BEAVER, Pa. (AP) - He has written and performed a number one song. He has produced two more Top-30 singles and a string of records that made Billboard's Hot 100 charts. He has a cult of adoring fans and regularly wows audiences cross-country with his high-energy concerts.

Today, he sits at a Formica table in the crowded eating area at Waite's Ice Cream in Patterson Township, talking with a visitor. Other days, he sits on one of the stools at the old-fashioned soda fountain, hunched over the sports pages, smoking BelAir. Lunchers eat cheeseburgers and disregard his presence.

Waite's is just the kind of place where a rock 'n' roll star can feel at home. Particularly one like Donnie Iris.

Despite his success, he has never considered leaving the Beaver Falls area - where he lives with his wife of 17 years and two teenage daughters - for New York or Los Angeles.

"Never," he says, shaking his head and smiling. Big-city life isn't conducive to family life, he says. "I enjoy small-town life. I like the simple life. I like things simple."

In an attractive brick-and-cedar Patterson Township home, the man who once appeared on stage wearing nothing but his briefs leads the life of a middle-class father.

One living room wall is lined with family photographs; another with gold records, a copy of Billboard's Hot 100 list and Iris, dressed in a pale yellow suit, on the cover of Cashbox magazine.

In the kitchen, photos of Patterson native Greg Best, a former Pittsburgh Steeler and Cleveland Brown and a friend of Iris', are attached to the refrigerator. Steelers glasses are lined up on a ledge.

On one Indian summer afternoon, Iris cut the grass as his wife, the former Linda Grimm of Patterson, cooked chili and talked about the life of a rock singer's wife.

"Everybody looks at this as all glamorous and lots of fun, but it's been hard. If Donnie had been a different person, maybe things would have turned out differently."

Luckily for the family, he is attentive and easygoing. "The time he spends with us is always good time," Mrs. Ierace said. (Donnie uses Iris only as a stage name.) "When he's home, he likes to be home. He doesn't like to go out and do a lot of things."

His good humor makes him the member of the family called on to teach nervous 16-year-olds how to drive. The same attitude has sustained him through a career that has taken him through the heights and depths of the music business.

It started at the Ierace home in Ellwood City, where in his childhood Donnie would sit on the piano bench and sing while his mother, Carrie, played the piano. ("You're making him into a sissy," his father, Sam Ierace, would insist.)

His early musical influences include Tony Bennett and Johnny Ray, as well as Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly and Marvin Gaye.

He suffered through three piano lessons and one guitar lesson before loosing interest - even now, he doesn't read music. "I got books to figure out where to put my fingers," he recalled. "Then I learned to put the chords all together."

While formal training didn't interest him, the guitar fascinated him enough that he started playing again when studies at Slippery Rock University turned out not to be his cup of tea.

His first group was Donnie and the Donnells; the group merged with Gary and the Jeweltones in 1963 to form the Jaggerz.

The Jaggerz won a contract with the Kama Sutra label and released an album, "We Went To Different Schools Together." Then, every young rock musician's fantasy happened to them.

The song, "The Rapper," hit number one on the charts in 1970 and earned gold record status. A catchy, reggae-soul-flavored tune, it told the story of a smooth operator who cruised bars and preyed on unsuspecting females.

"I thought we were on our way," Iris said. But a second single from the album flopped and the Jaggerz never had another big hit, though they continued to play in clubs until 1974. In the years following, Iris played as a sideman for Wild Cherry and The B.E. Taylor Group.

While in Wild Cherry, he met keyboardist Mark Avsec; the two began collaborating on songs and made a demonstration tape which evolved into an album. At the time the two were just hoping to get a record deal, Iris said.

"Back On The Streets" was released on a local label and eventually picked up by MCA. Jimmy Roach, a disc jockey at WDVE in Pittsburgh began playing one of the cuts from the album, "Ah! Leah!", a hard rocker with 60 tracks of Iris' voice layered together.

The song caught on with disc jockeys nationally and hit number 28 on the Billboard charts. Donnie Iris was back in the top 30.

Linda Ierace now remembers the time when "Ah! Leah!" struck gold as the most exciting time of her husband's career "just because it was so unexpected. Every day someone was calling me at work and saying that something had happened with the song."

Iris appeared on the television show "Solid Gold," singing "Ah! Leah!", and in a Playboy magazine poll of disc jockeys, "Leah" was named the second best single of 1981.

The follow-up album, "King Cool," with his band, The Cruisers, also yielded a Top-30 single, "My Girl," and "Love Is Like A Rock," which nearly broke the Top 30.

Since then, he has released three other albums, "The High And The Mighty," "Fortune 410" (named after his eyeglass frames) and "No Muss... No Fuss," along with a number of singles. All have made the charts, although none has achieved the success of "Leah" or "My Girl."

What does he consider the best, most successful, time of his career? "What is success?" Iris asks back. "If you call success a number one hit, then it would be when "The Rapper" came out.

"If you call it having all your records hit the charts, then it would be now. "The Rapper" was a big thrill, but so was the first album we made here (at Jeree Studios, New Brighton)."

With each album, there is hope that it will shoot to number one with a bullet, as they say.

"Once you're done, it's pretty much out of your hands. The only thing you can do is go out and support the record," Iris said. After 20 years in the music business, he's still not quite sure what makes one record a hit and another a dud.

He and his band members usually can't even agree on which cut from an album to release as a single. To some extent, success depends on a record company's commitment to promoting a record.

"But beyond promotion... somehow you strike a nerve in the public," Iris mused. Bruce Springsteen, for example, enjoyed popularity for several years, but in 1985 he was doing the right thing at the right time and he became a mega-star.

"The sound Iris puts out compares with anything that's out now," says Chris Shovlin, general manager at WBVP-WWKS in Beaver Falls.

But as radio station playlists become more and more rigid, it becomes harder for someone like Iris to break through. "It is sad," Iris said of the current state of radio programming. "What it all comes down to is ratings."

Iris' fans are clustered in the Pittsburgh-Beaver Valley and Cleveland-Youngstown area, also in Columbus, Detroit, Tampa-St. Petersburg, and New York, where his most recent single "Injured in the Game of Love" reached number nine on the charts of WNEW, New York City's major rock station.

Wherever they are, Iris' fans are among rock's most devoted. The Reed Report, a publication for disc jockeys, producers and other music industry insiders, wrote of "No Muss... No Fuss:"

"Well, accuse us of slobbering if you must, but as those of you in the Midwest are well aware, Donnie Iris and Company simply comprise one of the day's most talented acts and it's nothing short of amazing that massive success has not yet found it's way to them.

He has his detractors, too. The New Rolling Stone Guide to Records calls Iris' music "strictly low-grade stuff," adding, "Equiped with one of the more versatile voices in rock, Iris can pull off just about any style he wants... but his material is only marginally interesting.

Iris shrugs it off. "If it was someone I looked up to as a writer, it might affect me," he said.

Reactions from his peers mean much more, like when Steve Perry of Journey came into the Iris dressing room to say how much he loved the Cruisers' music.

"He seems to be issuing a continuing invitation to party," said one reviewer.

"If you sit up close, you can actually see his fists clenching and the muscles in his arms bulging," says Susan Haffey, a vice-president of Iris' management firm, Mike Belkin of Cleveland. Quite a different image than that projected offstage by the quiet thin man with horn-rimmed glasses.

"It's all in the music," Iris explained. "Most of our tunes are high-energy tunes. There's no other way of doing it. I couldn't see us doing a tune like "Love is Like a Rock" and not getting into it. That would be stupid."

He is 42 years old; gray strands dot the black curls surrounding his face. Will he still be throwing his body around a stage when he's, say, 52?

Opinions differ. Iris: "I doubt it. I'll probably still be in music, but... I doubt it." Haffey: "Probably until he's 62. He just has so much energy." Mrs. Ierace: "I'd rather he'd be out of it right now."

Later, she softened her stance. "It's not that I want him out of it. I just want him more for us." As Mrs. Ierace talked, the children returned home from school: 11 year old Addie, bright-eyed and perpetually smiling, wearing a "Donnie Iris and the Cruisers" button on her denim jacket, and Erin, at 16 becoming a lovely young lady.

Iris will be in the spotlight again early next year when his new album, now being completed at Beechwood Studios in Cleveland, is released. The album gets back to the straight-on rock 'n' roll of the Cruisers' first two albums and also contains a Four Tops tune, Iris said.

On the album cover, he portrays a mechanic working on a car at Taylor's Pennzoil on Ross Hill, Patterson.

"My family is definitely the biggest thing in my life," Iris said. "I feel I'm doing it not only for myself but for my family. I want them to be comfortable spiritually and monetarily.

"It's not real important for me to be rich and famous. It used to be, but now I look at it more realistically. Things could be better, but they could be worse. I'm succeeding at a slow pace."