The Ballad of Bob

June 1 is the birthday of Bob Walkenhorst, singer, songwriter and painter. His work with the Rainmakers means a lot to a lot of people, me included. His Wednesday night gigs at the Record Bar in Kansas City with Jeff Porter and Norm Dahlor are going strong after 11-plus years. He turns 61 today, and the Rainmakers embark on a tour of Sweden and Norway. Happy birthday, Bob, and many more. This was written a year ago, for his 60th.

Empty the junk drawer
Unpack the memory banks
Bob-O turns 6-O

This calls for epic
Not that great, but really long
Yeah, that’s what she said

Smalltown Missouri,
Norborne, a dot on the map,
Framed Bob’s early life

Mable and Ray gave
Him love, lots of work to do,
Things to write about

They flipped newspapers
And burgers, too — anything
To help earn a buck

The carpenter’s son
Took their advice and found those
Better things to come

College, the Ozarks,
A crazy electric band,
Stumpwater by name

And then the big move
To the brightest lights around
Kansas City town

Steve, Bob& Dave burst
Out of the chute, played oldies
With intensity

They burned things up fast
From priests-and-strippers parties
To Uptown and down

Some originals
Worked their way into the mix
“Kissin’ Time,” “Christine”

That first trio split
Regrouped as Steve, Bob & Rich
Roots rockers unbound

KC, Wichita,
Springfield, Fayetteville, St. Lou,
Lawrence, Manhattan

The depths of Blayney’s
To Parody’s fire-trap heights
The boys played them all

Wore their pants backwards
Played toy-raygun “synth” solos
Whatever it took

“Baba O’Riley,”
“… Coming to Take Me Away,”
They’d try anything

Too fun, too funny
Who knew what to make of them?
So we danced and danced

Then built their own sets
Of rockin’ originals,
Showed us they had “Balls”

Pat joined in on drums
Band filled out its sound, ready
To take the next step

Renamed Rainmakers
Mercury/Polygram signed
Big-time record cut

Local fans rejoiced
Newsweek, Rolling Stone took note
Robert Christgau, too

New songs and synth sounds
Roared, but “Tornado” didn’t
Take the charts by storm

Good news: next CD
Got back to band’s roots. Bad news:
No label support

Worse news: it detailed
In “Battle of the Roses”
Bob’s breakup story

Then reckoning day:
Time for band to hang it up
Fun had become grind

Bob got that itch — naturally
To write, play again

“Another Guitar,”
Others with Gary Charlson
Rang at Buzzard Beach

Orbison high notes
And Everly harmonies
Yes, remarkable

And life turned again
Bob found his Missouri Girl
Waitin’ down those stairs

Una made the scene
And Norway fans still beckoned
Steve, Rich, Pat came back

Band reminded us
Of someone, good times “Flirting
With the Universe”

Bob got serious
Rich split, not quite furious
“Skin” band found its Bliss

More videos, gigs
Though again the Rainmakers
Ran their course, it seemed

But music still played
In his head and heart, in work
At video job

Helped start a project
Wrote a song with Una’s class
Honoring hero

“Primitivo Garcia”
Still brings us to tears

More songs came, found time
To be recorded, found Jeff
To help play them live

Wednesday night gigs born
Along with “The Beginner”
Proof that Bob was here

Norm joined in on bass
The Westport love affair’s still
Buzzzing, 10 years plus

Bob played on with Jeff
And “No Abandon” — they took
Duet to Norway

“Almanac” looked back
As if Rainmakers were through
But “Almanac” lied

Rainmakers re-formed
But didn’t reform — not with
Jeff replacing Steve

25 years on
Band honored its first CD
And made brand new one

Bob mined some memories,
Mature themes about aging
And getting it right

But on stage the guys
Were as crazy as ever
Band of knuckleheads

So Bob rocks, rolls on
Playing, painting, and working
To create, help, love

What is a hero?
One kind grows where he’s planted
Blesses those he knows

So take a bow, Bob
Not bad for just 60 years
Here’s to decades more

“Ringing endorsement” haiku

Listening to music
Just some compressed mp3′s
Neil Young would hate it

Rock-bottom gear, too
35 buck speakers and
12 dollar ear buds

But voices still cut,
Each instrument comes through to
My old ringing ears

My converters work
Just fine, thanks — digital sound
To analog joy

My smile couldn’t be
Broader, heart cracked more open,
Tears flow more freely

An age of wonders
I tell you — and terrors too
Just listen, listen

A gentleman’s passing

Rest in peace, Jesse Winchester. What a lovely artist. My little verses, from a few days back when I heard he’d gone into hospice care.

“A gentleman’s passing” haiku

Early ’70s
Hoch Auditorium show
Brewer and Shipley

Sing “Yankee Lady”
Recommend the songwriter
Loved him ever since

Jesse Winchester
Slipping away from this Earth
Beautiful heartbreak

Strong-hearted young man
Exiled himself — would not kill
For his Uncle Sam

Voice from Canada
But Tennessee smooth, aching
With innocence lost

“Black Dog,” “Biloxi,”
“The Brand New Tennessee Waltz,”
Passion of “Payday”

Sepia cover
Nothing but his haunted face
Repeated four times

His classic debut
First of 10 touching albums
Brimming with his life

So many lessons —
Live, love, drink deep while you can
— Told without preaching

And love is mainly
Just memories — he knew that
His very first song

Now it’s Jesse’s time
To join the ages — he’d say
Birds are southward bound

What would Jesse do?
Shed a tear, hug a loved one
And crank up the tunes

Remembering Dr. King

Here are some verses from Aug. 28, 2011, about the March on Washington.

March on Washington
Was 48 years ago
How little we’ve learned

Dr. King’s great dream
Stirred hope, moved many to act,
Changed so many laws

Hundreds of thousands
Marched with him and stood with him
Black and white, as one

Mahalia, Dylan
Peter, Paul, Mary
All sang f
or  justice

But that march was not
“For Rights and Laws” but a march
“For Jobs and Freedom”

Martin envisioned
Harmony and dignity
— And that includes jobs

But today instead
We have rancor, bordering
On our disunion

Not a great nation
But warring camps, opposite
Our Founders’ vision

Recession destroyed
Gains black Americans made
Across the decades

Wealth gap, jobs gap mock
Equal opportunity,
Freedom, dignity

March on Washington
Was 48 years ago
We are slipping back

The choice is still ours
If we quit acting as if
God is on our side

Yes, the choice is ours
Let’s pray to be on God’s side
As Lincoln, King did

Honor each other
Promise to work together
— Then really do it

There’s no other choice
Work for  the dream so one day
Our kids may live it

And some from Oct. 16, 2011, when the King Memorial was dedicated. It was to be dedicated Aug. 28, but Hurricane Irene pushed back the date.

Washington, Lincoln,
Jefferson, Roosevelt, King
Justice on the Mall

Dr. King wasn’t
A president but he takes
His place among greats

Among two founders,
Two who led us through dark times
This man of peace stands

King stood for justice,
Economic rights, good jobs
And never backed down

“Out of the mountains
“Of despair a stone of hope”
Our work’s still cut out


2012 tributes

I missed writing about some important deaths, for one reason or another. I especially wish I’d written up Kitty Wells, Duck Dunn, and Johnny Otis (Hand Jive!), but those are the breaks. Friends with connections to the families said relatives of Sally Ride and Donna Summer saw what I’d written about their passings, which was gratifying. Here are some farewells, with the date they were written — usually, but not always, the day the person died.

2-19 Whitney Houston

Which did life break first?
Wings, spirit, body, voice? Now,
Silence, songbird. Rest.

2-29 Davy Jones (written the previous December, for his last birthday)
Ah, darling Davy
Child TV star, then trained
To be a jockey

But the stage beckoned
“Oliver’s” artful dodger
Made him a real star

Ed Sullivan Show
Had “Oliver’s” cast, same night
Of Beatles’ debut

Girls all went crazy
Davy knew what he wanted
Monkees made it true

3-27 Adrienne Rich, feminist poet and author

Wilderness flashlight
One tiny, brave beam cuts through
Lonely, then leading

3-28 Earl Scruggs
Heavenly breakdown
God said, “Earl, I need you to
“Come in on banjo”

Banjo pioneer
And picker extraordinaire
Rest in peace, Earl Scruggs

4-5 “One louder” haiku (Jim Marshall)

Start with a Bassman
Separate amp from speakers
Use four 12-inches

Close cabinet back
Add higher-gain pre-amp valves
Post-volume filter

Overdrive sooner
Treble frequencies boosted
Voilà! The Marshall

Townshend, Entwistle
Stacked ’em — the world got louder
Cream, Hendrix echoed

Dozens of models
Followed — famed followers, too
Too many to count

Ideas have lives
As do great sounds and moments
Decay and sustain

Marshall, the amp king
Lived to 11, times 8
Rest in non peace, Jim

4-18 “American icon” haiku

Drape Bandstand in black
Then keep on rockin’ — Dick Clark
Would want it that way

4-20 “Take a load off” haiku (Levon Helm)

Divine harmony
Levon, drums, mic, stage, no fright
One with everything

5-8 Wild Things haiku

‘Bye, Maurice Sendak
You showed us we would conquer
Though there be monsters

5-17 Donna Summer

Heaven’s disco ball
Just added a few facets
Rock in peace, hot stuff

Cancer’s never fair
Somehow it’s even more wrong
For Donna Summer

Queen of an era
When people lived on dance floors
Parties never stopped

“Heaven Knows,” “Bad Girls”
And “Love to Love You Baby”
“On the Radio”

When parties did stop
They all stopped with the same song:
Ms. Summer’s “Last Dance”

‘Bye Donna Summer
Thanks for all the dance floor grooves
Of our well spent youth

7-23 Trailblazer haiku

Sailing through the stars
This one last time, for all time
Liftoff, Sally Ride

8-21 “We Could Use Some Laughs” haiku

‘Bye Phyllis Diller
Blazed trail of tears (of laughter)
Queen of one-liners

Self deprecation
And domestic disasters
Made thousands of jokes

“Bury the laundry”
“Skip baby’s bath — he won’t tell”
Among your fine tips

“Goodnight, We Love You”
DVD captured career,
Your many talents

Mom and I watched it
In her final days — maybe
The last laughs she had

Hope now you’re having
The last laugh because no one
Could laugh quite like you

‘Bye Phyllis Diller
Loved your alligator shoes
Or were you barefoot?

8-26 Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong answered
Moon’s timeless pull — fast footprints
In history’s tides

In heavens, made real
Eons of human dreaming
Now he joins the stars

9-26 Smooth exit haiku

‘Bye Andy Williams
Moon River, now River Styx
You’re crossing in style

10-1 A.O. Sulzberger

Modesty, clear thought
Arthur Ochs “Punch” Sulzberger
A bold vision, too

Punch started quite young
Quickly grew into the job
And never looked back

Put press freedom first
And profits a close second
Knew papers need both

The Old Grey Lady
Added color on his watch
Took on new topics

But held to its core
Accuracy, good judgment
High integrity

World’s greatest paper
Made its mistakes, some big ones,
But fixed them, moved on

Pentagon Papers
Tested resolve, but not faith
In First Amendment

Serious business
But Punch also had the time
For a laugh, a pun

‘Bye, Punch Sulzberger
Gentleman, and gentle man
Steady at the helm

10-21 Veteran haiku

‘Bye, George McGovern
Of Mitchell, South Dakota
From prairie to dust

A minister’s son
Bomber pilot war hero
One wife throughout life

Midwestern solid
His “crazy” causes were peace,
Feeding the hungry

History professor
Desired to learn from the past
Avoid its mistakes

Cast as cowardly
He really was a lion
With courage untold

I heard him speak once
To thousands of Legionaires
At their convention

Said America
Was strong and great — but misguided
About Vietnam

And telling that crowd
We were fighting the wrong war
Took tremendous guts

Then “nutty lib” was
Trounced by Mr. Sanity
Tricky Dick Nixon

McGovern lived on,
Lived long, doing what he could
To help others

Whatever one thinks
Of his politics, no one
Should question his heart

In ’67,
This date, thousands protested
War in Vietnam

45 years on
George McGovern breathed his last
Peaceful warrior, rest

12-5 Dave Brubeck

Take five, Dave Brubeck
After all, you did it all
In your long career

Classical training
Then jazz, jazz, jazz — cracked the charts
And sold a million

5/4 and 9/8
11/4 — signatures
Few others had mined

Conquered Concord, Kool,
Newport, college campuses
With classic quartet

Then you wrote ballets,
Cantatas, orchestral works,

Time to stop, marvel
And call “Time Out” one last time
Brubeck, over, and out

12-20 Sandy Hook haiku

1 insane person
And too many God damned guns
We’ve seen this before

20 empty desks
40 empty little shoes
Countless empty laps

20 empty beds
20 holes in the night sky
With light leaking through

20 small coffins
20 headstones each weighing
As much as the world

And 8 large coffins
6 holding brave protectors
Can we be as brave?

Complicated, yes,
But clear: Unless we’re as brave
We’ll see this again

“And he won’t mind if you spell his name backward” haiku

June 1 is the birthday of Bob Walkenhorst, a fine singer and songwriter, and a pretty darned good painter, too. Best of all, he’s a wonderful person. I wrote these a year ago.

For Bob Walkenhorst
Painting the scenes of our lives
In brushstrokes and notes

What to say to one
So entertaining, so true?
Happy birthday, Bob!

The head Rainmaker
Making music, making friends
In KC for years

Singer, songwriter,
Guitarist, drummer — plays mean
Harmonica, too

He writes the best songs
Surprising, clever, touching,
Funny — so human

And you know when it’s
Bob singing, one of a kind,
Though he covers well

Yeah, Bob does Elvis,
Van, Mick, Lennon, Dylan, Hank,
Fogerty, the Boss

But no one sings Bob
Like Bob — nobody else can
It’s just that simple

He’s done it for years
With bands and friends, or solo,
And just gets better

When he gets on stage
He makes us feel he belongs
To us — quite a gift

Happy birthday, Bob!
Here’s our ears, and hearts, gladly
Given in return

June 1 haiku

Star who will be Marilyn
Makes her first twinkle

Born into madness
Dies in loneliness, despair
In between, magic

In ’67
The Beatles get serious
With Sgt. Pepper’s

Rock stars turn artists
Tap all that’s within them
Music ever changed

Helen Keller breathes last breath
Of unique journey

Deaf, blind, not yet 2
Alphabet unlocks genius
To inspire the world

June 1st, quite a date
For magical history tour
Birth, release, passing