Born: June 1, 1953
Where: Norborne, Missouri
Known As: roots-rock singer/songwriter and musician from the Rainmakers
Quotable: “The Rainmakers are the Georgia Satellites with Doctorates in Theology” – Jonathan Rundman, Showcase Music Magazine
“Missouri has long boasted of being the home of two of America’s greatest artists, Mark Twain and Chuck Berry. However, it wasn’t until The Rainmakers thundered into the national music spotlight in 1986, had anyone combined the guitar power of Berry with the social wit of Twain to form a unique brand of Missouri rock n’ roll.” AZ
“Even at the height of their popularity in the late ‘80s, The Rainmakers never got the respect they deserved. Their rootsy rock not only included keen musicianship but also some of the most memorable lyrics of the era. While Michael Stipe was mumbling through his too-much-integrity phase, this Kansas City-based foursome were having a blast with singer Bob Walkenhorst’s story-telling tunes, which were equal parts humor and social commentary.” EH
These “prototypical Midwestern roots-rockers…ironically achieved their greatest commercial success overseas, despite generally good reviews in their homeland. Chief songwriter Bob Walkenhorst’s playful wit and topical lyrics set the Rainmakers apart from their Heartland bar band peers, though musically they drew from the expected roots rock influences (Chuck Berry, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Bruce Springsteen, etc.).” SH
Steve, Bob, & Rich (1983-1986):
The band was “originally formed in 1983 as the 3 piece bar band Steve, Bob, & Rich;” AZ “the lineup consisted of guitarist/vocalist Steve Phillips, guitarist/vocalist Bob Walkenhorst, and bassist Rich Ruth.” SH “These Kansas City rockers became an instant favorite throughout the Midwest. Soon fans stood in line to see this trio they described as ‘energetic,’ ‘intense,’ but most importantly ‘fun.’” AZ
“This group recorded an independently released album (titled Balls).” SH “Within months…, Steve, Bob, & Rich had signed a multi-album contract with Polygram,” AZ “upon which point they added drummer Pat Tomek and changed their name to the less specific Rainmakers.” SH
America’s Next Great Band (1986-1990):
“Their self-titled official debut was released in 1986.” SH “Heralded as ‘America’s Great Next Band’ by Newsday, The Rainmakers were drenched in critical acclaim. Feature articles in Newsweek, Rolling Stone, CMJ, USA Today and others poured in singing the praises of this hard working band breathing new life into the rock format.” AZ Stephen King even “twice quoted lyrics from Rainmakers songs in his best seller The Tommyknockers, and again in his 1991 novel Gerald’s Game.” AZ
“Critics particularly enjoyed the unique writing style of lead vocalst Bob Walkenhorst, whose talent for choosing unusual and sometimes controversial subjects provided an eye opening perspective of life – sprinkled with sarcastic humor. The Rainmakers received notoriety for their songs’ lyrical content, including Music Connection’s award for Lyric line of the year: ‘The generation that would change the world is still looking for its car keys.’” AZ
1987’s “follow-up Tornado didn’t attract as much critical attention in the U.S., but the Rainmakers’ European audience continued to grow.” SH “Let My People Go-Go gave the Rainmakers their first Top-20 single on the British charts.” AZ “By the time of 1989’s The Good News and the Bad News, the band was concentrating mostly on that area.” SH
“As critics abroad sang the band’s praises, with feature articles in New Musical Express, Kerrang, Rock Power, etc. Frequently, The Rainmakers could be spotted on European television with live appearances on Top of the Pops, The Tube, and MTV Europe. European concert dates grew in number each year, with The Rainmakers often enjoying headline status on festival bills. Their reputation as an electrifying concert act eventually led to the recording of a live album at a sold-out show in Oslo, Norway.” AZ
Hiatus and Return (1990-1998):
“In 1990, after 4 albums, 5 videos, 500,000+ records sold, and countless concert dates,” AZ “the Rainmakers disbanded, ostensibly for good. However, Scandinavian interest in their music held strong, and Polygram’s Norwegian division requested a new Rainmakers album in 1994. The band obliged and recorded Flirting with the Universe on their own in Steve Phillips’ basement. The album was a smash in Norway, achieving that country’s equivalent of gold sales within two months, and the band was encouraged enough to stage a full-fledged reunion.” SH
“Overwhelmed by the response to Flirting...,” AZ the band “signed with the independent Kansas label V&R,” SH and “returned to the studio to record, Skin. As with previous releases, Walkenhorst proved that no subject matter was too controversial choosing to take aim at pornography and its societal impact.” AZ “Ruth left the band during the recording sessions, with accounts divided as to whether it was due to the lyrical content or the fact that he had moved from Kansas City to Nashville; regardless, he was replaced by Michael Bliss. The resulting album, Skin, was released…[in 1997] to mostly good reviews.” SH
Bob As a Solo Artist (2003-2010):
Bob Walkenhorst released his solo debut The Beginner in 2003, maintaining the same lyric and vocal style that made The Rainmakers one of the most distinct band of the ‘80s and ‘90s, even if most of the world wasn’t paying attention. In 2009, he paired with fellow Kansas City musician Jeff Porter for the release of No Abandon.
The Reunion (2011-2015):
With the 25th anniversary of the Rainmakers debut album coming in 2011, Walkenhorst thought the timing would be perfect for a Rainmakers’ reunion. Steve Phillips was busy with his band The Elders, but bassist Rich Ruth and drummer Pat Tomek both came on board. Walkenhorst’s duo partner from No Abandon rounded out the quartet for the band’s first studio album in 14 years – 25 On. A series of reunion concerts followed and they followed up with the Monster Movie and Cover Band albums in 2014 and 2015.
Back to Solo Work (2015-2021):
After Cover Band, the Rainmakers did shows sporadically and Bob recorded the album For Tomorrow (2018) with his daughter Una. The title cut was voted the #1 song of the year by Kansas City’s 90.9 The Bridge radio station. Bob was back with his official second solo album, A Thousand Words, in 2021.
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First posted 3/17/2011; last updated 6/5/2021.
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