Released: August 1986
Charted: September 13, 1986
Peak: 85 US, -- UK, -- CN, -- AU
Sales (in millions): -- US, -- UK, -- world (includes US and UK)
Genre: roots rock
Tracks: (Click for codes to singles charts.)
Songs by Bob Walkenhorst unless noted otherwise.
Total Running Time: 39:48
3.966 out of 5.00 (average of 11 ratings)
Quotable: “The guitar power of [Chuck] Berry with the social wit of [Mark] Twain into a unique brand of Missouri rock n’ roll.” – Rainmakers.com
Awards: (Click on award to learn more).
About the Album:
The Kansas City, Missouri-based group originally formed in 1983 as a trio comprised of guitarist Steve Phillips, singer/guitarist Bob Walkenhorst, and bassist Rich Ruth. They initially went by the wildly original name of Steve, Bob, and Rich. They gained a following throughout the Midwest and released the album Balls. When they added drummer Pat Tomek, they rechristened themselves the Rainmakers and were signed to Polygram Records.
Their self-titled debut “received positive reviews in the U.S. entertainment media including Newsweek magazine, which dubbed it ‘the most auspicious debut album of the year.” W-B The band made a fan of horror writer Stephen King, who quoted the band’s lyrics in his novels The Tommyknockers and Gerald’s Game. However, their greatest success came overseas. W-B
Walkenhorst said the band were finishing a European tour and reception hadn’t been great. By the last show on December 20, 1986 in Oslo, Norway, the band were just ready to get it over with and go home. To their surprise, they arrived to a sold-out venue with fans singing along to every song. Apparently they had been reviewed in the country’s music magazine and radio there had embraced them. TF
“Let My People Go-Go”
Let My People Go-Go, based on the American Negro spiritual “Go Down Moses,” made it to #18 on the UK charts. W-B The song offers a nod to Little Richard by having God sing his line “a womp bop a lu bop a lop bam boom.” PK The listener is also treated to Jesus Christ quoting the Coasters’ “Charlie Brown” line “Why’s everybody always pickin’ on me?”
“Big Fat Blonde”
“Go-Go” is one of four songs, along with “Nobody Knows,” “Information,” and “the unapologetic Big Fat Blonde,” MA that originated on Balls. The latter was, as Walkenhorst said, “so rude, so sexist that I don’t think anyone could take me seriously.” LR In the song he references a line from a J.D. Salinger story in which “Franny and Zooey ask why people paint, why they write, why they do anything creative…and the answer is, you do it for the fat lady, for an audience, to get recognized.” LR Walkenhorst acknowledges that the song “will follow me around like a cloud all of my life.” LR
Not only do the Rainmakers reference Little Richard in “Go-Go”, but in Downstream they mention rock-and-roll architect Chuck Berry, as well as Missourians Harry Truman and Mark Twain. The homage to Berry is especially appropriate considering how much the band draws their roots-rock sound from artists such as him, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Bruce Springsteen. SH Walkenhorst said “when I was first getting started, there was nothing more uncool than Creedence…but it has lasted.” JK He also explained that when he first teamed with Steve Phillips, they were both CCR “fanatics – it was the best band that ever existed: hard, powerful vocals yet simple song structures.” LR Walkenhorst also said, “I admire Springsteen a lot…he hasn’t contradicted himself; he’s not acting like a god.” PK
Its also fitting that “Downstream” references Mark Twain. The history page on the Rainmakers’ website describes them as combining “the guitar power of Berry with the social wit of Twain into a unique brand of Missouri rock n’ roll.” RM It’s also been said that their “though-provoking rock and roll…recalls the lyrics of T-Bone Burnett…and the early Rolling Stones.” PK “Cross a more literate John Mellencamp with Webb Wilder and you have this…band sized up.” MA
“Drinkin’ on the Job”
How many bands can offer up “the classic line, ‘The generation that would change the world is still looking for its car keys,’” MA such as on Drinkin’ on the Job? It was named lyric line of the year by Music Connection. RM The “pun-filled” LR is a good example of Walkenhorst’s “talent for choosing unusual and sometimes controversial subjects…[in] an eye-opening perspective of life, sprinkled with sarcastic humor.” RM In this case, as he says, the song is “about substance abuse, fun that isn’t fun, like the jokes in the song.” LR
The album “sets the bar high with cutting social commentary and memorable tunes.” MA That can be attributed to songs that are “honest. Sung by Walkenhorst in a voice that has ‘a lot of Jaggerisms,’ as well as echoes of ex-Wall of Voodoo vocalist Standard Ridgeway, the B-52’s Fred Schneider, and the Cramps’ Lux Interior, they are full of real-life references and emotions.” LR “Walkenhorst’s lyrics are preoccupied with morality, although he avoids a moralizing tone.” PK Two of the band members’ fathers are preachers, which may explain some of the Biblical imagery throughout the album. Walkenhorst says, “I guess I’m still wrestling with religion, trying to sort things out.” PK
Some, including the liberal New Republic magazine, decided the Rainmakers were a conservative band. Walkenhorst, however, said he though of himself as “an emotional anarchist and more left wing.” PK The song Government Cheese generated controversy for its condemnation of welfare via lines like “Give a man free food and he’ll figure out a way/To steal more than he can eat ‘cause he doesn’t have to pay.” It got the band booed at the label showcase performance in New York, PK but Walkenhorst denied the song was political. “It’s about human weakness: When people take something for free, it’s a whirlpool that sucks you under.” PK
He’s also said the welfare system “causes some people to regress. If you take it away entirely, it’s gonna hurt some people, but you may hurt more by keeping it. It’s a real tough question and the song is a very one-sided answer, just to get people to think about it.” LR
“Long Gone Long”
Nostalgia surfaces on “the gentle reminiscence, Long Gone Long” LR which Walkenhorst says “has a lot of the funny episodes that happened in the town where I gew up…It’s not as sentimental as John Cougar or Bryan Adams would have made it, but each incident means something, although the person doesn’t know exactly what at the time it happens.” LR
“Rockin’ at the T-Dance”
On Rockin’ at the T-Dance, Walkenhorst references two tragedies – an incident from 1967 in which three Apollo astronauts died during training and the early ‘80s collapse of Kansas City’s Hyatt walkways, killing people during an afternoon tea dance. He turns the song into a statement about “pride in workmanship.” LR He calls it an “angry song” and says “you have to be responsible for your job.” LR
I, for one, think the Rainmakers were fantastic at their job. They never achieved big-time success, essentially being the lifelong artists who still have to maintain a waiter job on the side. However, they turned out witty, fun songs which were often superior to the more successful work of their contemporaries. They pointed a poignant finger at the problems of the world, even if the world wasn’t listening.
A 2010 reissue added an acoustic version of “Long Gone Long,” a live version of “Doomsville,” and non-album cuts “Carpenter’s Son” and “Rockabilly Standard.”
First posted 3/24/2008; updated 6/2/2021.