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A Brief Encounter With a Naked Cowboy

January 22, 1999|BOOTH MOORE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

You've heard of Hopalong Cassidy, the Lone Ranger, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. But you probably don't know John Robert Burck. At least not yet.

This local country music man is strutting his stuff in 40 cities this month. But he's not your regular cowboy performer. He doesn't have an entourage. No fancy fringe shirts, either. Burck's get-up consists of a pair of black boots, a cowboy hat and his black bikini underwear.

Although he calls himself the Naked Cowboy these days, when this Cincinnati native came to L.A. two years ago, he plied his trade fully clothed.

"I was totally ignored," Burck says. "I made like $1."

The Naked Cowboy doesn't suffer from a modesty problem. A photographer who was shooting Burck for Playgirl suggested that removing his clothing might boost his stature.

It did. Burck played Venice Boardwalk in his underwear and went home with $110. "People were flipping out! It was like I was a star."

The Naked Cowboy persona was born. Burck recorded a CD, appropriately titled "Naked Cowboy," and organized his first concert tour. The goal? To perform in 40 or more cities across the country and entertain thousands of people in his underwear, boots and hat. Burck also hopes to build a dedicated fan base and sell most of the 1,500 CDs he self-produced.

Burck's been on the road, er, on the street corner, since Jan. 5. He has traveled mainly in Southern states "since cold weather would create unfavorable conditions for singing and playing guitar in underwear or living out of a car," he explains. In Nashville and Chattanooga, Tenn.; Lafayette, La.; Houston; Daytona and Key West, Fla.; and San Diego, he appeared on local news channels and in newspapers.

But the Naked Cowboy is not a hit in every town.

"Daytona told me to get the hell out. The police in Arizona accused me of disorderly conduct."

Even Hollywood's been a tough audience.

"It's not like any other city. It's not like the news comes out in five minutes to film you." However, Pasadena practically rolled out the red carpet. "The police sergeant came out to get his picture taken with me."

The Naked Cowboy will stay in L.A. this weekend, playing the Venice Boardwalk (one of his favorite venues) on Saturday and Sunday. Then he'll jump in the car (a 1984 BMW), point the reins east and ride on till morning.

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