Split Lip Rayfield is a vocal and (acoustic) instrumental group from Wichita, Kansas. Though they are sometimes classified as a bluegrass or alt-country band, their music draws on a wide array of influences. Formed in 1995 as a trio including Kirk Rundstrom (guitar), David Lawrence (banjo) and Jeff Eaton (bass), the group was soon signed to Bloodshot Records, the label home of Rundstrom's previous band, metal-country act Scroat Belly.
Formed in 1995 as a trio including Kirk Rundstrom (guitar), David Lawrence (banjo) and Jeff Eaton (bass), the group was soon signed to Bloodshot Records, the label home of Rundstrom's previous band, metal-country act Scroat Belly. Early on, the group's gimmick was Eaton's homemade one-string bass, named Stitchgiver, built from the gastank of a 1978 Mercury Grand Marquis and a piece of hickory and strung with one piece of Weedwhacker line.
The name "Split Lip Rayfield" was inspired by a real-life person of that name who lived in Eaton's hometown of Gumbo, Missouri, when Eaton was a boy.
In 1996 Lawrence left the group and was replaced on banjo by Eric Mardis, a guitarist from Lawrence, Kansas. The trio of Rundstrom, Eaton and Mardis recorded the album Split Lip Rayfield in 1998; Bloodshot released it that same year. Soon after, Wayne Gottstine, a member with Rundstrom in Scroat Belly, joined the group on mandolin. Gottstine has also been featured as a vocalist and songwriter for the group.
1999 saw the release of In the Mud, the first album on which the group performed as a quartet. This album contained fan favorites such as Gottstine's "3.2 Flu", Rundstrom's "Devil", Mardis' "Hounds" and a cover of the George Jones/Melba Montgomery song "Easy Street." The band followed up the album's release with a nationwide tour.
The band's next album, Never Make It Home, also achieved success, as did the subsequent tour.
Following the Never Make It Home tour, Split Lip Rayfield took a short hiatus so that its members could refocus on family life and side projects. Upon reassembling, the group traveled to New Orleans to make a record with friend and fellow performer Mike West. The resulting disc, Should Have Seen It Coming, won critical praise.
In 2005, Gottstine left the touring group for personal reasons. The remaining trio continued to tour, however. Gottstine returned in Summer 2006 after Kirk Rundstrom's cancer diagnosis.
Early in 2006, while on tour in Colorado, Rundstrom sought medical attention for pain in his throat and difficulty in swallowing. Doctors quickly concluded that he had esophageal cancer, and would need immediate, intense treatment.
Heavy doses of radiation and chemotherapy were unable to completely reverse the damage, and Rundstrom's health suffered greatly from the treatments. However, by early autumn, he was playing shows again. A fully-reunited Split Lip Rayfield embarked on another tour, and played what was billed as its "final" show on December 8, 2006, at the Cotillion Ballroom in Wichita.
Rundstrom passed away on February 22, 2007 in Wichita. He is survived by his father, wife and two daughters.
The group decided to continue playing without a replacement, dedicating each show to Rundstrom. Gottstine rejoined the fold permanently and their first show without Rundstrom was in August 2007.
They have since recorded and released their fifth album, "I'll Be Around".