Life & Liberty: Let It Rain, Rain, Rain


They're from Kansas City and their album sports a Thomas Hart Benton mural as cover art, but don't mistake the Rainmakers for just another Middle American rock band. For the Rainmakers tackle topical issues from a fresh perspective, far removed from the socialism of Billy Bragg or the populism of Bruce Springsteen.

The band's eponymous debut album on the Mercury label has been widely hailed by critics as one of the most distinctive records of the past year. Sales have cracked the Billboard Top 100, and air play has been generated on college, Top 40, and AOR (album-oriented rock) stations alike. Newsweek, Billboard, and Rolling Stone, among others, have featured the band.

Musically, the Rainmakers field a classic two-guitar, bass and drums line-up in the Seger/Springsteen/Mellancamp mold. Like those artists, you hear 30 years of American rock in their sound. They admit to an affinity for Creedence Clearwater Revival but also draw upon influences such as Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bob Dylan, Mitch Ryder, and the Stax sound.

But the Rainmakers' message is what's unusual. They preach responsibility for one's actions and faults. Their individualist, Mark Twainish commonsense approach comes largely from Bob Walkenhorst, chief scribe, lead singer, and guitarist.

"I don't have any political affiliations," Walkenhorst says, "and I don't have any solutions. I just hope to get people thinking so someone will come along with a brighter idea."

The Rainmakers' most startling lyrical statement is "Government Cheese, " a blistering attack on welfare:

Give a man a free house and he'll bust out the windows
Put his family on food stamps now he's a big spender
No food on the table and the bills ain't paid
Cause he spent it all on cigarettes and P.G.A.

Give a man a free ticket on a dead end ride
And he'll climb in the back even though nobody's driving
Too Goddamn lazy to crawl out of the wreck
And he'll rot while he waits for the welfare check
Going to hell in a handbag, can't you see
I ain't gonna eat no Government Cheese?

"That song came about when I went into my local grocery and five people ahead of me in the checkout line were using food stamps," says Walkenhorst. "Who's being helped here? The government is killing the motivation and dignity of these people."

"Government Cheese" isn't the first rock song to deal with the plight of the poor. But it may well be the first to point a finger at the debilitating effects of the welfare state on the character of its supposed beneficiaries.

Press reports have it that "Government Cheese" was harshly booed at a New York club some months back. Walkenhorst says it "only created a small commotion—the incident was overblown."

The song did receive a standing ovation in Wisconsin, of all places. "We did an outdoor, family-type gig up there, and someone came up and requested it," recalls Walkenhorst. "I said, 'Well, we might offend these folks who make a living off that cheese,' but they said, 'Oh no, please do it.'" Did the crowd get the message, or did they just want a song about cheese? Walkenhorst says they "definitely got the message."

"Drinkin' on the Job," like most of Walkenhorst's songs, "points a finger, but looks in the mirror as well." It's an angry ballad about blown opportunities and disappointment owing to worker drunkenness:

There's a whole lotta things I'll never be
The generation that would change the world
Is still looking for its car keys…?

"Rocking at the T-Dance" calls to task the faulty workmanship that resulted in the 1967 NASA accident that killed astronauts Grissom, White, and Chaffee, plus the near-accident of Apollo 13 and the collapse of the Kansas City Hyatt.

Of the labor situation, Walkenhorst says, "I have no faith in movements like unions. Why can't we leave things up to individuals? I'm in a union that has given me a lot of benefits, but I resent being blackmailed in order to join a union. I'd rather have a choice."

Other songs on the album concern lost love, suicide, spiritual ties to other Missourians (Harry Truman, Mark Twain, Chuck Berry), and snoopy neighbors. The band's hit single, "Let My People Go-Go," is an exuberant exaltation that imagines God instructing us:

I did not put you here to suffer
I did not put you here to whine
I put you here to love one another
And to get out and have a good time.?

So the Rainmakers aren't strictly a manifesto set to music. "Trying to make rock and roll more than it is doesn't work," Walkenhorst explains. "We want everyone to have fun at our shows.…If they want to study the lyrics, we hope they buy the album and listen at home."

Can we look for more of the same from this band and this songwriter? Maybe. "A first album has to be strong in order to get attention," says Walkenhorst. He thinks the next may be a little more understanding, less angry.

One can simply hope that the attitude expressed by the Rainmakers—and it is a departure from rock's status quo—will influence new bands in a world gradually abandoning that status quo.

Will Cornell is a buyer for a major record company in Dallas.

?"Government Cheese," "Drinkin' on the Job," and "Let My People Go-Go" by Bob Walkenhorst

© 1986 by Screen Gems-EMI Music Inc., and Bob Walkenhorst Music. All administrative rights controlled by Screen Gems-EMI Music Inc.