The Rain Kings, December 1966
Gretta Spoone Band, 1968 lineup
|If you go to see live music often, from time to time you will come across a kind of act that knows they’re bad, that emphasizes their deficiencies and makes their ineptness the center of the show. The Rain Kings from Dallas were such a band. Luckily for us they lived in a time when rock music was by its very nature amateur and obnoxious. Despite their best efforts to muck it up, they still managed to create listenable music, at least, listenable to my ears.
Rain Kings member Richard Parker gives all the details you could wish for, and more:
Richard Parker: Rebels Without Applause – The Rain Kings Story
The Rain Kings – a name that will live in anonymity. In 1964 our Dallas band began as The Imposters, a name that truly fit us, for our musical abilities were – at best – crude. We didn’t actually perform in person until 1965, after the name change to The Rain Kings, a name taken from a Saul Bellow novel – Henderson The Rain King.
We attended the same high school – Bryan Adams High – as Kenny and The Kasuals, Jimmy C and the Chelsea Five, members of The Chaparrals, Five of a Kind and many other pretty good bands that never recorded.
We simply weren’t as good as these bands so we made up for it by being stupid. Our stage acts were notoriously stupid, our original songs were downright dumb and yet our ability to draw a crowd was very good. We played at the standard affairs – high school dances, local teen clubs, private parties and so on. We actually hold the all-time attendance record at the famous Studio Club in Dallas outdrawing such bands as Kenny and the Kasuals, The Briks, The Chessmen and even The Yardbirds! (It’s true although I can offer no logical explanation.)
In 1965 after recording some truly dreadful demos in my living room, we headed for the well-known Sellers Studio downtown where everyone from Gene Vincent to Kenny and the Kasuals had recorded. We booked one hour, recorded four songs and ultimately released them on an extended-play 45. The results were pretty bad, but since our reputation was one of stupidity-with-a-beat, it didn’t matter. 100 copies were pressed and we sold them all.
In 1968 after another name change (to The Gretta Spoone Band) we released another 45 this time on the Pompeii label (internationally on the London label.) The record went nowhere fast and our band days ended. The record shows up regularly on Ebay, although it seems no one wants to buy it. I can’t blame them – I’ve heard it.
Steve Howard, Richard Parker and Steve Lowry
Richard Parker and Steve Lowry
Steve Howard – lead vocals, rhythm guitar
Drummers included: Mike McIver, Johnny Smith, David Anderson and Barry Whistler.
Other members heard on these recordings are Bobby Bassett (vocal: “I’m A Little Fat Boy”), Connie Collins (organ: “Blind Man”), Dennis Keys (guitar: “I Do Believe You’re Dreaming”, “Close Your Eyes”), Danny Porter (pedal steel guitar on “If You Really Want Me To” and “In My Life”).
Sometimes the number in the group would be four or five and other times it would swell to ten or twelve. We never knew how many of the group would show up, or which ones of us would be among the present. If we were playing at a birthday party or gas station grand opening or some other gala event, and four guys showed up, it would sometimes be just the bass player, the harmonica blower, the tambourine rattler and the guy who carried the amplifiers. We’d play anyway, and no one in the audience seemed to notice the eerie silence where the guitar breaks should have been or where the drum solo was supposed to go.
Nevertheless, we were among the musical elite in the area, being hailed as the “best band north of Garland Road and west of Peavy Road yet southeast of Rustic Circle, bounded by Sylvania Drive to the east and Timmy’s house on the southwest.” Quite an honor.
Recording – Simply Uncalled For
Knowing in our hearts that we were about to make musical history, we wanted to make sure that this legacy would live throughout the ages. The only way to do this of course was to make a record. So in 1965 we booked one solid hour in an upstairs, downtown recording studio, which was famous for recording on two tracks! This was the big time.
The hour that we booked included the time it took us to unpack the cars, load our equipment up the stairs, set up and tune up (man, I wish we had recorded that tune-up, as it was one of our very best.) In the same hour we also had to tear down the equipment and get it the heck out of the studio to make way for whoever had booked the following fifteen minutes of studio time.
That left us with about seventeen minutes of actual recording time for our four songs. This turned out to be more than enough and we spent the last five minutes smoking cigarettes and planning our Grammy acceptance speeches. In the session, four lasting musical memories were perpetrated: Lydia, Everybody Out of the Pool, Lewis Lewis and the tune which would inevitably become our signature song, I Know What You’re Trying To Do But You Can’t Get Away With It.
Lydia had lyrics that were so bad that even The Rain Kings were embarrassed by them (including the immortal line “If you should leave, my name is Steve.”)
We decided to go for broke and pressed one hundred copies of our record, and in six short months we had sold almost one-third of them for a clear profit of sixteen cents.
The Rain Kings may have been the first “anti-band”. We set out to be weird and succeeded beyond our wildest expectations. Often our audiences didn’t have a clue as to what we were doing. Often we didn’t either. This sometimes ended up antagonizing rather than entertaining the audience. In The Rain Kings’ performances, we not only began to enjoy this audience confusion and sometimes anger, we courted it. After all, the only reputation we had was one of weirdness interrupted by occasional music, so we decided to maximize our public image and go for it all. We set our goal on “Stupid”. Our reasoning was that merely being bad was not enough to bring in the patrons, and being bad and weird was somehow even worse. But being “stupid”…now that had possibilities.
There’s logic in there somewhere. People will gather to watch the clean-up of a car wreck. They will stop at an empty field and say “Look, here’s where old Henderson’s barn used to be.” They will watch mimes perform. Therefore, if it is presented right, people will watch anything.
Crowds of curious and disappointed fans flocked in the high single digits to our Stupid Show. We played one song while laying on our backs. We sang a rock version of a radio commercial for pies. We sang a hillbilly ballad from the 1930s accompanied only by the sound of tire tools pounding on wooden objects. We sang our “hit” records, of course, since they were incredibly stupid even before we planned to be that way.
One touch that seemed to affect every song performed was “the standard Rain King ending”, which usually meant that the song went on way too long or crashed to a finale in a musical wreck of non-stop non-stopping.
The band often played songs with their backs to the audience or while laying down on the stage.
At one time the band included a performer whose entire function was to shake a pair of small deer antlers, which made no sound at all. We often – intentionally – sang in a key different from the musical instruments. We referred to this as “singing in the key of ‘R’”.
We planned to be stupid, even billing ourselves as the world’s worst band. And the people accepted us as just that. Success at last.
Richard Parker and Steve Howard
Steve Howard and Richard Parker
The Gretta Spoone Band – first lineup, 1967
|A Cabbage By Any Other Name
By our second year of playing I Know What You’re Trying To Do But You Can’t Get Away With It at various parties, fried chicken restaurants and parking lots, our reputation was solid and widespread. Therefore we could not get a job playing anywhere, not even if we paid them.
We solved this problem by changing the name of our band after each performance. Sometimes we would even change our name during a performance. Once we performed in an out-of-town high school gym as “Solid Jackson and the Catfish”. And by the time the word spread that you should never hire “Solid Jackson and the Catfish” for any reason, it was too late. We had already changed our band name and were stinking up the joint somewhere else as “Gretchen and The Japanese Luggage”, “Andy Bednigo and The Dippy-Dippy Strolls” or “Little Patty Ann Montgomery and Her Fat Friends”.
Eventually, while going over our list of potential band names for the week, we decided to make a demo recording at the same small walk-up recording studio downtown, where we had earlier inflicted four songs upon tape. This time we had several new songs, each worse than the others in its own special way. One song we recorded at the time was about a blind man who received a magic pie from an angelic vision that promised to restore his sight. However, all the eating of the pie did was to make him deaf too. It had a snappy beat and a cavernous organ lead that sounded like funeral music played at the wrong speed. It was a dandy song.
Another song we unleashed that day was either called Bird Droppings or Mother Cabbage Makes Good, we could never decide on the final title. We also recorded other songs that day such as I’m A Little Fat Boy and I Do Believe You’re Dreaming, the latter a story of a man who talks to birds.
In spite of the fact that the songs were dreadful, poorly conceived and badly executed, a local record company was delirious enough to think that something (God knows what) in the songs might accidentally catch on with some small portion of the great unwashed public. They were wrong.
We signed a recording contract, re-recorded the worst two of the songs to the dismay of a bored recording engineer at IRI Studios in Dallas in late ’67 or early ’68, and were soon holding in our sweaty hands some freshly pressed 45 rpm records of our crimes.
The record steadfastly avoided sales anywhere in the world. The songs would have been poorly received in a school for the deaf. We still hold the recording industry’s all-time record for the “Single Recording Most Quickly Pulled From Release and Forgotten”.
Luckily this horrible musical event did nothing more to besmirch the already lousy reputation of The Rain Kings. You see, we had recorded under the name of “The Gretta Spoone Band.” A name which will live in infamy.It would be great to say that the band was the vanguard of a new musical direction that grabbed the sensibilities of the world. But to say that would be an outright lie. The Rain Kings were a musical aberration, a misprinted footnote in the history of music. So be it.
The Rain Kings were never heard from again, and thank God for that!
Our main lead singer – Steve Howard – continued in music and as John Steven Howard released a CD last year. He lives in Red River New Mexico and for a while in the 70s – 80s took Ray Wylie Hubbard’s place in a folk group called Three Faces West. They recorded an album in the late 70s.
David Anderson – one of our drummers though not heard on the recordings – owns Zoo Music Stores in Texas selling instruments (mostly guitars). Paul Roach our occasional organist still performs with his “real band” Kenny and the Kasuals. Paul was also “Gator Shades” of The Gator Shades Blues Band (Train Kept a Rollin’). Another of our drummers, Barry Whistler, owns a respected art gallery in Dallas. The rest of us were hounded out of the business by music lovers.
The 1992 reunion featured the original five Rain Kings. The reunion was recorded and contains some really crappy wonderful moments including the only time we recorded “Gorilla”. We also re-recorded the original Imposters Living Room Tapes and after 27 years we still sounded like a train wreck.
Thank you to Richard Parker for sharing his recordings, photos and history of the band.
Gretta Spoone Band, early 1968