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Haskins: “I got arrested basically walking onstage.” Photo by Ed Steele.

Richard Haskins is playing in Fort Worth for the first time in years on Friday night at Shipping & Receiving Bar. I’ve never met him, but I’ve heard … stories. And I’ve read enough to be on my guard. But when I called him up, the first thing the Denton punk rocker said to me had to do with the weather. It was awkward small-talk kinda stuff, but then he said, “Hey, it’s beautiful this side of freedom!” 

Haskins got out of prison about three weeks ago, so really any weather is good weather to him. He’d been locked up for one year and 11 days, first in Denton County Jail, then state prisons in Bonham, Dallas, and Palestine, for a probation violation stemming from a somewhat ridiculous crime committed in 2012. The whole tale was documented last year in a Dallas Observer article but to summarize: Haskins tried to rob a bank by passing a note through the tube at a drive-up teller and drove away after he realized no one was at the counter to receive it. He later turned himself in and ended up with probation, getting out of jail in April 2014. After that mess, Haskins did OK for a while. He met his probation obligations, ran sound at Hailey’s in Denton, and later moved in with his girlfriend Alaina McMillan, an arrangement that provided a somewhat normal routine –– Haskins described himself to me as a “wild dude,” and in the Observer piece, he said McMillan was the “female version” of himself, “every bit as wild,” so “normal” is obviously relative. But things were going well, at least until McMillan died tragically in an alcohol-related car accident. Haskins blamed himself and spiraled into despair.

The expensive and draconian terms of his 10-year probation, combined with his depression and bipolar disorder, made life increasingly difficult for him. Before long, there was a warrant for his arrest. He and his band, the Wee Beasties, were scheduled to play 35 Denton, but the cops got to him first. 

“I got arrested basically walking on stage,” he said.

Before his imprisonment, Haskins was locally famous for confrontational, barely-clothed, self-destructive onstage antics. It’s telling that he’s playing at S&R on Friday night because he’s been banned from virtually every club in Denton. The biggest question on my mind when I talked to him was what kind of show the crowd at S&R was going to get. Would it be the kind of wheels-off ordeal that gets him banned from yet another venue? Would it be the crazy fat guy wearing nothing but a thong?

“I’m 32,” he said. “I can’t roll around on broken glass anymore. The energy is still there, but it’s not the Wee Beasties. That band is wild. A little too much rock ’n’ roll.” 

Yet his new band doesn’t sound that much tamer, even though it’s just called the Haskins Band. Much of its material he wrote in prison, despite his having no access to a guitar. 

“The songs are pretty aggressive,” he said. “I wrote them in a place where people get stabbed.” 

His backing bandmates are all of the highest caliber. Drummer Connor Kent comes from UNT’s famed One O’Clock Lab Band. Bassist Robert Mokamp has a master’s degree in bass and also plays guitar in the legendary polka/rock/worldbeat band Brave Combo. One guitarist, Justin Weed, is only 17. But when he was 14, he was awarded Best Guitarist Under 20 in Fender’s national competition. Haskins’ other guitarist, Hillary Johnson, played with him in another project, Unmarked Graves, and she is also a product of UNT’s jazz program. Haskins laughed. 

That a punk band would have such a highbrow pedigree is surprising, but for Haskins, music is basically everything, so you’d expect that his band would have the best players he could muster. According to him, being cut off from music was probably the hardest part of prison. But prison also had its benefits — he converted to Buddhism and quit drinking. 

He knows he is a bad drunk, but he also understands that music is where he can be his best. “I’m a lifer. When I have a mic in my hand, that’s the only time I feel like I know what I’m doing.”

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