Richard Smyrnios’ stage name “Poor Richard” couldn’t have been more apt. After eking out a meager existence in Kalamazoo, Michigan—where he taught himself guitar on a busted three-stringer–Smyrnios, a high-school dropout, took advantage of the only opportunity afforded to him. Stuck on an Air Force base in the Jim Crow south in 1965, he requested a transfer to anywhere and ended up in Khe Sahn—the epicenter of Viet Nam’s growing conflict. Surrounded by 25,000 VC, his personal defenses driven down by stress and despair, Smyrnios collapsed with pneumonia after months of witnessing death and narrowly dodging it himself. While recuperating in the states, he heard the revolution in music that he had missed while stationed in the jungle. Everything had changed.
Pulled from one war and dropped into what felt like another, Smyrnios began a painful process of re-immersion. He entered college at Western Michigan in Kalamazoo and picked up the guitar again. What had kept him sane in the heat of battle kept his head clear for songwriting, and after graduation, he supported himself through his music. Grueling gigs at the Holly’s restaurant chain featured him and a guitar for five-hour stints, five nights a week. A few years later, with the help of a local record store, Place Of The Sun was issued on the Kazoo label. Featuring Richard’s sister Angi on harmony vocals and the melodious Jim Rife on fife, “As I Walk” is an otherwise fairly straightforward affair. For a moment, Poor Richard’s luck seemed to change. Place Of The Sun sold well enough locally and even made its way out to Los Angeles where a “big time” publisher was interested in putting Smyrnios in its stable. Inexplicably, Poor Richard passed on the deal. A few years later he would reappear as Sonora, his fortunes largely unchanged.