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The Rainmakers: Kinder, Gentler, More Rockin’

Courtesy Photo

In 2015 Kansas City’s The Rainmakers released Cover Band, a collection of songs written and originally recorded by other artists. That might have been a surprising move given that the group boasts one of the region’s most acclaimed songwriters, Bob Walkenhorst. But Walkenhorst himself says the record allowed the band to retrace its steps and show fans how it became the band it is today.

“We all started out as bar musicians back in the seventies," he says. "In those days you played four hours of cover material. It was actually a very good way to learn how to be a songwriter. We came from that era where you played some classic rock, hits of the ‘60s, ‘50s, kind of the bedrock of rock ‘n’ roll. You do that four hours a night, five nights a week, and you will learn something.”

He adds that choosing the material for Cover Band was easy.

“We wanted to look back at some of the music that had influenced us the most. It wasn’t like we wanted to pick out the big, obvious songs. Big Beatles songs or Rolling Stones songs. We wanted to pick out something just a little bit left of center,” Walkenhorst says. “So we picked out a few one-hit wonders and some Americana foundation music and a few others.”

The list includes selections from David Essex (“Rock On”), Merle Travis (“Sixteen Tons”) and Kris Kristofferson (“Loving Her Was Easy”).

“When it’s a song that you didn’t write, you don’t emotionally own it in the same way,” he adds. “You can have a little distance from it and see it as a piece of musical art. It’s a little more open to interpretation maybe than something you wrote from your own depths.”

The current lineup of the band includes bassist Rich Ruth, guitarist Jeff Porter and drummer Pat Tomek. Ruth and Walkenhorst played together in the pre-Rainmakers outfit Steve, Bob and Rich. Tomek joined the group in 1986 just as it was making its ascent. Walkehorst is quick to praise Tomek, who he calls “one of the most dependable people” he’s ever known.

“I think that we have even more respect and protectiveness of each other now. We’ve been through a lot together,” he says of the band as a whole. “Now we want every time we play or record to be a wonderful experience. I think the egos got left in the ditch back on the highway quite a few years ago.”

After the group’s initial success in the 1980s, the band had called it a day in the early ‘90s. There was a brief reunion with original guitarist Steve Phillips in the ranks between 1994 and 1998. Then, silence. More than a decade passed before the group began performing in its current iteration. This run has resulted in three studio and one live album. The quartet also a filmed a live DVD in its somewhat unlikely second home, Norway.

Today, Walkenhorst says that he’s grateful for the band’s 13-year hiatus.

“You do learn things about life and you learn things about your craft as a musician and as a writer. We didn’t really think there would ever be another Rainmakers project,” he notes. “But come 25 years after our first album we thought we would give it a shot. We all brought more to the table, musically, because we had continued to play. We had continued to grow as people. But we also brought a sense of appreciation of the fact that we’ve had this journey and we’ve had this journey together with a group of friends. We appreciate each other more now. We look out for each other now, make sure that everything’s OK for everybody. It’s a kinder, gentler rockin’ Rainmakers.”

The Rainmakers perform at Barleycorn’s 7:00 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 14.


Jedd Beaudoin is the host of Strange Currency. Follow him on Twitter @JeddBeaudoin.

To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.