Port of Wichita forecast: Rain

The popular Wichita cover band will perform hits from Brit rock to Motown on Saturday.

05/27/2011 12:00 AM

05/27/2011 12:07 AM

Beethoven was deaf when he composed his last symphony. Rocky Heyen sees no reason why a little hearing loss should keep him from singing with Rain, which plays at the Port of Wichita on Saturday.

"I don't have trouble hearing inside the mix," said Heyen, whose full-throated vocals are a trademark of the band. "I have trouble with the monitors. Sometimes I step off the stage to hear. You just do it blind sometimes, rely on muscle memory to hit that note. Beethoven had that problem."

Heyen ends the explanation with a self-deprecating chuckle, as he does several times while discussing himself and Rain. For Heyen, performing has always been more about making sure the band and crowd have good, rather than note- perfect, replications of other people's hits.

"I wouldn't say I'm a great musician," he said. "But there's a lot of enthusiasm. We mean it. We project that, and people respond to it."

Once one of the city's busier bands, Rain hit a dry spell after half its members left following a New Year's Eve gig.

Heyen said guitarist "Big Al" Lang departed to join Across the Pond, a Beatles tribute band; drummer Joel Andrews took a job playing on a cruise ship; and keyboardist Gary Hess decided he "was over being in a band," Heyen said.

Heyen, bassist Vic Judd and guitarist Dean Rudolph stayed. They've picked up Johnny Brown on keyboards and John Pryor, a veteran of several local bands, on drums.

Rain and its earlier incarnations have gone through personnel changes before. As Gravy, the band won the Wichita Blues Challenge in 2002 and 2003 and represented the city at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. After Heyen replaced the original singer, the band morphed into Rain; it started playing more classic rock and R&B and less blues.

In 2006, drummer Nigel Gray, a native of England, died. "It was kind of hard when that happened," Judd said, calling Gray a "driving force" in the band. "Luckily we found another drummer that was good in his own right."

Judd said the new lineup is less guitar-heavy and more R&B-oriented. Even so, longtime fans will be familiar with much of the band's set list, which runs from Motown and soul to the Beatles, Rolling Stones and other English rockers.

"We love Joe Cocker," he said. "Rocky, with his vocal range, can just really tear that stuff up."

Heyen said the band has added a hit from last year, "Come Back Song" by Darius Rucker, to its playlist, but the focus remains on older classics like "Ain't Too Proud To Beg" and "Paint It Black."

"They're familiar songs everybody knows, but we put a little edge on them, a little more soul on them," he said.

The band has several more gigs lined up this summer. As for Saturday's gig, Heyen said, "We think we're ready. It's liable to be a train wreck, but it'll be fun anyway."

Heyen and Judd both make it clear that they have no intention of stopping this Rain anytime soon.

"I'm not smart enough to call it quits," Judd said. "We just keep doing it because we love doing it."

If you go


What: Wichita cover band playing pop, rock and R&B

Where: Port of Wichita, 1548 S. Webb Road

When: 9:30 p.m. Saturday

How much: $5 cover

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