Prototypical Midwestern roots-rockers, the Rainmakers 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.). The band was originally formed in 1983 in Kansas City, MO, as a trio called Steve, Bob, and Rich; naturally, the lineup consisted of guitarist/vocalist Steve Phillips, guitarist/vocalist Bob Walkenhorst, and bassist Rich Ruth. This group recorded an independently released album (titled Balls) that helped get them signed to Polygram, upon which point they added drummer Pat Tomek and changed their name to the less specific Rainmakers. Their self-titled official debut was released in 1986, producing the British Top 20 hit "Let My People Go-Go" and quite a bit of good press both at home and abroad. The band embarked on a relentless touring schedule and found an unlikely fan in horror writer Stephen King, who quoted the band's lyrics in two of his books. The 1988 follow-up Tornado didn't attract as much critical attention in the U.S., but the Rainmakers' European audience continued to grow; by the time of 1989's The Good News and the Bad News, the band was concentrating mostly on that area, recording the concert album Oslo-Wichita Live solely for its Scandinavian fans. In 1990, tired of the road life, 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. They signed with the independent Kansas label V&R, and Walkenhorst wrote a concept album about pornography and its effects on human sexuality. 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 1996 to mostly good reviews. ~ Steve Huey, Rovi