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The Rainmakers

Album review: The Rainmakers - Monster Movie

One would think that if any KC band has a right to rest on its laurels it would be The Rainmakers. Members of the Kansas Music Hall of Fame and arguably Kansas City's best known band—both nationally and internationally—Bob Walkenhorst, Pat Tomek, Rich Ruth, and Jeff Porter don't really have anything left to prove musically. Their catalog of songs speaks for itself. Fortunately for us all, this band has no intentions of going through the motions.
The Rainmakers’ latest album, Monster Movie, is a case in point. Recorded in less than two weeks at Tomek's home studio, this is the sound of a band firing on all cylinders. The opening song (which I wish I could play on the radio) is called “Shithole Town” and it starts out like a crowd-clapping sing-along, then morphs into a country-tinged tale of backwoods/back roads folks, bad country music, and small towns. Then it shifts gears again as the music moves from a country feel to a rock and roll song; as the story changes and moves forward, the music does, too. Like other great American songwriters such as John Fogerty and Tom Petty, Walkenhorst knows how to make the words and the rhythm of a song come together in ways that complement both. He also has the unique experience of having played in venues with large audiences and he's learned what kinds of songs are big enough to keep a large mass of people not only interested but moving to the beat of the song, and, if you listen closely to the words, you realize there's depth and poetry there as well.
The title track started out as something quite different. In an interview on my radio show (Signal To Noise on KKFI) last Sunday, Walkenhorst had this to say about the title track:
“‘Monster Movie’ was a title I threw around. I thought ‘Monster Movie’ would be a really funny song. I thought it would end up—you know—being something about bad monsters and bad scientists and all that. Songs have a mind of their own. You can start with an idea of how a song is going to go and the song will suddenly rear its ugly head and go… ‘No, I'm gonna be THIS!’ So this became more of a very blunt, social criticism kind of song.”
In the tradition of songs like Creedence' s “Fortunate Son” and Steppenwolf's “Monster,” “Monster Movie,” to lots of folks, is an apt metaphor for America today. “In our monster movie/these monsters are real,” the song goes.
The album also features contributions from drummer Pat Tomek, who provided the poetry that became the lyrics to “Who's At The Wheel,” a lovely conspiracy song with Creedence-like chooglin' guitar work from Walkenhorst and Porter. Like fellow Missouri resident Chuck Berry, who wrote similar Americana-themed songs, this song takes a wry look at human foibles and Internet-fueled paranoia.
The new guy in the band, Jeff Porter, also brings a couple of tunes to the album, a co-write with Walkenhorst called “Save Some For Me,” which has a folk rock feel aided by Porter’s music and a great acoustic riff; and his own composition, “Believe In Now,” which is a mid-tempo, introspective song with a lalalala chorus that brings back memories of The Kinks from their “Arthur” period.
The album ends with a catchy song about a club in the town where Walkenhorst grew up, called “Swinging Shed.” Having grown up with the first generation of rock and rollers, I always like it when someone references music from the early ‘60s. This sounds as catchy as something by Chris Kenner or Freddy Cannon, and I'm a sucker for it every time.
This is the sound of a band that is comfortable with itself and dares to still care about what can be done musically. I asked the band on the show how they all get along after all these years. Walkenhorst responded thusly: “You may have been chasing a dream—an idea of what you thought a successful musician was—and then, when you get past that, and you're still a human being and you're still a musician, then you relate to each other on much better terms.”
The Rainmakers return to the stage Saturday night at Knuckleheads. When you hear the new songs from this album played live, I think you'll find this band hasn't missed a step after all these years and still has something important to say. And, you can still dance to it, too.
You’ll get a rare chance to see The Rainmakers in KC tomorrow night, May 17, at Knuckleheads Saloon. The Nace Brothers will be opening up for them. Facebook event page. Also, if you tune in to The Bridge 90.9 today at 5 p.m., you can hear an interview and an in-studio performance from the band!

--Barry Lee

Barry is the host of Signal To Noise, which airs on KKFI 90.1 FM every Sunday night at 8 p.m. In his spare time, he's Station Manager at KKFI. 


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On The Beat with Pat Tomek

(Photo by Chip Duden)

Pat Tomek is one of the most versatile people you'll meet in the Kansas City music community. He plays drums in town with legendary KC songwriter Howard Iceberg, spends time rocking across Norway with the Rainmakers, and engineers albums for local groups. This week you can find out a little bit more about one of the most successful drummers in the area. Catch the beat right here!

On The Beat is typically brought to you by Sergio Moreno, but has been overtaken this week by KKFI 90.1 host of Signal To Noise, Barry Lee. This weekly interview features some of the many talented drummers in the area.

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On The Beat with Pat Tomek


Not many KC drummers get to do what Pat Tomek does. One night he can be playing drums in a neighborhood bar with Howard Iceberg & the Titanics, the next week play a sold-out opera house with the Rainmakers in Norway, then come back home to produce an album for Deco Auto in his home studio. Recently inducted into the Kansas Music Hall of Fame, he's a true Kansas City star.    

The Deli: Pat, tell us about your first set of drums.

Pat Tomek: It was a blue sparkle Stewart (cheap Japanese drums from the '60s). Between my junior and senior years in high school I worked a summer job at a furniture store and scraped enough money together to buy a used kit.

The Deli: Who or what inspired you to be a drummer?
Pat: A few years before that, my brother's best friend got a drum kit and they let me sit down to play it. They said, "You sound really good! You should play drums!" and I believed them. I spent a year or so playing along with songs on the radio or stereo, pounding on pillows first with pencils and then some real sticks, until I got a job and bought some drums. I was going to leave them at home when I went to college, but a friend told me I could make some money playing parties. He was right, and you could say I owe my career to him.
I never had lessons. I guess I must have had some innate talent because I played with high school stage band when I'd only had the drums a couple of months. I couldn't really read music (I still suck at it)—I just made things up and the teacher was none the wiser. I did sweat one time when he asked me, "What are you playing on bar such-and-such?" I just made something up, and then he told me what it should have been. Whew!
I should say some friends were putting a band together when I got the kit, so I started playing immediately. We did stuff by Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, Spirit, Creedence—a lot of what was on the radio at the time (1969). 

The Deli: Before you joined the Rainmakers, you played in a variety of bands. Is there one particular band you remember most fondly?
Pat: Well, the best-known band I was in before the Rainmakers was The Secrets*, with Brent Hoad and Norm Dahlor (now with The Elders) and Steve Davis (Liverpool). The first professional recordings I was on were with them, recording for Titan Records in 1978. We eventually did an album out in LA, produced by Greg Penny and Stan Lynch (Tom Petty's drummer). I don't think Stan liked me, but I learned a huge amount just being around him. Looking back on it, I'd never had a role model before. 
If I can mention another band, the 4 Sknns was loads of fun. We played '60s and early '70s covers back before anyone else (except Steve, Bob and Rich, who started about the same time). We did exactly what we wanted and more or less dared anybody to fire us. We just didn't care, and that was very liberating for me. Joe "Guido Toledo" Welsh, Richard Streeter, and Gary Charlson (another Titan Records alum). If I can put a plug in here, the Sknns are doing a reunion weekend October 12-13 at The Brooksider. Hopefully we won't suck.
The Deli: The Rainmakers evolved from a trio: Steve, Bob and Rich. Bob Walkenhorst played drums for that group. How did you come to join the Rainmakers?

Pat: Oh good, I can segue from the last question! The Sknns and Steve, Bob and Rich were playing a lot of the same clubs, like Parody Hall and Blayney's. We got to know each other, and one day I got a phone call from Bob. He said they had been signed to Mercury/PolyGram and the plan was to replace him on drums so he could move up front. I never auditioned, just started learning the songs. In fact, we had to take promo pics before we even had a chance for a rehearsal; I remember thinking, "I sure hope this works."

The Deli: You've also played with lots of area bands, including Hidden Pictures and Howard Iceberg and the Titanics. How would you describe your role within a particular band? For instance, does your approach to playing change depending on the type of band it is?
Pat: Every band is unique. One of the benefits of playing with different groups is that you can't just do the same old thing, because it won't work. You have to stay on your toes. In some bands, I have a lot of latitude. In others, like the early days of the Rainmakers or in Hidden Pictures, the songwriter is also a drummer and may have some definite ideas as to what I should do. 
Of course the material has a lot to do with itI'll be a lot busier playing Who covers than in a straight country band, for instance. In general I do try to play the fewest notes possible, because I think it sounds cleaner. If that means people don't think I'm very good, that's okay. I'd much rather they think the band is good than that the drummer is.  
Occasionally, though, clutter is good. For instance, there's no point in being restrained on "Won't Get Fooled Again!"
The Deli: You've had the great fortune to tour all over the world. What would your advice be to a drummer about to embark on his or her first tour outside their hometown? 
Pat: Try to sleep, and eat well. It won't happen, but do what you can. You'll last longer. Yoga has been a huge help to me, though I'm not very good at it. In every sense be as flexible as you can, because everyone around you is under a strain, too. Keep your eyes and ears open: my biggest regret from my touring days is that I didn't force myself to be more outgoing, to make contact and learn as much as I could from the amazing people I met. 
The Deli:  When you're not playing music, how do you like to spend your time?
Pat: I've been a freelance web designer since 1996, but haven't done as much with that since the Rainmakers started up again. I have a Pro Tools-based studio in my house; I've done most of Howard Iceberg's recording since the early '90s. I tracked the Rainmakers' 25 On album (Bob mixed), recorded The Cave Girls and Deco Auto, and I'm in the home stretch of a double-CD album with Forrest Whitlow. It looks like I might be recording The Lucky next. 
In my spare time, I like to hang out with our cats. There are lots of them.

The next time you can catch the Rainmakers in Kansas City will be at the Parktoberfest at English Landing Park in Parkville on Saturday, October 6 at 3:30 pm. Pat can be seen banging the drums at the 4 Sknns reunion shows on Friday and Saturday, October 12 and 13.

--Barry Lee

Barry Lee is the host of the long-running free-form radio show Signal To Noise, which is broadcast on Sunday nights at 8:00 pm on KKFI.

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Pat Tomek

Photo by Chip Duden

The Rainmakers





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