Many musicians will tell you that choosing a band name is hard. Among them would be Jerry Albright, singer and leader of Rain Kings. So did they choose their name from the Counting Crows song or from the Saul Bellow novel, Henderson the Rain King, which inspired the song? “Both really,” says Albright.
Choosing a name may have been tricky, but by the time the Rain Kings reached that point, they had already spent a fair amount of time figuring out what they wanted to play and why. In fact, choosing a set of songs was their focus for the first year or so they played together.
“We have been very conscientious about song selection, so we’ve taken a year to get it dialed in,” says Albright. “When we first played out this past April, it was at a charity thing at Moose’s Lodge in Auburn, [and] everybody said, ‘Wow.’ Even though it was our first time playing out, we just got such a great response and started getting interest from other places about playing there.”
The approach they took comes from years of experience. Albright and guitarist Jeff Rapp have been playing together for almost 30 years since they met in the late 1980s.
“We were just young career professionals in Fort Wayne and had some mutual friends and a mutual love of rock n’ roll. We were in a group with my brother and some other people, and it was just one of those things.”
Together now again in Rain Kings – along with guitarist Ken Nelson, bass player John Steibeling and drummer “Motor City” Vinnie from (surprise!) Detroit – Albright says that there are a lot of differences between now and previous incarnations of bands with Rapp.
“Now we’re all in our 50s,” he says. “It’s funny because I used to see bands that I thought were old, bands like REO Speedwagon or Thin Lizzy, and I’d say, ‘Those guys are still out there? They’re too old to still be doing this.’ But now I know I rock better now than I did in my 20s. My voice is more mature, and I think we pick songs that are more appropriate for us. Instead of us trying to do whatever the big hit that week is, we’re picking songs that work for us. Our biggest thing in choosing songs is whether we can play the song or not. We know what our range of songs is.”
And when they choose the songs, they make sure they do the original justice.
“We try to play each song like it was recorded,” says Albright. “We do every harmony, every solo the way it was in the original. Some bands, and some very good bands, will be okay if the song is just in the right key. But if one of our guys is going to do a guitar solo, it’s going to be as close as the one on the record.”
That careful attention to their setlist is what kept the Rain Kings busy for almost a year or rehearsals before they took the step to play. It was time they enjoyed since they just like making music together.
“The drive to get out to make 50, 80 dollars to play wasn’t what motivated us,” says Albright. “We enjoy practicing. We enjoy getting together every week just to have fun. But at some point we had to say, ‘We can sit here and play like this for the next 20 years, but we really need to get out there and play.’”
After their initial success at the charity event in Auburn, the Rain Kings quickly earned a slot at the recent Rib Fest, just the kind of place Albright hopes they begin playing regularly.
“Rib Fest was great. The sound guy told us after we were done playing, ‘I’ve been doing this a long time, and I see people come in and check out the music and then leave to get a beer and some ribs. But people tonight were staying to hear you play.’ And we’ve been getting a great response. If you don’t like what we’re playing, stick around because you’ll probably like what we play next. Even a song like the Counting Crows ‘Rain King’ – not a lot of bands do songs like that, I don’t think.”
Their ability to branch out to less obvious songs has been made much easier thanks to modern technology. Sharing music via Spotify has been a game changer.
“Spotify is one of the reasons I’m in a band now,” says Albright. “It used to be if you wanted the band to play something, someone would have to get a recording of the song and then make a recording for everyone so they could learn to play it. Now if one of us hears a song that we like, we add it to the ‘maybes’ list that we share on Spotify. Now we’re playing songs from bands that I’ve never heard of, like Alternate Routes and Delamere.”
Albright hopes that the Rib Fest and a few other gigs which have been booked since – like New Haven Canal Days and Pierceton Days – are just the start of something bigger for the Rain Kings.
“We would love to play more festivals and events like that than bars. Not that I have anything against bars, because bar crowds are cool, but when you play at a festival there’s more interest in listening to what you’re playing. And weddings. People are there to party and get together with family. It’s like a kegger, and I love a good kegger.”
Another plus to festivals and large scale events like that: built-in sound engineers who can make all the difference in a live performance.
“The last piece to our puzzle is that we have no sound man yet, so we have to hope the venue has one. The sound guy is just as important as the five people who are playing on the stage. So if you know any good sound guy, give me a call.”