If you’re not familiar with the music and life of Arizona (by way of Germany)’s Rainer Ptacek, then let’s rectify that (though for a much better and fuller account, please read the piece by Fred Mills at the official Rainer website).
Born in East Berlin to parents of Czech and German descent, Rainer’s family fled East Germany for the United States when he was only five years old. Young Rainer was exposed to the Blues while the family lived in Chicago before landing West in Tucson in the 1970s.
Later that decade, Ptacek helped found the Giant Sandworms with Howe Gelb, a band which would later more into Giant Sand, also launching the Calexico story. Ptacek also played solo and with his own band Das Combo.
“Although he never became well known in the United States, he became more and more recognized in Europe. ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons was so impressed with the singer-guitarist that he arranged to have Kurt Loder review Ptacek's "Mush Mind Blues" cassette in Rolling Stone. Ptacek later traveled to Houston at the invitation of Billy Gibbons to record at Gibbons' Gold Star Sound Services studio which saw release as "The Texas Tapes" meeting international attention and approval. Robert Plant, similarly impressed, flew Ptacek to England for the sessions for B-sides to supplement the singles from Fate of Nations.”
The article continues:
“After suffering a seizure while riding his bike to work in February 1996, Ptacek was diagnosed with a brain tumor in February 1996. He was uninsured and was overwhelmed by his mounting medical expenses. Howe Gelb and Robert Plant organized recording sessions for a fund-raising tribute album. The resulting record, The Inner Flame - A Tribute to Rainer Ptacek, featured Ptacek-penned songs performed by Gelb (with Giant Sand), Plant, Jimmy Page, Emmylou Harris, John Wesley Harding, Evan Dando, Victoria Williams, Mark Olson, Tina Chesnutt, Vic Chesnutt, PJ Harvey, John Parish, The Drovers, Madeleine Peyroux, Kris McKay, Chuck Prophet, Jonathan Richman, Lucinda Williams and Bill Janovitz. Ptacek is a participant on most of the tracks.
Intense chemotherapy sessions put his tumor into remission, and Ptacek's musical skills and creativity both returned. He resumed his concert activity vigorously, beginning with a guest performance at Greg Brown's show in November 1996. By this time, media attention was more focused on him than ever before. On December 17, 1996, he performed a show for 300 doctors, nurses, and patients at the hospital where he was being treated. Just when it seemed as though he had beaten his disease, it recurred in October 1997, and he died three weeks later at age 46.
What the Wikipedia blurb fails to mention is that Rainer re-taught himself to play guitar. Imagine that.
Anyway, today we feature two live performances from the 1980’s. Each is made available by the amazing Jim Blackwood. Visit the Live Music Archive page for each show for specific notes, to stream or download for yourself (1983 // 1986)
Rainer Live at KXCI-FM Studios on 1983-12-05
Rainer Live at The Sound Factory on 1986-04-08