WALKENHORST & PORTER – Telling the truth and making it rhyme

WALKENHORST & PORTER – Telling the truth and making it rhyme

The Rainmakers, the Kansas City band that was synonymous with great music and jampacked concertclubs during the late '80s and mid '90s here in Norway, has long since disbanded. But 14 years after their last appearance here, bandleader extraordinaire Bob Walkenhorst is once again bringing his music to the Norwegian scene. Whereas the Rainmakers was a 4 piece rock'n'roll band, Walkenhorst now only shares the stage with one man; Jeff Porter. The duo Walkenhorst & Porter mostly plays acoustic music and have been doing so together for the past 7 years at The RecordBar (formerly Mollys's) in Kansas City. The duo has stepped it up a notch, recorded an album of original songs and decided to visit Bob's old stomping grounds here in Norway. We sat down with the guys backstage at John Dee before their opening night gig.

Foto: Stian Omland

Could you tell us how the duo Walkenhorst & Porter was formed?

BW: We both came up in the Kansas City music scene in the 1980s. Jeff was in a 7 piece reggae band and I was in a rock'n'roll trio. We were playing a lot of the same clubs, and ran into each other a great deal. So we came up in the same music scene, knew each other enough to say hi and had several friends in common, one being my wife who knew Jeff pretty well. Then I took some years off to have a normal family life, and Jeff had hit the same stage in his life.  With time I began working on songs for a solo CD "The Beginner" (2003) and wanted to go out and play them somewhere. My wife said I ought to call Jeff Porter that we would get along well. So I called Jeff, asked him if he would consider playing some music together. And Jeff said  "I'll have to think about it".

JP: I have to say this the right way so it doesn't get misquoted…it wasn't that I didn't LIKE the Rainmakers, I just hadn't really paid attention. I knew that Bob was really a together guy, a really good guy, and I had seen him after the Rainmakers before he had taken the hiatus, playing at a little club in Kansas City, acoustically similar to what we're doing now.  I saw him and I heard "Small Circles", and I heard "Another Guitar", I thought "that guy can write some songs !" But having never really followed or been a fan of the Rainmakers, I really wasn't sure you know.

BW: I think we both hit stages of not wanting to go out and play music in a situation that end up tiring you out, with people you can't depend on or in a situation where no one's listening to you. We had all done that in our younger days, and didn't wanna do that again. So I think Jeff's caution was good.

JP: I remember when I said I had to think about it, Bob said "Well, Jeff that's what I wanted to hear you say". I said let me think about it, and when my wife asked me "What did Bob want?"  I said he wants to know if I wanna play music, and she goes "REALLY? You're going to aren't you?"  I really wasn't sure, but I'm so glad I did.

BW: There wasn't any big project on the horizon or anything, I was gonna release this solo CD just around Kansas City, and we just wanted to go play some clubs. So I talked to jeff, and he said "my brother in law plays bass", so then we had a trio and started to have some rehearsals. The thing is I think when a lot of bands get together, musicians think "ok, we're gonna make a record, we're gonna be BIG". And we already had been through different versions of all that so we said let's just play music and find someplace where people will like what we're doing. Like the fact that we're doing acoustic music, that we play 7 o' clock at night. You know just play music to make ourselves happy, something that we enjoy. So we started out with the same values where we didn't wanna be away from our families. We wanted to play some originals, play some covers if we wanted to. We wanted it to be really open, we didn't want to play a style of music…we didn't wanna play blues, we didn't wanna play country all the time, there's country in our music but we just wanted to play songs.

After a few months of playing together we realized that we'd become real friends. So we've been doing this Kansas City gig now for seven years, every Wednesday. And we play a couple weekends a month, sometimes with Jeff's brother in law on bass. Sometimes we play with Pat Tomek the drummer from the Rainmakers, and another bass player as a 4 piece rockband. But most times it's just the two of us, and that's what we really like the best.  So as a couple more years passed, I think also as you get older you just don't get in a hurry, things will take as long as they take.So after playing together for six years and we'd recorded a solo cd of Jeff's material, we said let's make an album together. We haven't really co-written, and that's probably the next step for us. Neither of us has co-written with anyone before.

Foto: Stian Omland

Well, your lyrics have always been a major part of why we like your music. Do you have any influences from reading poetry yourself?

BW: No, I can't say I do read poetry. I've got several friends who are poets, and I read their books but I always feel like it should be in a song, it seems like poetry should go into a song.  As for appreciating poetry on the page alone, my mind just doesn't do that too well.


What are your greatest musical influences other than the Monkees?

BW: Always those things where the music was really good but the lyrics were as important as the music. It couldn't be all music or all lyrics. Warren Zevon was a real big influence.  I think particularly for my earlier writing Warren Zevon's sense of humour, I always loved those songs of his. And Jeff comes from -god, you have so much…you come from a much wider musical experience, I've always just been a rock'n'roller, a folky rock'n'roller. Jeff's played reggae, country & western, old country you know, and he's a classically trained pianist.

JP: Not that it has helped me much (laughs). As far as artists, you know Lyle Lovett, that guy is good, very unpretentious.,John Prine, you know people like that, who write from the heart. Tell the truth and make it rhyme, Hank Williams. What inspires you now is watching your kids grow, stuff like that inspires you.

BW: I think when you're younger you want to be different, the new wild thing. When you get older you want to be part of the tradition, that's why you become more comfortable with styles like country and acoustic music that have such a long tradition. I think those styles become more comfortable to you as you grow older, because the ego part of it is less important.

JP: You know you're not gonna impress young girls, so why bother…

BW: We're NOT?  (laughs)

Foto: Simon Fowler

Going back to the Rainmakers, what is your opinion on your success in Norway?

BW: I think people saw us…I kind of learned one of the things that Norway liked about us was… the roots of American rock'n'roll has always been respected over here,  but then here were these lyrics that were not afraid to talk about current subjects, and I think that was what worked. That Norway appreciates both those sides to it.

What are your fondest memories of playing with The Rainmakers in Norway or any other place?

BW: Kalvøya Festival, probably both best memory from Norway and best memory from anytime. And also the very first gig at Sardines. It was 1986 and we had done this tour, we started in London then went to Paris all through Germany. And most of the places we were playing no one came; the record had just been out a short period of time. We had travelled all this way from home, we'd spent almost 30 days in western Europe and the last show of the whole tour is Oslo, Sardines and it's about 4 days before Christmas. We get up here and say let's just get this over with so we can go home… First of all it was snowing, it was just beautiful, and the city was so pretty. The record company said the first thing we're doing is we're going to go to a party with the other record companies. We said why?  They said its Christmas parties you know, a Christmas drink. So all the different record companies were going to each others parties and everyone was so nice. And then we got to the club, and it's a madhouse! Too crowded, it's hot, the stage is only this high off the ground, people are falling onto the stage,and they obviously knew all the songs. So we're like wow, Norway knows us! Norway likes these songs! So that was the start of a beautiful love affair. I've lost track of all the trips we made over, but the two Kalvøya festivals were really special. To see your name on the same bill with Bob Dylan and to go on right after Midnight Oil. It was nice to be included with so many good musicians. The first one ('89) was so hot and the second one ('90) was so cold, you know, two extremes. Yeah, those are great memories of Norway.

Well, back to present time: how did this tour of Norway come about after all these years?

BW: We made the" No Abandon" CD, we started work on it like a year and a half ago, took several months to make it. Put it out in the states in June, then here in Norway in February.  And then it was like let's go to Norway and play our music, ok it's time to do that… and tonight is the first night. We had a good time at the college today; did you guys enjoy the show at the college? Didn't draw many students though… But that's what you're gonna get tonight, we just do what we do with no pretense, and let people come to us. Because if it's good, if you make a good pot of soup, people will come; so hopefully we'll make good soup tonight.  

Foto: Phil Peterson