Profile: Richard Wright
By Richard Baron
Posted on September 26, 2003
After growing up on the Eastside of El Paso in the Sixties and Seventies, Richard Wright went to A&M and majored in almost everything it was humanly possible to major in, but ultimately all he really cared about was Frisbee.
"It's what I did," he says.
He returned to El Paso, degree-in-hand, and was given an internship at the Electric Company in a planning department think-tank, but quickly felt that cubicle culture impeded his quest for the perfect catch, so he moved to Austin where he worked in a health club and joined an Ultimate team called The Snakes.
"I'd been training for Ultimate Frisbee my whole life. Going out and playing Ultimate is like guys going out and playing in bands, it's doing something you like instead of doing something society thinks you should be doing. I could have disappeared into the Ultimate underground. It's counter-culture, anarchy, long-haired jocks lighting joints in the huddle and putting bandanas on their dogs. We'd travel around to tournaments and we'd pick-up games, and we'd sleep on people's floors."
After a couple of years, however, Wright soured on Austin. "The Snakes style changed from how I like to play. I like give and go, run and pass, boom-boom-boom, but they liked setting up for a long one, and there were too many Yankees in Austin. I wasn't connected; I like to live where I can get my tickets fixed."
He returned to Amigoville, a town where competitive Frisbee is fractious at best, and he helped organize The Jackals, a team that could muster only three associates in a sport that requires seven on the field and 10 on a team, but they'd fall in with other undermanned squads to play tournaments, and then breakup to commix with different rivals. It worked.
To pay for the Frisbee, however, Wright needed real work, so he learned the craft of tending bar in the pacific setting of Seafood Galley, but by the late-Eighties, he was a hot-dogging mixologist at the bodacious and bacchic Surf Club, shooting the tequila curl. "I was part of the show there and it was wild," he recalls. If he wasn't actually flipping bottles over his head in mid-pour and catching them behind his back, it seemed like he was. Wright made a name for himself as a barkeep with which to contend, but his relationship with management was contentious, and he got fired three times. The last one stuck.
He'd been riding his bicycle a lot to Copper Canyon so he thought he'd offer mountain bike tours through the Sierra Tarahumaras, but then found himself always touring Mexico with people he wouldn't have been with if they hadn't paid him. "The first few days of going into the canyon are beautiful, but on the third day you go over three ranges, and then you go down a vertical mile descent on a road covered with rocks the size of babies' heads. I'd give folks on the tour a lecture at the top of the downhill and I'd try to scare them. I'd say, 'We're 600 miles from medical help; if you hurt yourself here, you're probably going to die.' After a while I decided it was better just to go down by myself which was good because then I could tour around alone and pretend like I was working, like I was doing research."
In '93, Wright got an idea. He realized that if he opened a bar that hosted a regular rockabilly band, he could make money by sitting around drinking and listening to rockabilly, so he founded Wildhare's Booze & Adventure which posited itself immediately on the Mesa Street landscape, and in El Paso history, as a landmark establishment of rhythm and booze.
"I never got a houseband, but just after I opened a guy came in one day and says that a band passing through from Austin wants to play here-and that went okay, and then suddenly there was another band and another and another, and then another and another and another, and then it was just a torrent of bands, and for ten years I was doing bands all the time. One month I did 27 bands.
"I was doing good shows, too. Sometimes I'd do four or five solid shows in a row, in one week, five days in a row, and they'd all be killer acts. Big bands, big blues acts-Jimmy Rodgers played there, the guy from the original Muddy Waters Band, the guy who wrote all those blues classics like "If The River Was Whiskey." He came in there one time and he got so drunk that when he got up for his second set he couldn't put his guitar on. He had the strap and he was going around like a dog chasing its tail. Finally the harmonica player put it on him, a guy who had been putting his guitar on everyday for fifty years.
"First I was getting a lot of rockabilly bands, but then they'd come back as a blues band and then they'd be punk bands are then go back again. The music's not similar but the styles are all about being disenfranchised. The audience would change too, and one drives the other, but there will always be guys like Billy Bacon and The Paladins and Kandy Kaine out there. It's being an artist-it's what they do because it's what they do.
"People think it was because I had connections that I got these bands to play in El Paso, but they were desperate to play here. Everybody on the road has to drive through El Paso, and when you're on the road, it's better to play than not to play. Sometimes the band would make nothing, but they'd rather play somewhere and maybe sell some cd's than sit in a motel."
Even on nights when there was no band, Wildhare's was a well-attended saloon with a devoted, discerning clientele because Wright would go an extra mile to amuse his regular topers.
"I'd go to the dollar store and buy little things like a Jesus night-lite and I'd get up on stage and call Lotteria, and we had putting tournaments, and all-you-can-eat-bologna-sandwich night. It was low-budget stuff, but the drunks stay happy if you treat them like they're in kindergarten.
"Owning a bar is great if you like staying up late and getting drunk. My pool game is pretty good now, after 10 years, and I can throw some darts. Foosball," he says nodding.
When the lease came up for renewal in early '03, Wright decided to pass. "I did it for 10 years and I made money-not great money, but money-but I didn't want to commit to it for five more years, I didn't want to be running the bar in 2008. There were all these little niggling frustrations like worrying about minors drinking or are your employees stealing. The bar was my sole source of income, but I really did it more like a hobby, and I didn't want to end up looking like Keith Richards.
"Closing the bar gave me a feeling of power, that I could yank this playground out from under all these people, but once I decided to close it, I knew that I'd have it for only another month and then it would be gone forever, and I kind of went on a binge."
While on this bender, Wright wrote a little Western song that goes something like this:
My glass is empty again,
It feels like I lost my only friend.
You think I'm broken but I'm learning to bend
My glass is empty again.
I know that when she comes crawling back,
She'll have a heart attack when she sees how happy I've been.
I'll bet she calls most everyday,
But I don't know because I'm away
Inside a bottle of gin,
And my glass is empty again.
"Now the bar is closed and I miss it, I miss seeing the bands. Guys call me up looking for a place to play and I'm sorry that I can't give them one."
"I have a lot of time now, and I've been writing some detective stories. I've got a good voice for that, and it gets me thinking different things.
"I was thinking: If there is life after death, and if you and I wanted
to do a miracle right now, say we wanted to levitate that glass, and if there's
life after death, you wouldn't have this corporal body where you can do stuff
like pick that glass up, so our being able to pick up that glass is a miracle.
Our corporeality is a miracle. People pursuing Christianity are trying to
get to the spiritual but they should be wallowing in the physical. This is
it, this is Heaven, this is the miracle.
"You should be a good person, but not because there's some celestial payoff, you should just be a good person because that's what you should be, that's one of the rules.
"Why should you worry about tomorrow? Look at the birds of the field-neither do they sow nor do they reap, and they don't starve for they are the children of god, so I'm thinking I'm not worrying; I'm not worrying about tomorrow. Why should I worry?"
What, Wright worry?
copyright 2003 Richard Baron
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