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Quirky Kind of Success

Singer has captured loyal following with his zany, modern style of folk tunes.

October 01, 1998|JAMES E. FOWLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Singer-songwriter Loudon Wainwright III, who comes to the Lancaster Performing Arts Center on Friday night, has never lacked for critical acclaim.

Since he released his first album in 1970, words and phrases such as "perfectly crafted," "insightful" and "musically accomplished and artistically satisfying" have been used to describe his humorous, sometimes quirky, folk-like material.

Critical acclaim, however, can only take you so far. During his career, Wainwright has scored only one top-20 single, "Dead Skunk," in 1972.

"Dead skunk in the middle of the road . . .Dead skunk in the middle of the road . . . stinkin' to high heaven."

But while sales of his albums have never been huge, they've been substantial enough that he's released 17 over the course of his almost 30-year career. His latest CD, "Little Ship," was released by Virgin Records earlier this year.

Wainwright also tours the world.

"It depends upon what year it is," said Wainwright, from his hotel room in Belfast, Northern Ireland. "This year I have a record out, so I'm traveling a lot."

The son of Life magazine editor Loudon Wainwright Jr. was born in Chapel Hill, N.C. He grew up in New York and later attended Carnegie Mellon University to study acting. He quit school in 1967 and soon after began performing music on the club and college circuit.

On his resume, Wainwright lists being "an actual participant in the Haight-Ashbury Summer of Love, 1967 . . ." and being "Busted in Oklahoma City, 1968--I inhaled."

Following release of his first album on Atlantic Records in 1970, Wainwright was touted as "the new Bob Dylan" and "the Woody Allen of folk," among other descriptions.

Asked who inspired him when he was starting out, Wainwright lists folk singer Ramblin' Jack Elliott, bandleader Louie Prima, comic Stan Freberg and Broadway composer Frank Loesser.

In the mid-1980s, Wainwright moved to England, where he became popular, even hosting his own television show "Loudon & Co." for the BBC in 1994. Now he's based in New York City, and, besides music, he is continuing his acting career. He's appeared in the feature films "The Slugger's Wife" and "Jacknife."

His latest album, "Little Ship," was produced by Grammy-winning John Leventhal and features singer Shawn Colvin, guest vocalizing on a couple of tracks.

* Singer-songwriter Loudon Wainwright III performs at 8 p.m. Friday at Lancaster Performing Arts Center, 750 W. Lancaster Blvd.; (805) 723-5950. $16.

*

Acoustic Music: Smokin' Johnnie's in Studio City is now presenting acoustic music on Sundays.

Promoter Rick Nyhan of Traditional Music usually books a minimum of three acts per night, including at least one bluegrass band plus acoustic blues, Celtic music, swing and other styles.

Nyhan is a performer himself. The guitarist-banjo player performs with his band, the Studio City Anachronisms.

Last Sunday, bluegrass band Blue Pastures performed, followed by acoustic rock singer-songwriter Joe Walla and acoustic blues singer Jerry Day.

Bobby Cottonwood, the manager of Smokin' Johnnie's, said the acoustic nights started about a month ago and are going well. The intimate nature of the room is a good match with acoustic performers. And Cottonwood said these bluegrass fans are a hungry lot--good news for any restaurant.

Unlike other nights at Smokin' Johnnie's, the "Mostly Bluegrass Night" (as they call it) has a $5 cover, which goes directly to the performers.

* "Mostly Bluegrass Night" happens from 6 to 10 p.m. Sundays at Smokin' Johnnie's, 11720 Ventura Blvd., Studio City; (818) 760-6631.

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