Rainer Ptacek

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Rainer Ptacek
Birth nameRainer Jaromir Ptaček
Also known asRainer
Born(1951-06-07)June 7, 1951
East Berlin, East Germany
DiedNovember 12, 1997(1997-11-12) (aged 46)
Tucson, Arizona, U.S.
GenresBlues, blues-rock, New Acoustic, contemporary folk, Americana, American primitive guitar
Occupation(s)Musician, singer-songwriter
Years active1970s–1997
Associated actsGiant Sand, The Band of Blacky Ranchette
WebsiteRainer official website

Rainer Ptacek, also known mononymously as Rainer (June 7, 1951 – November 12, 1997), was a Tucson, Arizona-based American guitarist and singer-songwriter. His guitar technique, which incorporated slide, finger-picking, tape loops and electronic manipulation, earned him admiration of some notable musicians such as Robert Plant and Billy Gibbons. A tribute album to Ptacek, The Inner Flame, included contributions by Plant, Jimmy Page, PJ Harvey, Emmylou Harris and others, and was indicative of his reputation as a "musician's musician". He was diagnosed with a brain tumor in early 1996 and died nearly two years later, after the illness recurred.

Early life and career[edit]

Ptacek was born in East Berlin to a family of Czech and German descent. His family fled East Germany for the United States when he was five years old.[1] They eventually settled in Chicago, where young Ptacek was first exposed to blues music. He moved to Tucson in the early 1970s, where he began his own musical career, most often solo, but sometimes he plugged in and led a trio as Rainer & Das Combo.[2] He co-founded Giant Sandworms with Howe Gelb in the late 1970s. When the band decided to move to New York and became Giant Sand, Ptacek opted to stay in Tucson to make sure that he would not disrupt his then-new family. Although he never became well known in the United States, he became more and more recognized in Europe. ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons was so impressed with the singer-guitarist that he arranged to have Kurt Loder review Ptacek's "Mush Mind Blues" cassette in Rolling Stone. Ptacek later traveled to Houston at the invitation of Billy Gibbons to record at Gibbons' Gold Star Sound Services studio which saw release as "The Texas Tapes" meeting international attention and approval.[3][4] Robert Plant, similarly impressed, flew Ptacek to England for the sessions for B-sides to supplement the singles from Fate of Nations.[5]


After suffering a seizure while riding his bike to work in February 1996, Ptacek was diagnosed with a brain tumor in February 1996.[4] He described his frustrating symptoms to his friend, Fred Mills:

"You know, these" — Rainer held up his hands and nodded at them — "know where they want to go. They remember the chords, the notes. The problem is that I still can't remember all of those chords and notes.[4]

He was uninsured and was overwhelmed by his mounting medical expenses. Howe Gelb and Robert Plant organized recording sessions for a fund-raising tribute album. The resulting record, The Inner Flame - A Tribute to Rainer Ptacek, featured Ptacek-penned songs performed by Gelb (with Giant Sand), Plant, Jimmy Page, Emmylou Harris, John Wesley Harding, Evan Dando, Victoria Williams, Mark Olson, Tina Chesnutt, Vic Chesnutt, PJ Harvey, John Parish, The Drovers, Madeleine Peyroux, Kris McKay, Chuck Prophet, Jonathan Richman, Lucinda Williams and Bill Janovitz. Ptacek is a participant on most of the tracks.

Intense chemotherapy sessions put his tumor into remission, and Ptacek's musical skills and creativity both returned.[4] He resumed his concert activity vigorously, beginning with a guest performance at Greg Brown's show in November 1996. By this time, media attention was more focused on him than ever before. On December 17, 1996, he performed a show for 300 doctors, nurses, and patients at the hospital where he was being treated.[2] Just when it seemed as though he had beaten his disease, it recurred in October 1997, and he died three weeks later at age 46.


  • Avid Demo List (circa 1979, cassette)
  • The Mush Mind Blues (1983, with Das Combo, cassette)
  • Live Downtown (1985, with Das Combo, cassette)
  • Barefoot Rock with Rainer and Das Combo (released on LP in 1986, re-issued on CD in 1994)
  • Worried Spirits (1992)
  • The Texas Tapes (1993, with Das Combo)
  • D.Y.O. Boot (1995)
  • Nocturnes (1995)
  • Rainulator (1996, cassette)
  • The Inner Flame: Rainer Ptacek Tribute (tribute and benefit album, released in 1997)
  • Alpaca Lips (released 2000)
  • Live at the Performance Center (released 2001)
  • The Farm (released 2002)
  • 17 Miracles (2005, collection)
  • The Rainer Collection (2006, collection)
  • The Westwood Sessions, Volume I (with Das Combo, released November 2007)
  • Roll Back The Years (with Joey Burns & John Convertino, released May 2011)


  1. ^ Perrone, Pierre (November 18, 1997). "Obituary: Rainer". Retrieved 2017-02-02.
  2. ^ a b Buckley, Daniel (November 13, 1997). "Obituary". Retrieved 2017-02-02.
  3. ^ Schensul, Jill (April 19, 1984). "Tucson no longer a musical dead end". The Arizona Daily Star. Archived from the original on 2006-08-12. Retrieved 2006-12-31.
  4. ^ a b c d Mills, Fred. "DESERT SONGS: Remembering Rainer Ptacek, 1951 – 1997". Retrieved 2017-02-02.
  5. ^ Sheppard, Denise (August 29, 1997). "Flame Thrower". EPulse. Archived from the original on 2007-03-12. Retrieved 2006-12-31.

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