Country star Marvin Rainwater was born in the cowpuncher town of Wichita, Kan., but fell in love with Minnesota's lake country and settled near Aitkin, north of Lake Mille Lacs, after a bout with throat cancer in the 1970s.

Rainwater died Tuesday at age 88.

"I must have played at least a hundred shows with him through the years," said Minnesota's own country vet, Sherwin Linton, who passed along the news in an email Wednesday afternoon. "He was a good entertainer, and was known for telling many good and BAD jokes as well as singing a lot of funny songs."

Rainwater's biggest smash was the ballad "Gonna Find Me a Bluebird," which was a No. 5 country hit in 1957 but also crossed over to the pop chart, cracking the Top 20 and selling more than 1 million copies. But he also had a tougher rockabilly side, scoring a No. 1 hit in Britain with "Whole Lotta Woman."

Former Star Tribune local music columnist Jim Meyer wrote this short piece about Rainwater when he surfaced for a rare Twin Cities gig in 1997:

Minnesota hasn't fostered many country stars. But one of its bigger names makes a rare club appearance next week in Minneapolis. Marvin Rainwater, a 1950s hitmaker and network television regular, makes his debut Tuesday at Lee's Liquor Bar.

Rainwater, 71, is remembered for his songs and for his performances in full Indian headdress. (He's one-quarter Cherokee, and took his mother's maiden name for his stage moniker). In 1957, he went to No. 18 on the Billboard pop chart with "Gonna Find Me a Bluebird." His composition "I Miss You Already (And You're Not Even Gone)" was a big hit for Faron Young in 1958 and Billy Joe Royal in 1986.

The Carpetbaggers, the local honky-tonk trio that will open for Rainwater Tuesday, included one of his songs on their latest CD, "Sin Now . . . Pray Later." When USA Today gave the disc a rave review, the Rainwater remake was singled out.

"Once you have a big record in country you never die out," says Rainwater, "but these boys gave me a stepping stone, and I really appreciate that."

Born in Wichita, Kan., Rainwater majored in mathematics at Washington State University, and has made a living in music in every region of the country. After winning Arthur Godfrey's "Talent Scout" show in 1955, he became a regular on Red Foley's ABC-TV series "Ozark Jubilee" and other programs, boosting four of his songs into the country Top 20.

When Rainwater would play the old Flame Cafe in Minneapolis, he'd slip up to the woods and fishing areas around Aitkin, Minn., where he moved in 1974. Now, after overcoming some physical and financial setbacks in the '70s, Rainwater is thriving again, playing country classics in opry revues and casinos, though Tuesday's show will focus more on his '50s rockabilly repertoire.

Rainwater's renewed success has been clouded by the recent suicide of his old friend Young. Monday by phone, Rainwater recalled a 1960s gig at Constitution Hall in Washington with the notoriously coarse Young.

"President Johnson's family was up there in the big box. We were all so awed to have them with us, we were so reverent, except Faron. He got up there and said, `Well, I hear the president's here. But if you seen one Johnson you seen 'em all...'

"I'm still mad at him for [killing himself], though. No need for him to do that and ruin the best voice God ever gave a singer."


Also worth checking out is a 1998 interview for Minnesota Public Radio by author Leif Unger.