Rainer Ptacek's deeply spirit-driven music is embedded in the DNA of nearly all Tucson musicians. It turns up in every genre: folk, blues, rock and jazz.
Rainer (who rarely used his last name) performed slide guitar in a unique style that blended folk and blues techniques, but his sound was otherworldly. He died of brain cancer in 1997, leaving fans bereft from Tucson and across the world. Robert Plant, Emmylou Harris and PJ Harvey were among the stars who contributed Rainer covers to a CD that helped pay his medical expenses.
Now, a CD of unreleased tracks by Tucson luminaries is helping to send Rainer's daughter, Lily Ptacek, to college. Titled The Lily LP, it's available via Rainer's Bandcamp page at www.rainer.bandcamp.com, where money goes directly to his widow, Patti Keating.
Contributing artists include Howe Gelb, Joey Burns and John Convertino of Calexico, Billy Sedlmayr, Tom Walbank, Naïm Amor, Gabriel Sullivan, Brian Lopez, Rainer's son Rudy Ptacek and more.
U.K. transplant and local blues favorite Tom Walbank organized the CD benefit. "While I was living in Scotland in about '94, I bought a Rainer and Das Combo CD. [He] had extraordinary technical facility, but what a lot of people miss when they talk about his music is the fact he just had a huge amount of soul. That's what made him special, and it came through this music."
Walbank plays slide-guitar with an uncanny knack for evoking Delta blues artists. He says he doesn't even try to cover Rainer's originals. One of the two to attempt a cover is 12-year-old Roman Barten-Sherman, who delivers a hauntingly soulful version of "Don't Know Why" that may be the hit of the set.
Sedlmayr, too, contributes a stunning cover of Rainer's "Here I am." It does credit to Rainer's more rocking incarnation with his band, Das Combo. Sedlmayr's wracked vocals are accompanied by a powerfully textured instrumental treatment led by Gabriel Sullivan and featuring Conor Gallagher on slide, Lund on bass and Walbank on harmonica.
Gelb and Walbank collaborate on "The Ripple Effect", recorded at an intimate November benefit concert held at Exploded View Gallery. The track opens with Gelb and KXCI's Kidd Squidd sharing an anecdote about a visit Gelb and Rainer paid to Squidd one day when he was troubled. Gelb doesn't so much cover as he does channel the continuum of Rainer's spirit that has fueled his musical life since the moment they met.
In a spoken-word snippet, drummer and luminaria Tasha Bundy tenderly tells of how her daughter Mia was birthed to a Rainer soundtrack. It was a tape of not-yet-mastered Rainer music provided by Bundy's longtime pal, Keating.
Walbank's "Lady Day" is another highlight, in which he embellishes his slide guitar, harmonica and vocals with melodica. In a duet with Joey Burns on nylon string guitar, he closes out the set with the beguiling "Tucson Waltz."
Noting that several musicians found time while on tour to contribute, Walbank says, "It's rewarding to see how generous people can be." And he hopes that generosity carries through to Tucson's music fans.