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VALLEY WEEKEND | BEST BETS

June 06, 1996|JAMES E. FOWLER

SATURDAY: SONGS

In a rare public appearance, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Brian Wilson will perform Saturday in a benefit at the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga.

Wilson, along with Van Dyke Parks, Ricki Lee Jones, Stan Ridgway, Billy Swan and others, will participate in a Songwriters Symposium to raise funds for the Topanga venue. Parks says each of the songwriters will perform and talk about three or four of their own songs, plus one other that they wish they had written.

Wilson and the Beach Boys performed music that celebrated the California beach lifestyle of the early 1960s. Wilson was the primary writer and producer of the group's recordings. His later work in that decade grew more sophisticated, utilizing relatively complex melodic lines and harmonies.

Proceeds from the benefit will go toward improving the Amphitheatre's seating. Anybody who's been out to the theatricum for Shakespeare, a concert or whatever, knows about the hard, railroad tie seating. It hurts.

Will Geer, probably most famous for his role as Grandpa in TV's "The Waltons," originally bought the property in Topanga in the early 1950s for a home for himself and his family. He later opened a theater for other blacklisted artists like himself.

More recently, the Theatricum, now run by Geer's daughter Ellen, produces a summer repertory season along with several educational programs.

Van Dyke Parks says he visited the theatricum recently to check out preparations for the benefit while about 500 children from the Los Angeles school district were participating in the Theatricum's School Days program to learn about Shakespeare.

"It reminded me how important this place is to the cultural lifeblood of Los Angeles," he said. "This is an important community asset."

* "In Other Words," a Songwriter's Symposium with Brian Wilson, Van Dyke Parks, Ricki Lee Jones, Stan Ridgway, Billy Swan and others, from 4-6 p.m. Saturday at Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga. Tickets: $25 and $100. Call (310) 455-3723.

SOPHISTICATED FOLK

Lou Gottlieb, comic front man-bass player of the Limeliters, who are playing the Alex Theatre on Saturday, has observed a strange phenomenon over the years.

As the number of Limeliter fans decreases, the fervor of those remaining fans increases. He says if the group learns a new song, and has to leave one of its popular, older numbers out of the show, people are really disappointed.

"You are a prisoner of your repertoire," Gottlieb says. "It's a huge job, there's no way out of it."

Gottlieb met the other original members of the Limeliters, Alex Hassilev and Glenn Yarbrough, in May 1959. The folk music craze had just begun. The group formed and within a few weeks it had a recording contract with Electra Records and started playing at the Hungry I in San Francisco.

"We caught a wave," Gottlieb says. "We were doing something right."

That included powerful vocal harmonies and Gottlieb's rather sophisticated humor. Gottlieb, who has a PhD in musicology from UCLA, also did the vocal arrangements. The group worked steadily for the next four years, had hit albums on Electra and RCA Records, and was even featured in a series of television cigarette commercials.

Yarbrough left the Limeliters in 1963 to pursue a solo career and the group disbanded soon after. Gottlieb and Hassilev re-formed the Limeliters years later with a new tenor, a position currently held by Rick Dougherty.

The group now performs only about 25 times a year and is opening for Yarborough at the Alex performance.

Playing at the Alex is a homecoming of sorts for septuagenarian Gottlieb, who grew up in Glendale.

* Glenn Yarbrough and the Limeliters at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale. Tickets are $27.50-$32.50. Call (800) 233-3123.

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