Saturday, November 22, 2008

Johnny Rio


Besides my dad, the other great St. Louis faux Indian was Johnny Rio.  They called him the Sheriff of Soulard. He wore a vest and a cowboy hat.

I did some of my growing up in Soulard but never really knew any of the adults until I worked at the Broadway Oyster Bar.

Johnny made a point of introducing himself to me. He was a poker buddy of my dad. I really began to appreciate my dad’s cultural diversity through his poker buddies. They would range from military generals to drag queens.

My dad gave me a U.N. flag from the U.N. building he had stolen with a military buddy. I gave it to Patti Thomas’ daughter for her 16th birthday. She still has it.

Johnny was famous for roasting a whole pig in a hole they dug in the dirt of the Downstreet Cafe’s beer garden. This went on for years even after the bar closed. I saw Trader Bob give Bob Burkhardt a tattoo there.

Johnny used to throw poker parties at his house. I would play at the safe table. It had a .50 limit. Johnny was always at the $5.00 table. This table was serious business and noone looked like they were having a good time.

One day I was tending bar in the beer garden at the Oyster Bar. Someone had given me a brownie that I didn’t know was laced with dope. Johnny came in with his girlfriend Nondis. We fell in love with each other.

Johnny made his living scavenging. When Steve and I were living on Oregon he showed up unexpectedly one day. He found a pedal steel guitar and gave it to us as a gift.

After the Downstreet closed Johnny still lived there. One night after partying with him all night my girlfriend Lisa and I walked out into the winter cold. I saw a glow coming from the top floor of the 1860s Saloon. The restaurant addition was still years off. I could tell it was a fire. I yelled at Lisa to call the fire department and went to investigate.

Later Richard, the owner would extend free drinks to her for saving the building but would never even acknowledge my existence.

Johnny was always somewhere between local character and cultural icon in my heart and mind. I hope I get a lot of comments about him because I really don’t know enough about him.

The photo is from the inside of a Soulard Blues Band CD. It was shot at the Grizzly Bear before the rehab.

32 comments:

...Sharon said...

I first met Johnny at Reflections back in the 70's. Linda and I tried to become regulars while we were in high school. That didn't last long.

Johnny came up and introduced himself and joined us for a drink. That is until his wife (#1) Pat came in. She always seemed pretty angry in a crazy way and later was actually barred from the Oyster Bar because of it. Johnny was always such a happy guy. He had a great smile.

I can remember that smile as he would sigh slowly and state, "Ain't nothin' but a house party."

I heard he died of a heart attack while making love to his second wife.

Doggie said...

Ain't nothin' but a house party. His mantra.

Anonymous said...

i first met johnny when he was dating my mom. he used to be a regular at the europa.years later when i got my first resta raunt job at the Greens and Grapes in Parafunally, this crazy lady and her two daughters used to come in and complain about everything; i later found out that was Pat Rio. i remember Jonny saying "lets get drunk and be somebody." we used to party a lot upstairs from the downstreet, and he loved to make a marinated vegetable salad, just onions tomatoes and a few spices with vinegar and oil, we'd get stoned and eat it for our munchies. geo

Doggie said...

I had no idea Marge went out with Johnny. Maybe that's how my folks knew him.

Anonymous said...

I, too, had no idea Marge went out with Johnny

Was there anyone Marge did', Your father and I knew him from seeing him around all the then current "scenes".

Was there anyone Marge didn't "go out" with?

David's Mom

cole wofford rio said...

First I would like to say that johnny and pat rio wofford are my parents, my name is cole wofford
and that my father and mother had there problems
and while some of you may think it is right to comment on my mother unless you walked a mile in her shoes then you don't know a dam thing!!! first my mother raised four children on her own after my father took us to the police station when i was six and said we had been abandon in his care all four of us were put in foster care were my dad came to see us once in two years and my mom was there every weekend and fought tooth and nail to get us back and something els you don't know is that my mother gave up everything to marry my dad her parents disown her never to speak to her again and when i was a child my pop use to beat the shit out of my mom till she was black and blue. Now mind you i did not write this to beat up my dad I have long since forgiven both my parents knowing that they did the best they could with what they had and no matter what anyone els says they were both good people. my mother was his only wife by law and nundus was the only women that i look to as a step mother that my dad dated.they had four children Wally,Cole,Adam,Shannon and here is something that you most likely don't know three years ago my sister was murdered and two and six weeks after that my brother wally died of aids and that my mother took care of him right up to the very end and eight weeks after that my mother passed away of hart attack at the same age my father died.So for all of you that think you new them trust me you did not ! You knew them the way they wanted you to know them.

Halla said...

Thanks for the memories David. I actually lived next door to Patti and her gay boyfriend whose name I have forgotten, then they moved out and Johnny moved in with a young girlfriend he had who had long red hair. Johnny was a lovely friend of mine born on New Year's Day. What Cole said about his parents was true - Johnny had an affable personality and didn't show his inner self to people whereas Patti was very 'in your face' and so got a reputation which wasn't so great. But from living next door to her, I can tell you that inside she was a nice woman.

You may remember me as Hilary, an English woman who was always at the Oyster Bar (or Burkhardt's as it was known then) and at the Downstreet Cafe. I now reside in Wales.

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sunbabe said...

Nondus Fortner said....I loved Johnny, even after I left him after living with him for 9 years, I still loved him so much. Leaving him was the hardest think I had ever done. Problem was he just loved women too much...and I liked being number one in a man's life. I was convenient...and worked. We had some good times together and some bad. He did become abusive the last year we were together. I think all the party life had finally caught up to him. He was getting older and feeling threathened. But, on the good side, I never would have come out of my shell without Johnny though. He would dress me up in "boho costumes" like I was a doll and we'd go bar hopping. I felt like somebody as long as I was with Johnny. He knew everbody and they all knew him. He was a character and a very private person. Even to me he seldom talked about his past life, but I do have a few great stories. Also, Pat Rio was a good person regardless of how she may have appeared. She was trying to raise the kids on her own and always hunting Johnny down in the bars for money. He'd give it to her when she showed up, or give it to one of the kids she'd send into the bar. He never just took money willingly to her though. She and Johnny never divorced. I asked Pat before she died and she said no they never legally divorced and she had no reason to lie to me...so any "marriage" after I left Johnny wasn't legal like a lot of people may think. He was definitely a "legend in his own mind" and a self-made St. Louis character to be remembered.

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Lin Devon said...

Hello Cole. My name is Lin and I live in Australia.I first met ur dad in St Louis in 1991,when I was backpacking, and stayed with him for a few days. After traveling in the States, I flew to England and five months later found out I was pregnant. I gave birth to a little girl who I named Jessica and we flew back home to Australia when she was 5 weeks old. I kept in touch with Johnny for the first year of Jessica's life, then we fell out of touch. When I tried to re connect with him I was devastated to find out he had passed away. I didn't know Johnny very well but I have found out a lot more about him since his passing. He was a lovely man who gave me a beautiful daughter so I will never forget him. Jessica is turning 21 in May this year and I know she would love to find out more about her half brothers and sister. It would be really great to get in touch with you...