Friday, May 21, 2010

The Rainmakers rock!

With so many things to write about, I’ve been trying to find time to post about The Rainmakers, one of my favourite bands to come out of the 80s.

The Rainmakers were a rockin’ lil’ outfit out of Kansas City, Mo, whose self-titled debut turned my head around in 1986. I was running a college radio station in Hamilton, Ontario and my music director’s enthusiasm for the band (and “roots-rock” from the U.S. Midwest) was contagious upon first listen.

Chief songwriter and vocalist Bob Walkenhorst delivered clever, catchy rockers from day one, back to the band’s formation in 1983 as “Steve, Bob & Rich” – along with guitarist/vocalist Steve Phillips and bassist Rich Ruth.

Steve, Bob & Rich – Big Fat Blonde
Shawnee Mission, Kansas – September 11, 1983

Walkenhorst originally started on drums/vocals, but switched to guitar and frontman with the addition of drummer Pat Tomek following the indie release of “Balls” under the SB&R handle. Signing to Polygram Records, the new lineup became The Rainmakers.

The ‘86 debut turned many heads beyond mine, including Newsweek, who named it "the most auspicious debut album of the year" and hailed The Rainmakers as “America’s Next Great Band.” The track, “Let My People Go-Go,” went Top 20 in the U.K. while the album garnered great press. Author Stephen King became such a fan that he quoted the band’s lyrics in two of his novels, "The Tommyknockers" and "Gerald’s Game."

The Rainmakers – Let My People Go-Go (1986)

For me, the centerpiece of the debut was “Downstream,” a classic song that I expect to never grow tired of hearing; 25 years later and it still kicks all kinds of ass. I’ve never been one for making lists, but if I ever got around to creating a ‘desert island’ song list, there’s no question “Downstream” would be on it – at least once.

The Rainmakers – Downstream (1986)

Hard to follow-up such a great debut, but The Rainmakers succeeded with the more polished “Tornado” in 1988. The Rainmakers continued to attract attention, especially in Norway, for some reason; they obviously made a connection there that stuck with fans.

‘89’s "The Good News And The Bad News" was real rockin’ affair, with absolute killer tracks like “Reckoning Day” (click here for a live version), “We Walk The Levee,” “Battle Of The Roses” and “Wild Oats.”

Following a four-year hiatus, fan interest from Norway remained high and the band regrouped for 1994’s “Flirting With The Universe.”

The Rainmakers – Width Of A Line (1994)

1997’s “Skin” was the final album for the band, another solid effort missed by many.

The Rainmakers – Hunger Moon (1997)
Lead vocals – Steve Phillips
KKFI Radio, Kansas City – live – November 14, 1997

What a great band The Rainmakers were and are: I can hit shuffle on their full library and dig every single song – I’ve done it a few times, too, clocking in at around four hours of killer tunes.

I only managed to catch the band live once, in Toronto, and they rocked my socks off. I’ve been preaching about them to anyone and everyone for the past quarter century, and that’ll continue in the years ahead.

For those who would like to play catch-up, the band has generously made a ton of live shows available for streaming and download at the Internet Archive/Live Music Archive ; I’ve already set up the Rainmakers search link here.

If, like me, you’re up for a Rainmakers fix any time, you can still hear live tunes every Wednesday night in Kansas City: Bob Walkenhorst plays 8-10p at the Molloy Brothers Irish pub at 1020 Westport Road; according the band’s website, you’re best to call in advance to confirm the performance (in case you’re there on an off-week, I guess).

If ya want a taste of what the show might be like, Bob has made a bunch of shows available for listening and download at the Live Music Archive here, with no two setlists the same.

I sure hope to find myself in ol’ KC some Wednesday night…