Songwriting remains Americana legend Bob Walkenhorst’s passion

Photography by Jeremey Theron Kirby.

From fronting Midwestern rock ‘n’ roll band The Rainmakers to his solo endeavors, Americana legend Bob Walkenhorst has been writing songs for forty years.

Walkenhorst’s career began in Kansas City in the early eighties, and his music catalog is lengthy. When asked if any of his songs have special meaning for him, Walkenhorst’s response is veiled but playful: “It’s like asking me to pick my favorite child,” he says. 

“‘Downstream’ was one of The Rainmakers’ early songs, but it so much summed up what we were trying to do,” Walkenhorst says.  “We wanted to write music that was rooted in American rock ‘n’ roll, but we wanted it to be rooted in Missouri, in Kansas City.”

He describes “Downstream” as “sketches of fantasy,” shooting the breeze with famous Missourians Mark Twain, Harry Truman and Chuck Berry along the Mississippi River.

For The Rainmakers, it was important to represent what life looked like from the middle of the country, something “Downstream” laid the thematic groundwork for. This remains a pride point for Walkenhorst.

“We didn’t want to pretend we were British or from California or New York,” Walkenhorst says.  “We were true to who we were and where we were from.”

 Walkenhorst, along with guitarist Steve Phillips and bassist Rich Ruth, wanted to create something original. “We wanted to create something vibrant and new and exciting,” Walkenhorst says. “[Playing music] was everything to us.”

The band quickly became popular regionally. “It was a wonderful time to be a musician in Kansas City,” Walkenhorst says. “There were so many places to play, and a lot of clubs would book you four or five nights in a row.”

After releasing their first self-titled album and then adding drummer Pat Tomek to the mix, Walkenhorst switched to guitar and became frontman. Their Midwestern values translated abroad, and the band saw international success.

The Rainmakers album held a spot on the Billboard 200 for twenty-two weeks, and it did even better in Europe, leading to tours abroad. Their hit “Let My People Go-Go” made its way onto the UK Singles Chart Top 20.

After The Rainmakers broke up in 1998, Walkenhorst began focusing on writing and releasing music under his own name. The band reformed in 2011 with a couple of new members, and they played their last gig in July 2021 in Norway. 

Now approaching his seventieth birthday, Walkenhorst has been reflective recently. “I think seventy is one of those times where people take inventory of where they are in life, what they’ve done and what they want to do now.”

Walkenhorst knows what he doesn’t want to do: He’s done with the exhaustive touring and loud rock performances. Now, he’s focused solely on songwriting.

“That’s the thing that is still interesting and exciting, coming up with a new song,” Walkenhorst says.

Walkenhorst performs a solo acoustic set every first and third Wednesday at the West Plaza neighborhood bar Mike Kelly’s Westsider, showcasing his new music to his “small but loyal following.” He also writes, records and releases a new song every month on his Patreon. 

“There’s nothing as exciting as making something out of nothing,” Walkenhorst says.    

GO: Bob Walkenhorst performs a solo acoustic set every first and third Wednesday at 7 pm at Mike Kelly’s Westsider, 1515 Westport Road, KCMO.

Social Media

Get The Latest Updates

Subscribe to our newsletters

Kansas City magazine keeps readers updated on the latest news in twice-weekly newsletter. 

On Tuesdays, Dish brings you food news and our critic picks. 

On Thursdays, The Loop offers exclusive news reports and our curated events picks.