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GOINGS ON: SANTA BARBARA : A Little Help : A grateful Joe Cocker is planning a concert to benefit his neighbors, victims of last month's fire.

July 26, 1990|MAJA RADEVICH

Joe Cocker knows all about hard luck. So when his neighbors lost their homes, possessions and peace of mind to the Painted Cave Fire of a month ago--the worst in Santa Barbara's history--Cocker was eager to plan a benefit concert.

Even with hits such as "When the Night Comes" and "Up Where We Belong," many still remember Cocker from his Woodstock and "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" days. In an era that gave the world Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin--and then took them away--Cocker is a survivor.

Years of drug and alcohol abuse almost robbed him of his health and marked him with record companies as a high risk. And Cocker's bluesy renditions and gravelly voice, accompanied by his characteristic contorted movements, weren't in vogue during the disco decade.

And by not taking care of his own financial interests he lost most of his earlier earnings. Without money or a job, it took Cocker most of the 1970s to get back on his feet.

In 1979 he escaped Los Angeles, and the alcohol and drugs, to live on a mountaintop in Santa Barbara. Now, in his mid-40s, Cocker can claim a string of hits through the 1980s. He spends his time singing, as well as trout fishing with buddies, and staying at home playing backgammon with Pam Cocker, his wife of three years.

"We're just the typical homebody couple; people are surprised at how boring we are," Pam Cocker said. "Last year Joe toured for seven and a half months, so when we get the chance, we absolutely love to just kick back at home."

For a short time last month, Cocker thought his mountaintop haven had been destroyed in the Painted Cave Fire, which demolished more than 4,500 acres and 600 residences.

"I was performing in Pittsburgh, and I didn't even know about the fire until the next day," said Cocker who is touring the United States and Canada. The newly added benefit concert at the Santa Barbara County Bowl at 7 p.m. Tuesday is the last stop of his two-month tour.

"It was 6 in the morning when I saw the reports of the fire on the television," Cocker said. "I could recognize the mountains, and I thought that our home must have burnt down. I was prepared for the worst."

But miraculously, the fire stopped just 50 yards from the front door.

"What worried me was that our three cats and two pigs were at home alone," Pam Cocker said. "I asked a friend, if it came to it, to shoot the pigs rather than have them die in the fire."

As it turned out, Rita and Earl, the thousand-pound porkers, slept through it all.

Grateful for their own good luck, the Cockers, along with manager Michael Lang and friend Bill Garlock, manager of the Oxnard Strawberry Festival, came up with the idea for a benefit concert.

"Many of my neighbors and friends, people I have known for years, have been hurt by this tragedy," Cocker said. "Some of them risked their lives fighting the fire, and I want to return something to them. . . . If I can do that with my music, I will."

When singer Pat Benatar learned of the concert through a mutual business acquaintance, she offered her help as well.

"She and her band, and Joe and the band, and all the roadies and drivers--everyone--is helping out for free," said Pam Cocker, chairwoman of a committee to disburse the money raised by the concert. "And we have use of the County Bowl for free, and we've gotten free publicity and free printing, free everything.

"I've never done a benefit before where everyone was so willing to give all they can," added Pam Cocker, a veteran of political fund raising.

She hopes that the concert will raise about $100,000, and that the reception after the show, which will be attended by both singers, the bands and a number of other celebrities, will pull in another few thousand.

Tickets for the reception are $25 and are available at Gary Paul clothing store, Compact Disc and Tape Stores in Santa Barbara and Goleta, the Santa Barbara Athletic Club and Distinctions Hair Salon. Tickets for the show are $25.50, $23.50 and $19.50 and are available at the box office and at Ticketmaster outlets.

The earthquake of 1925, World War II and a serious drought in 1948 were the only three disasters to interrupt Santa Barbara's biggest annual event, Old Spanish Days.

But neither the severe drought conditions nor the devastating Painted Cave Fire will interfere with this year's festival. Better known as "Fiesta," the celebration will take place Aug. 1 through 5 throughout Santa Barbara.

To the cultured, Fiesta is a tribute to the city's Spanish and Mexican heritage. To the business-minded, Fiesta is a way to get tourists into town. And to the masses, Fiesta is a five-day party.

Besides the array of wine, music and dance, Fiesta features a large selection of organized events. These include a parade down State and Cabrillo streets at 1 p.m. Friday, a children's parade at 10 a.m. Saturday, a rodeo and horse show at 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday and outdoor markets, food and entertainment, including Gypsy flamenco music and dance.

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