A tale of two bands
Local legends Uncle Rainbow and Bourgeois Tagg both reunite for one night
Two bands, both popular in Sacramento in their time.
The first, Uncle Rainbow, didn’t live here. Its members moved from Dallas to the San Jose-Los Gatos area around 1977, at the behest of “Big Mike” Hossack, a drummer in the San Jose-based Doobie Brothers, who believed the 2-year-old Texas sextet could land a record deal. But ask anyone who hung out at the Shire Road Pub on Auburn Boulevard back then, and most will insist that Uncle Rainbow was from Sacramento, as it played here so often.
Uncle Rainbow almost signed with Riva, a label run by Rod Stewart’s manager, whose biggest star was John Cougar, later Mellencamp. A flirtation with then-start-up Geffen Records and A&R man John Kalodner also didn’t come to fruition.
Too bad, because Uncle Rainbow was the kind of band that should have made it—a feather-haired white-soul combo with roots in the Young Rascals’ sound, which could make chameleonic shifts between Earth, Wind & Fire-like harmonies, Pat Simmons-era Doobies waterbed-rock guitar skronk and a Steely Dan-style penchant for weird chord progressions.
“We were jazzers,” said Uncle Rainbow’s keyboardist, Brent Bourgeois. “We could play Steely Dan like nobody.” And, according to Bourgeois, the band did—five and six nights a week, all over the north state, a mix of originals, Beatles medleys, Weather Report covers and more.
Uncle Rainbow was Richard Oates on vocals; Bourgeois on keyboards; John Sanders on saxes, keys and vocals; and Danny Neal on guitar. Richard Bannister was the original bassist, but Larry Tagg replaced him before the California move. There were three consecutive drummers: Steve Mitchell, George Lawrence and David Perper. And “Bongo Bob” Smith also played with the band at times.
A taste of the group’s prowess can be found at www.unclerainbow.com, a site hosted by Lawrence, now with Poco.
“We were probably the most popular band in the Bay Area and around here at that time,” Bourgeois said, and not immodestly.
On this Saturday afternoon, Bourgeois looks like a suburban dad—blue and navy rugby shirt, camo shorts—in a downtown Starbucks. He’s been a local long enough to be considered a Sacramento mainstay; his musical curriculum vitae includes Uncle Rainbow, then two albums apiece with Bourgeois Tagg (Bourgeois Tagg and Yoyo, both on Island) and as a solo artist (Brent Bourgeois and A Matter of Feel, both Charisma/Virgin). A recommendation from former local Charlie Peacock that Bourgeois consider joining him in Nashville, ground central for contemporary Christian music, led to a stint in the mid-1990s as a producer, along with another solo album (Come Join the Living World, for Reunion/Word) and a job as vice president of A&R for Word, the largest Christian label. He returned to Sacramento in 2002 and began concentrating more on a writing career. He produced tracks by his son, Adrian, who was starting to blossom as a singer-songwriter.
Jumping back, when Bourgeois went to New York with Tagg around 1980, they caught Talking Heads live, resulting in an “aha!” moment. “That’s what we need to be doing,” they decided. But the rest of Uncle Rainbow resisted, and so Bourgeois and Tagg moved to Sacramento, lured by the late Jerry Sterchi, who owned the Shire Road Pub. The duo started writing songs at a studio Sterchi had opened on 35th Avenue in South Land Park (now Paradise Studios), and lured San Jose guitarist Lyle Workman and two locals, drummer Mike Urbano and keyboardist Scott Moon. The Todd Rundgren-produced Yoyo featured Workman’s Beatlesque “I Don’t Mind at All.” When Bourgeois got sober and went solo afterward, Tagg, Workman and Urbano played with Rundgren on his Nearly Human album and tour. Urbano later drummed for a number of top acts, while Workman began writing music for such films as The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Superbad and Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
A benefit concert at the Crest Theatre on June 3, with proceeds going to Richard Oates’ medical costs, will feature reunited Uncle Rainbow and Bourgeois Tagg lineups, along with Charlie Peacock, the 77s, Adrian Bourgeois and more.