Born Marvin Karlton Percy, 2 July 1925, Wichita, Kansas
Marvin Rainwater is a maverick performer whose work, though broadly country, distilled many influences and perhaps covered too many bases to find a niche. A quarter-Cherokee, he performed in full American Indian regalia during the 1950s, which ultimately made him that much more unmarketable.
Surprisingly, as a youngster, Marvin was more into classical music, taking piano lessons from the age of six, rather than listening to the Grand Ole Opry. This sadly came to a halt after an accident at a garage had removed part of his right thumb. While serving in the Navy, Rainwater was greatly impressed by Roy Acuff. Upon his discharge in 1946, he began playing country music and soon learned to strum a guitar proficiently enough to accompany his singing and compose songs on it. He moved to the Washington D.C. area and started his own band with a young Roy Clark as his guitarist. One of their demos, "I Gotta Go Get My Baby" was pressed up by 4-Star (owned by Bill McCall) on a custom label, Rainwater Records and was then sold to Coral, which promptly covered it with Teresa Brewer. It became a minor pop hit for her in February 1955, and also a sizable country hit (# 8) for Justin Tubb. Marvin's new manager, Eddie Crandall, hustled a spot for him on the Arthur Godfrey talent show on May 9, 1955, which he won. This led to a call from "The Ozark Jubilee", a networked TV show hosted by Red Foley. Rainwater was offered a regular spot (which he kept for four years) and he relocated to Springfield, Missouri. Soon he was approached by Frank Walker, president of MGM Records, and Marvin had his first session for the label on August 10, 1955.
When rockabilly burst onto the scene in 1956, Marvin wanted in on it. His fourth MGM single coupled "Hot And Cold" with "Mr. Blues". Roy Clark was all over "Hot And Cold", trading licks with an almost out-of-control steel guitar player named Bill Badgett. Now considered one of rockabilly's classic recordings, "Hot And Cold" didn't crack the charts, but Rainwater didn't have to wait long. In November 1956 he cut the self-composed "Gonna Find Me A Bluebird" (produced by Wesley Rose), which prefigured much of what would later be called the Nashville Sound : a chorus carried the intro, the fiddle was gone and Floyd Cramer was on hand with his little trills. The record peaked at # 18 on the pop charts and # 3 country in the spring of 1957. At the same time, Marvin's composition "I Miss You Already" became a # 5 country hit for Faron Young.
Rainwater's next chart entry was a duet with Connie Francis (then still searching for her first solo hit), called "The Majesty Of Love" (a "dire" record, in the opinion of Colin Escott). Joseph Murrells includes the disc in his "Book Of Golden Discs", but as it spent only week on the Billboard pop charts (at # 93), it seems very unlikely to me that this was a million seller. Much more important was his next session, in December 1957, which yielded "Whole Lotta Woman". In the US, it spent only two weeks on the charts, peaking at # 60, but it was a surprise # 1 hit in the UK. Marvin went to tour England in April 1958, where he recorded a follow-up (primarily intended for the British market), "I Dig You Baby", with Ken Jones and his orchestra (# 19 UK). For a while he veered between country and rock n roll, but failed to find a permanent home in either market. His last glimpse of Hot 100 action came in the summer of 1959 with "Half- Breed", a song specially written for him by John D. Loudermilk (# 66 pop, # 16 country). Another Loudermilk composition, "The Pale-Faced Indian", was cut in December 1959. It came and went, but in 1970 the song was revived by Englishman Don Fardon (under the title "Indian Reservation"), who took it to # 3 on the UK charts. Then it was covered in the USA by the Raiders (formerly Paul Revere and the Raiders), who scored a # 1 hit with "Indian Reservation" in 1971.
By the early 1960s Marvin's voice had been scorched by too many one- nighters in smoky clubs, where he would play three sets a night with a pickup band. Calluses were forming on his vocal cords. MGM dropped him and for nine months, Rainwater was without a recording contract. After regaining his voice he signed with Warwick Records in mid-1961. Despite some good recordings, like "Boo Hoo" and "Tough Top Cat", the public no longer seemed to be interested in what Marvin had on offer. Further 1960s efforts on Brave (his own label), Warner Bros, United Artists and Wesco were equally unsuccessful. Most of his 1970s recordings were made for the UK-based Westwood label. There even was a hit in Sweden in 1981 ("Henryetta, Oklahoma") on the Sonet label. As far as I know, he did not record after 1987.
Since then Marvin has become a regular visitor to England, with Hemsby performances in 1999, 2003 and 2009. He has also performed at the Viva Las Vegas festival. For the last threee decades he has lived in Aitkin in rural Minnesota.
In hindsight, Rainwater can only bemoan the lost opportunity afforded by "Whole Lotta Woman". Interviewed by Colin Escott in 1991, he said : "In the music business you're supposed to find a groove and stick with it. I'd get a good pattern going and then, next record, I'd change it. After 'Whole Lotta Woman', I should've stuck with that. (...) The first hit just buys you a lot of hard work - it's the second and third hits where you make your money."
Official website : http://www.marvinrainwater.com/
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