Let me tell you a little story about a band from Kansas City, which is also the story of my youth and the strange ways the world works. Please get yourself a beer and settle down in a comfortable chair, because this is going to take a few minutes.
Way back in the olden days in Kansas City, Missouri there was a band called “Steve, Bob & Rich”. They consisted of Steve Phillips on guitar and vocals, Bob Walkenhorst on drums and main vocals and Richard Ruth on bass and vocals. Formed in 1983, they did their groundwork by playing a lot of gigs, and the band had some success in the midwest. The word “fun” was often used about their live appearances. Along with the word “energetic”. Soon drummer Pat Tomek joined the band, allowing Bob Walkenhorst to focus on being the frontman and rhythm guitar player.
In 1986 they got signed to Polygram and changed their name to The Rainmakers. Remember, this was in the days when getting a record contract was the only road to success – and success seemed obtainable after write-ups in Newsweek and Rolling Stone, back when magazines really meant something. Being called “America’s next great band” by Newsday couldn’t have done any harm either.
And success followed.
Newsweek called their self entitled debut album “the most auspicious debut album of the year”, and it peaked at #87 on Billboard. Europe also loved The Rainmakers, with their single “Let My People Go Go” getting airplay and a place on UKs Top20. They got invited to play Top Of The Pops, and also visited the strange place that is Norway on their tour through Scandinavia.
Critics loved them. Both at home and especially in the far away countries like Norway and England. In a time of commercial drivel hogging the airwaves and MTV, Bob Walkenhorst’s lyrics proved a welcome transition from the stuff being poured out by the gallon from artists going through the motions.
Even Stephen King loved them. So much he quoted their lyrics both in “The Tommyknockers” and “Gerald’s Game”.
Let’s fast forward, letting The Rainmakers record and tour on their own…
Three albums later, we’re suddenly in 1990, and the band had secured a unique position in Norway. The US and rest of Europe had for strange reasons lost interest, even though the material on the albums just got better. Over this period the band kept giving legendary concerts in Norway, for larger and larger and more enthusiastic audiences who never seemed to tire of their new found heroes from Kansas City.
Then the band suddenly took a break. For four long years. Also, keep in mind that this is before the Internet (yes, that’s right – the Internet hasn’t always been around, kids), and it was virtually impossible (pun intended) to get information on our favorite band. But in 1994 they re-emerged with the album Flirting With The Universe, giving us some of the best songs of their entire career as well as a legendary tour of Norway. After playing their albums into oblivion this was my first live meeting with that fantastic band. The raw energy they had on stage was phenomenal, and the way they captured their audience was unique. Bob Walkenhorst is born to be a rock’n’roll frontman, and fills a room with his presence alone.
The success during their tour of Norway spawned the album Skin, where Walkenhorst took his songwriting to a new level – looking at the impact of pornography in modern society. Back on the road supporting Skin, Rich Ruth (now a part of Webb Wilders band) was replaced by Michael Bliss – and The Rainmakers once again toured Norway. Again I got to see them live, in a small venue where we stood practically ON stage with the band, the front row being asked to link their arms together to keep the audience off the stage. Everyone sweating almost as much as that hard-hitting drummer Pat Tomek in the back.
And almost as suddenly as they had re-emerged, they were gone yet again. Life returned to normal. Bob Walkenhorst didn’t touch his guitar for years, focusing on a “real” job making and editing videos. Steve Phillips joined the band The Elders, and Pat Tomek focused on recording and producing music for others while being a web designer. And the world as a whole forgot about The Rainmakers and their fantastic music.
But Norway never forgot. Over here they got and maintained a totally unique status that almost no other band has ever seen the like of. Their songs kept being played on the radio, at parties and was still being covered by other bands. Tribute bands and cover bands kept their music alive. Numerous youths spent many of their evenings perfecting guitar parts on Rainmakers songs, and girls were picked up by that guy at the party with an acoustic guitar – because he knew “Small Circles” by heart…
For me, the Rainmakers held a position as a band as big as any. I have no problems mentioning The Rainmakers in the same breath as any of the bands and artists of that era, like The Georgia Satellites, Jason & The Scorchers, Mellencamp, Aerosmith, The Pretenders or R.E.M. The main difference is that many of these bands got that ONE big hit, made it big and kept on playing…
The Rainmakers make up a large portion of the soundtrack to my youth, and in Norway they were as big as The Rolling Stones in the 60s and Whitesnake in the 70s.
Far away in Kansas City, Bob Walkenhorst had started playing regular, acoustic duo gigs and releasing a solo album in the process. In Norway he had a good friend named Stian Omland who regularly kept in touch and kept hoping for the Rainmakers to see the light of day again.
And when Bob enlisted Jeff Porter to play with him on his regular Wednesday gigs, followed by the album No Abandon – that guy in Norway did the only right thing, and went from being friend to becoming Bob & Jeffs tour-manager.
Before leaving for Norway, Bob had considered reuniting The Rainmakers. I like to imagine that he was the spitting image of Dan Aykroyd from The Blues Brothers when he picked up the phone, called Steve, Pat and Rich and said “I’m putting the band back together”. Pat and Rich said “YES!”. Steve had obligations with The Elders and had to say no. The Rainmakers were back on hold, but in the back of Bob’s mind a reunion still was a definite maybe.
It was during those shows in Norway in 2010 that Bob Walkenhorst realized that The Rainmakers would have to return. Playing the old songs in front of ecstatic audiences made him see that these songs had withstood the test of time, and the fact that they still sang along made it obvious that the songs still meant a great deal to a large number of people.
After returning to Kansas City, the idea of reuniting the band was once again a subject – and good friend Jeff Porter was a natural replacement for Steve Phillips. And The Rainmakers were a band again.
A new album was recorded, and a tour of Norway was booked in the spring of 2011. Their return visited old haunts and new venues alike. Old friends were reunited, and new friends were made.
After pestering their tour-manager of Norway for months I was lucky enough to be allowed to tag along on the tour, to cover it for my Norwegian music blog. And let me tell you, it is the thrill of a lifetime to suddenly spend time with heroes from your youth. People you always had admired for their song writing and stage presence. The same people that created the songs that make up the soundtrack to important moments of my life. It is impossible to put into words what that means to a simple guy from rural Norway. Seeing The Rainmakers rock once again, with the same energy I had felt back in the early nineties was special. When the guys in the band at the same time turned out to be the nicest group of people you’ll ever have the pleasure to meet – the experience turned out to be nothing short of magic.
The tour was a success, and The Rainmakers once again filled concert halls all over Norway, playing to ecstatic audiences – finally getting to see the legends live. I have never seen so many smiling faces at concerts as I did that spring. Both before. during and after the shows. Everyone hanging around after the shows to get an autograph or a picture with the band they had waited so long to see…
Back to the reason I’m writing this: The new album is called 25 ON – marking the bands 25 year anniversary and this article was meant to be a review of that album. In the process I decided that a story of the Rainmakers and their position in Norway was just as good as me going through the motions with a review. The strange things that can happen when a band makes it big in a small place like Norway, while being overlooked in their own home country makes this a different and hopefully interesting read.
One day you can watch you favorite band playing the concert of your life, after hearing them on albums for so many years – the next moment they are sitting in your living room talking about life, the universe and everything… For me that signifies that the world has become a smaller one, but also that anything can happen – as long as you keep hold of your dreams.
I highly recommend their new album to anyone who likes real rock’n’roll with energy and great lyrics, as it contains some of the best songs Bob Walkenhorst has ever written. The production is slightly hasty, and the sound is too compressed for my preference – but the songs, man! The SONGS! They are brilliantly fantastic.
“Given Time” is a great recognition of how time passes, “Missouri Girl” with it’s great twist on sounding like “Misery” but actually is a lovesong giving us the story on how Bob met his wife – his Missouri Girl, the lovely ballad “My Own Bed”, the impressive storytelling in “These Hills” and off course “Like Dogs”… “If you don’t like dogs, what’s our f***** problem?“.
Sound wise the songs could have fit on any of the old Rainmakers-album, but at the same time the lyrics are so much more mature – and shows off all the wisdom Bob Walkenhorst has accumulated over the years.
I love it! I love this band, and I wish America as a whole would love this band as much as we do here in Norway. You really could do a lot worse than lending your ear to any of these songs.
When I’m writing this, The Rainmakers are still a band, have played a fair number of gigs in and around Kansas City, and are scheduled for another tour of Norway in late January.
All albums can be bought at Village Records, they are all freshly remastered with bonus tracks – and you can hear a few of them on Spotify.
Listen to some songs (click the album title to open that album on Spotify):
Then check out some goodies from the old albums:
From “The Rainmakers” (1986):
Let My People Go Go
From “Tornado” (1987):
From “Good News And The Bad News” (1989):
Spend It On Love