It’s almost March. I nearly forgot about doing a mix CD for this month. I told myself that I would put up a mix CD every month this year (see January’s mix here, which is a collection of songs I’d like to hear my friend Shawn Skinner play). It’s only February and I nearly forgot about this project! I may need people to remind me.
But it’s OK, because this month’s mix is one of my favorite things to listen to. Ever. Years ago, I started digging in to the rich Arizona music scene. Yes, Arizona has a music scene and a very good one, actually. Not really in the sense that we have a regular nightlife, but more in the sense that there is some really, really good music that’s come out of Arizona. Some of my favorite music ever, in fact.
So, you don’t get far into exploring Arizona music without stumbling across Howe Gelb and his many musical incarnations, spinoffs and bands he’s influenced. It was through my explorations of Howe’s music, primarily his band Giant Sand and its offshoot Calexico, that I met the music of Rainer Ptacek, who played simply as Rainer.
Rainer, born in Berlin, moved to Tucson, AZ when he was five years old. He repaired guitars for a living and eventually crossed paths with Howe, weaving in and out of Giant Sand over the years. He also put out several albums of his own. I love Rainer’s sound and I collected several of his instrumental tracks and years ago, I put them on a mix CD which I listen while reading and studying.
In early 1996, Rainer was diagnosed with brain cancer. The Tucson music scene rallied around him with benefits and there was even an all-star tribute CD for fundraising that included Robert Plant and Emmylou Harris. After going in to remission, Rainer had to re-learn guitar and songwriting, which he did but the cancer returned and he succumbed in November 1997.
Here is an extended video of Rainer talking about colors as they relate to his music and performing “Worried Spirits” in the desert. Warning: he does let an expletive fly at around the 2:38 mark, so be forewarned:
Here is Rainer performing “Life Is Fine” on Jools Holland in 1993:
Here is a profile piece done after his diagnosis:
And here is Rainer performing “When You’ve Got A Good Friend” in 1985: