Fire Records begin the Rainer Ptacek collector reissue series in earnest with the release of his debut album ‘Barefoot Rock’ with backing band Das Combo. All nine of his phenomenal albums were out of print but they have enjoyed a new lease of life with the help of Fire Records.

Rainer (as he was known to his family and friends) was born of Czech descent in East Berlin in 1951 and was snuck out in his baby carriage before the wall went up. His family moved to America in 1956 and he was raised in the Southside of Chicago. He later ended up amongst the canyons and cactus flowers of Tucson, Arizona in1972. There he not only started a family – Rainer and wife Patti have three children – but developed his sensual desert blues sound dominated by his masterful inventiveness on the National steel and Dobro guitars, as well as with guitars of Czech decent.

His national and international profile commenced rising around the time he founded Giant Sandworms with Howe Gelb; despite the fact that the group’s physical legacy includes but a pair of seven-inch records, to this day critics and collectors in far away places still speak of those singles in reverent tones, citing them as early examples of the area’s vaunted desert rock sound. When Gelb temporarily moved the band to New York, Rainer chose to stay in Tucson.
Before too long, in addition to his regular solo gigging, he formed Das Combo, a kind of mutant roots/power blues trio. The impact that the group’s debut Barefoot Rock With Rainer and Das Combo wielded was immediate, despite it originally being released only in Britain.

Over the course of five import-only albums and various collaborations, Rainer established himself as an instinctive, honest songwriter and a singularly gifted musician, who earned a phenomenal reputation.

US writer Fred Mills described Rainer’s guitar brilliance like this; “watching Rainer perform a solo set in a tiny coffee shop down on Tucson’s Fourth Avenue, I was mesmerized by the way his hands floated over the strings and fretboard of his beloved old National Steel. Slide guitar is not an easy technique to master, but Rainer was a master’s master, and he’d also designed an ingenious tape loop system years before other slide guitarists thought to try similar things to enhance their solo sound. This was well before the advent of affordable/portable digital samplers. With the resonator on his guitar adding additional tones and harmonics, at times he could sound like four (or more) guitarists at once.”

In February 1996, Rainer was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He underwent intensive chemotherapy within months of being diagnosed. By summer’s end, the cancer had gone into remission. But while the immediate threat to his life had passed, Ptacek still faced an intense period of rehabilitation. He was healthy, but nearly buried under the weight of a staggering pile of medical bills. The tribute album “The Inner Flame” was pioneered by close friend Howe Gelb, bringing together artists such as Robert Plant & Jimmy Page, Emmylou Harris, Evan Dando, PJ Harvey, Madeleine Peyroux, Victoria Williams, and Giant Sand. Rainer passed away in 1997.

James Nicholls