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Rhythm Rangers Will Headline Pier Concerts : One of the area's hardest-working bands has not had a personnel change in four years. The result is tight, seasoned musicianship.


To beat the heat and enjoy some great free country music this weekend, head to the beach. The Ventura Pier Summer Concert Series, featuring live music each weekend through Sept. 3, kicks off Saturday with music by Bill McIllwain from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the pier, and a performance by the Geary Hanley band from 2 to 5 p.m. on the Promenade.

Sunday, you can catch the duo Sibling Rivalry on the pier from 1 to 4 p.m. And the Rhythm Rangers headline the event noon to 3 p.m. on the Promenade. Both days will also feature line dance demo groups.

The Rhythm Rangers have earned a reputation for their variety. And with 24 gigs this month, including three in one day, it is arguably the hardest-working band in the area. But given the range of their haunts, it's surprising they're not schizophrenic.

Going on the trail with the Rhythm Rangers would take you to a range of venues, from rustic hangouts like the Deer Lodge and Maxie's to family-oriented community center dances, from Conejo Valley Days to country weddings and fund-raisers, from the posh Ojai Valley Inn and Westlake Yacht Club to such hotels as the Doubletree.

"Although we augment with Randy Covington on pedal steel in certain venues, we haven't had a personnel change in four years," said Michael J. Smith, guitarist and band leader.

The result is tight, seasoned musicianship. "There's a great mix of talent and experience," drummer Louie Nilsen said. "But the bottom line is that we have fun--we don't take ourselves too seriously. If you're not enjoying it, man, forget it."

Nevertheless, the fellas do take their audience seriously. And the result pays off in a range of fans from bikers to bankers.

"One of the things I like about seeing the Rhythm Rangers at any event is their variety. No matter what they've been hired to do--rock 'n' roll, rhythm and blues or country--they play the music so well that it sounds like that's all they've ever done," KHAY radio deejay Charlye Parker said.

"I'd heard them at country events and I loved their country music. Then I was invited to the Seabee Ball, where they were all dressed up. And I told them I wasn't used to seeing them in a country club setting. Mike joked, 'We can do these fancy deals because we're probably the only band in town that owns their own tuxedos.' "

But it takes more than tuxedos and bolo ties to make a band. These guys have paid their dues in other bands and on the road.

"We're not country wanna-bes riding the Urban Cowboy II wave of the past couple years," Smith said. "I personally have been doing country music since the early '80s. And we're rooted in that sound. Even though we seem to be changing hats in certain venues, it's all the same hat--American roots music, country, rock 'n' roll and R & B."

In fact, because of the recent success of country and R & B pairings, they were invited to open for the Temptations at the California Strawberry Festival in May.

"One thing I like about the Rhythm Rangers is the way classic oldies they've adapted sound brand new," Parker said. "And their original songs are not only very good but very danceable. Alan (Drettler) and Louie do something with the beat that makes it totally their signature sound."

Smith and lead guitarist Craig Newton share lead vocals and write the band's original songs, some of which--"The Dancer," "Alaska Boogie" and "Wheels"--are their most requested tunes.

And they recently debuted "Line Dance Romance," a clever boy-meets-girl tune with a good electric slide beat and a hook about that sweet body heat.

"They have their own style," Parker said. "Listening to the Rhythm Rangers do Rhythm Rangers' original material is spending time in musical heaven."


* WHAT: The Rhythm Rangers.

* WHERE: Ventura Pier Summer Concert Series, Ventura Beach Promenade.

* WHEN: Noon to 3 p.m. Sunday.

* HOW MUCH: Free.

* ETC.: Upcoming performances: tonight, the Palms, Carpinteria; Friday, Maxie's in Oak View; Saturday, family dance at Camarillo Recreation Center; July 11, 18 and 25, the Borderline in Thousand Oaks; July 14, 21 and 28, City Line Club, Santa Barbara; July 15, 16, 29 and 30, Starting Gate in Ventura; July 22 and 23, Frontier Club in Santa Paula; July 24, Crazy Bull in Camarillo.

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