Thursday, April 7, 2011

Aural Fixation: When the Rainmakers Came to Town

Aural Fixation:

When the Rainmakers Came to Town

Aural Fixation” is a music-themed column I wrote for from 2011-2013. They are no longer online there, but I have reformatted them here at the DMDB blog with additional videos, photos, and links, such as where to buy referenced albums. I have also used the title “Aural Fixation” for any essays I have written outside of as well. To see the essays, check out the Dave’s Music Database Aural Fixation page.

The essays from have been gathered in book form as Aural Fixation: Essays from a Music Obsessive. Essays written from 2009 to 2011 have been gathered in the book No One Needs 21 Versions of “Purple Haze”. You can purchase the essays in book format here.

I was a latecomer to the whole concert-going experience. My first show was in college. The Rainmakers, a Kansas City-based band, did a campus gig. I don’t remember much other than going with a group of a half dozen friends or so, sitting in the balcony, and having Amy vent her disgust that we weren’t getting up and dancing.

I also plopped down the bucks for a concert tee which became my favorite shirt once I’d so thoroughly butchered the sleeves that way too much of my then-way-too-skinny frame was on display. More importantly, I became a huge fan of the band’s debut album (their only release at the time) – in fact, I now proclaim it my favorite of 1986 and one of my top 30 albums of all time. Forgive me – those who know me are well aware of my list-making obsession. I haven’t been institutionalized for it – yet.

The Rainmakers never gained a big following. Their audience was primarily, and understandably, based in the Midwest and, in a comment sure to evoke a chorus of “huhs?,” in Norway. I’m not sure what the Norwegians saw in this mix of roots-rock, rockabilly, and country, but it evidences their good taste.

Actually, pinning a label genre on the Rainmakers is no easy task. I read a recent review comparing them to Creedence Clearwater Revival. That is somewhat apt in that John Fogerty gave CCR a distinct voice much as the Rainmakers’ Bob Walkenhorst defines their sound. Both bands have decidedly regional feels to them, even if CCR’s homebase appears to be the swampy vibe of New Orleans when they actually were based in California. The Rainmakers also seem slightly displaced with a sound that owes more to Southern rock and Memphis’ Sun Records than to, well, whatever the hell the sound is that defines the Midwest.

Aside from their sound, much of the Rainmakers’ appeal comes in their witty and well-crafted lyrics. How does one not snicker and cringe simultaneously during “Little Tiny World,” which offers the poignant observation of the soap operatic nature of close-knit friends with the line “when I figured it all out, I figured I’d slept with myself”?

The debut album thrust itself upon the world with songs about Moses leading his people to redemption (“Let My People Go-Go”), Chuck Berry and Mark Twain cruising the Mississippi River in a row boat (“Downstream”), and an affection for not-so-skinny-boned women (“Big Fat Blonde”).

They weren’t a novelty band, though. The debut album also showcased the crew’s political side with a commentary on Welfare (“Government Cheese”) and, on the band’s 1997 release Skin, the group crafted an entire concept album about the subjugation of women.

So why the nostalgia now, 25 years after that concert and album? Well, the quarter-century anniversary is precisely why. After a 14-year hiatus, Walkenhorst reconvened with Pat Tomek and Rich Ruth, the band’s original drummer and bassist, for a reunion tour and album. Subbing for original guitarist Steve Phillips, who was committed to his band the Elders, was Jeff Porter, who shared the stage with Walkenhorst at a standing weekly gig at Kansas City’s Record Bar.

The resulting album, 25 On (read more here), was released mid-March. Time will tell where it ultimate stands in my grand assessment, but the initial reaction is a thumbs-up. Now I’ll anxiously await their triumphant concert return to Kansas City in May and hope they don’t wait 14 years before another album.

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First posted 4/7/2011; updated 10/28/2023.

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