates at least two hours every day out-side with guitar in hand, and dog, Sammy, in his lap.

“I’m going to stay here for good,” he said on Saturday afternoon. “I’ll probably die here.”

The oldest of nine children and a former Army chef, Smith began his career as a traveling street performer after his mental disorder, schizophrenia, prohibited him from working. He taught himself to play the harmonica, the flute and eventually the guitar from The Hank Williams Songbook (Guitar Collection).

He has played in Wisconsin, where he was raised; Pigeon Beach in California, where he spent most of his adult life; and Colorado, to name a few. He also produced his own solo record in 1994, which was influenced by Blues singers like Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry.

He first came to Roswell in 2006 to get his 30-year old special needs daughter, Lila, on the waiting list for Tobosa, a community home on East Summit Street for those with developmental disabilities. He called the wait list “endless,” and said she is still awaiting approval after four years.

Meanwhile, Smith struggled to find a spot in town to play where business owners didn’t complain about loitering or soliciting money.

He was kicked from the curb of the UFO Museum and Hastings Hardback Cafe, and finally settled in front of the Republican Party of Chaves County headquarters because it was usually closed. No one has ever given him a hard time at this post, Smith said, adding that even though he voted a straight Democratic ticket this election cycle, he appreciates the fact that the party allows him to stay there.

“I gotta give them credit from not running me off,” he said, chuckling.

Smith also noted that despite the tunes that drift down Main Street for all to hear, he barely garners any attention from politicians and staffers walking in and out the front doors.

“They don’t tip me,” he said. “I’m barely noticeable.”

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