Back In Blues
Rainer Returns To The Stage In High Spirits And Good Company.
By Jonathan Holden
It's a long, long way
RAINER'S ROAD HAS had its share of twists and turns, but these days he's cruising with the wind in his hair. The reclusive singer/songwriter has a lot to be thankful for. His cancer is in remission, he just returned home from a Nashville recording session and has a tribute album due out in July. And he's beginning to play again, with a Tucson Blues Society-sponsored concert on Friday, June 6, with fellow singer/songwriter Doug MacLeod. Rainer thoughtfully took some time out at his midtown home to tell us about his renewed successes:
TW: You've played a few private gigs this year, with your first real public performance coming up this week. What were those first shows like for you?
Rainer: My first show was a "thank-you" concert at University Medical Center last January. It was packed! That first show was rather frightening, since I hadn't played for more than a year. I had doubts whether I could pull it off, especially with my memory loss. I was usually able to pick something out of the hat, but I had to really rehearse the songs I was going to play. Since then I've played at a gallery opening, the Arizona Press Club, and occasionally unannounced at the Epic Café. I can't wait to play the Blues Society show. I miss the audience. You don't get that buzz playing alone at home.
TW: In July, Atlantic Records will release a tribute album of your songs, titled The Inner Flame. It reads like an eclectic Who's Who, with performances by Robert Plant, Emmy Lou Harris, Victoria Williams, Warren Zevon, Giant Sand and Jonathan Richman to name a few. You've always stayed out of the limelight. How does the notion of a tribute album strike you?
Rainer: So far it hasn't been released, so I don't know what the consequences of the publicity will be. I could use the money. If I could get work out of it, it would be a good thing. I hope to work a little more, maybe generate enough interest so some of my other records will get released in this country.
TW: How did this tribute album come about?
Rainer: Howe Gelb was the instigator. He wanted to help raise some money for us. Most of the money you make in the record business is in publishing, so Howe wanted to get people together to do my songs. Initially he got Giant Sand and P.J. Harvey from England. People were volunteering on their own before they knew it was going to be a big project, because they just wanted to be helpful.
I had talked to Robert (Plant) all along, and he wanted to help, too. When he got wind of the project he signed on to it. When he signed on it shifted the weight to being a viable thing, rather than a local thing. Howe was going to do this regardless whether Robert was going to do it. But when they got their heads together it was going to be even better.
TW: You overdubbed National guitar on several tracks. But with Emmylou Harris, you recorded live with her in the studio?
Rainer: I spent three days in Nashville last February at Brian Ahern's studio, with Emmylou and members of her band. Brian produced all her records from the seventies. She is so fine, you'd be completely comfortable having her over to your house. We did "The Good Book." I played National guitar. We ran through the song a dozen times and took the best take without overdubs. Her band is just great.
TW: What other songs did you play on?
Rainer: I played on the Giant Sand and Chris McKay song, "One Man Crusade." There were tapes flying across the country. I overdubbed on Chris' song without meeting together in the studio. For the piece with Evan Dando, "Rudy with a Flashlight," I recorded the guitar piece over at Rainbow Guitars one night after they closed. Then we sent the tape to New York and Evan put the vocals on top. I'm on seven songs out of 15.
TW: The title track, "Inner Flame," is such a deeply personal statement of your healing process. How did that song come about?
Rainer: That song was written just a few months ago, from (the experience of) my medical odyssey. It's a song about the healing power of love: Don't be afraid to jump in to the crucible of love, don't be afraid to get burned, because it's nice and warm there.
TW: Your new song, "Sometimes It's Hard to Remember," also describes the healing power of love. What are the lyrics?
Rainer: Yeah. The lyrics are, "Sometimes it's hard to remember/Sometimes it's hard to recall/the reasons why we're here at all/And then it hits me like a big jolt, coming straight to my brain/that the only reason why we're here/is just to love away the pain."
I don't write complicated songs, the title is the first line of the song.
TW: What role did music play in your healing?
Rainer: Music has been my therapy. It's helped me pull all the disjointing, unremembered episodes together into something that's whole. My playing has taken on a solid foundation, getting used to the instrument. Before that first concert at UMC, I had a notion that I could just pick up the guitar and start to play, but I found there were massive parts of my memory that weren't there. Through practicing it's come back, but I still had to relearn songs. I don't know if I relearned them correctly, but I'm trying to play them as I hear them now. And I like that, the songs should be expanding all the time.
TW: What do we have to look forward to at this Friday's concert?
Rainer: I've never played with Doug before, so I'm looking forward to that. I'm planning on playing some new tunes, a couple of new instrumentals I'm really proud of. I'm just starting to reinterpret some of the older material. I've been practicing, my memory is getting better and things are coming back to me. I'm going to really practice and play my ass off.
Rainer and Delta bluesman Doug MacLeod, with special guest Heather Hardy, play an all-ages Delta Blues Summit at 8 p.m. Friday, June 6, at the Tucson Center for the Performing Arts, 408 S. Sixth Ave. Advance tickets are $10, $8 for TBS and KXCI members, available at Hear's Music and Piney Hollow. Get your tickets early--this is sure to be a sold-out affair. Call 297-9133.
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