Roswell’s troubadour Richard Smith plays his guitar at the northwest corner of Second and Main streets. Noah Vernau Photo
You probably recognize Richard Smith as the full-bearded gentleman with sunglasses who plays guitar on the northwest corner of Second and Main streets, a familiar sight in downtown Roswell since 2009. Demonstrating a broad taste in music, Smith entertains passersby almost every day at the busy intersection with song selections from Brooks & Dunn to Frank Sinatra. Whether you are a resident running an errand or a tourist checking out the UFO Museum, you have likely seen Smith perched outside the Republican Party of Chaves County headquarters, strumming his red, weather-beaten Oscar Schmidt guitar.
“I’ve met people from all over the world at this spot — from Asia, from Europe. Not long ago I met a lady from Spain,” Smith said. “They come across the globe to see that museum.”
Smith was born near Geneva, Ill., in 1955, and grew up just outside Mauston, Wis. Ready to put the harsh winters of the Midwest behind him, he joined the military soon after graduating from high school, working for a time as an Army chef in California.
Smith traveled a lot in the 1980s, when he began public performances as a young man with his shakuhachi, a traditional Japanese bamboo flute that he would play on the streets of Thayer, Mo. Although Smith has always enjoyed playing the flute, it did not take long before he realized that street musicians who do not sing tend to earn less money.
So Smith purchased a beat-up guitar and taught himself the chords, quickly becoming comfortable enough to sing and play in public. In a matter of months, he was a regular performer in Thayer, where he played songs by Hank Williams Sr. at the Front Street Tavern on Friday nights in the mid-1980s.
Smith continued playing the guitar to make ends meet after he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, a condition that has presented more than a few challenges over the years. Throughout the 1990s, Smith played music in Boulder, Colo., Pismo Beach, Calif., and Silver City, but at times was unable to afford his medication.
“It’s easy to lose track of your responsibilities if you get off your medication. And when I was off my medication, I would get irresponsible about my bills,” he said. “That’s how I became homeless a few times. …
“But when you’re taking the medication, you’re on a pretty even keel. And if you do get any symptoms, you can recognize them for what they are and dismiss them.”
Smith came to Roswell about six years ago in an attempt to get his daughter Lila into Tobosa, a community home for people with developmental disabilities. While attempts to get Lila into the home have so far been unsuccessful, Smith says Roswell is where he wants to stay.
“I’m getting past the age of wanting to discover new places,” Smith said. “Roswell is a good place, with two good hospitals. As you get older, you start thinking about where the nearest, good hospitals are.
“… Roswell takes care of people. Some cities are a little more cold-hearted than Roswell is.”
Smith said he has mellowed out over the years, and has quenched his thirst for travel with days spent in one of the city’s many parks, trips to the city museum and an occasional stroll through the public zoo. At home, Smith enjoys the company of his cats and two dogs — a German Shepherd mix named Daisy and a long-haired Chihuahua named Sammy.
The next time you pass Smith at Roswell’s crossroads, you might catch him performing one of his favorite songs, “Who Woulda Thunk It,” by Greg Brown. Smith said he identifies with the song, which is about getting older, how much we change over the years — and who woulda thunk it?
“If I can’t do anything else, at least I can sit here and sing,” Smith said. “And brighten the corner where I am.”