Lifenotes: Country Artist Marvin Rainwater Passes

RainwaterMarvin Rainwater, a country star of the 1950s, died Tuesday, Sept. 17, in Minneapolis, MN. He died of heart failure at age 88, according to The New York Times. His “Gonna Find Me a Bluebird” was a No. 3 country smash and a top-20 pop hit in 1957.

Born in Wichita, KS and raised in Kansas and Oklahoma, Rainwater was trained as a classical pianist, even though his family listened to the Grand Ole Opry. He switched to country music when he was homesick and serving in the Navy during World War II.

His first brush with success was as a songwriter. “I Gotta Go Get My Baby,” which he wrote in 1954, became a modest pop hit for Teresa Brewer and a top-10 country hit for Justin Tubb.

Rainwater rose to fame by winning the Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts TV competition in 1955. This led to him becoming a regular on The Ozark Jubilee TV series.

Signed to MGM Records, he issued “Albino Pink-Eyed Stallion” and “Tennessee Houn’ Dog Yodel” as singles before recording the rockabilly classic “Hot and Cold.”

His biggest hit was his self-penned “Gonna Find Me a Bluebird.” It became a giant country and pop hit in 1957. Around the same time, Faron Young had a major hit with the Rainwater penned “I Miss You Already (And You’re Not Even Gone).” This song was successfully revived by Billy Joe Royal in 1988.

Also in 1957, Rainwater’s “Majesty of Love” duet with MGM ingénue Connie Francis became the future pop star’s first charted single. His solo single, “Whole Lotta Woman,” became a No. 1 record in the U.K. in 1958. Lynn Redgrave later sang this song in the 1966 film Georgie Girl. Rainwater wrote it, as well as his country charting “So You Think You’ve Got Troubles.”

He also wrote “I Dig You Baby,” which became his second British hit. Meanwhile, “Nothin’ Means Nothin’” returned him to the country charts in the U.S. in late 1958.

Rainwater’s final appearance on the country hit parade was in 1959 with “Half-Breed.” It was written by John D. Loudermilk, who also wrote Rainwater’s “The Pale-Faced Indian (Lament of the Cherokee Nation).” This 1960 Rainwater single turned out to have a very long life. Don Fardon re-recorded it as “Indian Reservation” and had a pop hit with it in 1968. The Raiders revived it to become an even bigger pop hit in 1971. Then it was incorporated into Tim McGraw’s 1994 country smash “Indian Outlaw.”

Although Rainwater was frequently photographed in beaded headbands and buckskin jackets and was publicized as an “Indian,” he was not Native American.

Due to constant touring, he lost his voice. MGM dropped him in 1961. He later recorded for Warwick, United Artists and Warner Bros., and also formed his own label, Brave Records.

His other business ventures included backing the early country fan magazine Trail in 1958. He also had a studio and a publishing company. But by the 1980s, he was living in a trailer in rural Minnesota.

Germany’s Bear Family Records put out a boxed set of his works in 1992. Marvin Rainwater continued to tour until 2011.

He is survived by his wife Sheree Kay Christensen Rainwater, by sons Jim and Wade and by daughters Judie, Barbie and Laura. Sister and sometime MGM duet partner Patty Rainwater and brother Bob also survive him, as do 11 grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren and five great-great grandchildren.

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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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