The Chop Tops
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The Chop Tops

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The best kept secret in music


"Chop Or Die"

MUCH LIKE THE greasers and gearheads of the 1950s who wrenched on stock Chevys and Pontiacs to turn them into custom, high-performance machines, the Chop Tops take the sounds and styles of classic rockabilly and add their own modern, energetic spin to them.

Witness the Santa Cruz combo's showing last year at the town's annual Battle of the Bands at the Catalyst, where six bands that made it to the final round duked it out in hopes of capturing the title of best band, along with a $4,000 cash prize.

As the house lights went down and the roar of the capacity crowd came up, the ominous sound of Star Wars' "Imperial March" blasted through the P.A. speakers. Three figures emerged from the back of the darkened stage – taking position by their instruments, the only light coming from the end of their lit cigarettes – and the moment the music ended, the drummer counted off on his sticks, and the band launched into a rollicking surf-rockabilly instrumental.

Moments after the first notes of "Sun Down" blazed off the stage, the audience was in motion, breaking into a wild mosh pit but soon filling in with couples dancing and onlookers hollering, rocking their heads, and raising their fists to the beat. Gary "Sinner" Marsh, who plays the drums standing up, never missed a beat while also handling the vocals, and indeed he sounded like a classic crooner as well as a hell-raising rocker in the tradition of Jerry Lee Lewis.

Shelby Legnon effortlessly pulled off scorching leads and changes on his vintage Gretsch guitar, and at one point during "Drink That Bottle Down," stepped off the tall stage, climbed onto someone's shoulders, and played the solo while being carried through the crowd. Even though he had recently crashed on his 1948 Panhead motorcycle, and had been hobbling around on crutches for the entire night, Roddy "Hot Rod" Larson was playing his stand-up bass doing exactly that – standing – an impressive sight considering what he'd just been through.

And the band has been through a lot. The next morning, Marsh got the call he'd been waiting for: the Chop Tops won by an impressive margin, securing the title of best band and the prize money.

Still, in the past year, the group continued to weather lineup changes as Larson departed, amicably, and former bassist Dusty Grave returned. Formed in Watsonville and residing in Santa Cruz, far from the larger hot-rodding hotbeds of rockabilly in Los Angeles and elsewhere, the Chop Tops remain a study in perseverance. They're poised to release their fourth album this summer, and their high-octane mixture of classic and contemporary has secured them an invitation to tour Europe in July and August. They've sold about 5,000 CDs total of their releases.

"We're not a tribute band. We've got our own sound: it's undiscovered, it's new, it's ours – it's revved-up rockabilly," Marsh says.
Hank was a punk rocker

Though their obvious rockabilly forefathers are Carl Perkins and Eddie Cochran, the Chop Tops see themselves as children of the Santa Cruz-area punk scene, where Marsh, whose intense zeal and determination have propelled the band, first cut his musical teeth. "Every member of this band grew up listening to punk rock," Marsh explains. He sees punk not merely as one particular type of music but as an overall attitude. "When Hank Williams was starting his music career, he couldn't play the country grand hall, otherwise known as the Grand Ole Opry. You wanna know why? Because he played punk fucking rock."

Taking the fierce spirit of independence gleaned from the punk underground, Marsh came back to his first musical love – rockabilly – and formed the Chop Tops with Legnon, who had previously played with rockabilly bandleader Lloyd Tripp in the Bay Area. After a few years of steady playing in local clubs and building a following, the Chop Tops self-released their first record, Tales of Hot Rods, Hot Broads, and Lucky Odds, in 1999, which was followed by 2000's Always Wild on Rollin' Rock, a renowned rockabilly label that has also released discs by such wild cats as Ray Campi and the Blasters.

Grave, who was friends with the band before he joined, came aboard in 2000, and the following year the group put out Evil Six, another self-released full-length that showcased their talent for taking inspiration from the classics of rock 'n' roll and infusing them with an attitude and fury that set them apart from any roots-revival act out there. The band also showed off a few of their other loves, covering AC/DC's "I'm a Rocker" and the Misfits' "American Nightmare."
Little nightmares

But the Chop Tops hit several speed bumps – all bass player-related. After the regional success of Evil Six, they were looking forward to the next step when Grave announced his departure in early 2002. Old friend Larson signed on. After three years of local and national shows and plenty of growth and the win at the Battle of the Bands last summer, the Chop Tops' profile had never b - San Francisco Bay Guardian

"Always Wild, The Chop Tops"

Always Wild, The Chop Tops
Rollin' Rock CD-108

Rockin' Ronny was pleasantly surprised when he saw The Chop Tops at Legend's Lounge for the Battle of the Bands show, organized by "Kats Like Us." Winning this contest ensured The Chop Tops a contract with Rollin' Rock and Ronny was happy sign such a great new band. Variety is what this CD is all albout, from New Orleans Big Beat to Blue Grass, from Rockabilly to Jump Blues, handled effortlessly, always delivering a stompin' beat.

The above are excerpts from the linernotes of the Chop Tops' CD "Always Wild", written by Ronny, that I wanted to share with you. But more important is the music on this extraordinary release. The first track, titled "Shelby's Shuffle" is a big beat instrumental that lasts almost five minutes. Since us rockabilly fans are used to two-minute tracks, you might expect that a five-minute instrumental would most likely be boring, but believe me, nothing is less true than that. Rocking and swinging from start to end, great saxophone and guitar breaks to a steady slappin' beat. A hell of an opener.

"My Last Ride" and "Blues, Blues, Blues" show another face of The Chop Tops, hard driving California Rockabilly. "It Won't Be Long" has more country influences, still with a rockabilly beat, that remind of the tell-tale stories of Marty Robbins. Again with great guitar breaks that sound very different on every track. "Joker's Always Wild" displays the vocal potential of Gary Marsh and has a refreshing piano break by guest musician Sean Spurr. So far all tracks were Chop Top originals, but here's a cover of The Clovers' "Get Outta The Car," and the saxophone's back, played by another guest Jim Hannibal. Next a few more rockabilly tracks (I'll skip some titles here, I don't wanna bore you with too many "great" and "beautiful" statements :)) "Too Late" is a ballad, a cool break in the middle of the show, with Gary showing off his vocal capabilities again. And then, let's slap it! "Let 'er Go" hits off with a fabulous upright bass intro that I'm sure you rockabilly folks will appreciate.

"Someday Driver" has a bit of everything, big band, rockabilly, blues. Variety is the Chop Tops' keyword, and rocking is their business. More rockabilly in "Only One Woman", followed by a bit of Blue Grass in "Fire On The Water" and one more smooth ballad titled "Vegas Lights". Last but not least; "The Sicilian". An awesome mix of traditional surf, modern guitar instro and hot rockabilly, blended with something that sounds like Cossack folk music. A stange mix, but a good one, and very original. This Rollin' Rock release offers something for everyone and it's surely exciting from one to sixteen.

Gary Marsh, Formerly of "Sinner and the V-8's" and Brian Berman have known each other since childhood. Together they have played Rockabilly music for the past 5 years. Gary and Brian both have tried a range of other musical styles, only to return to what came naturally; rockabilly music! The two of them teamed up next to Drew Pinney, former drummer of the "Haywoods," who was seeking a revved up rockabilly band. He shared the same passion for a frantic rockabilly beat and became the band's drummer. Finally, slap-bassist Dylan Cavaliere, of the Austin, Texas Rockabilly combo the "American Standards", heard The Chop Tops on their website. He contacted the band, moved to Santa Cruz, California, and was quickly welcomed (with his dynamic slapping style) as the band's bassist. - Black Cat Rockabilly


Tales of Hot Rods, Hot Broads, & Lucky Odds (produced by Deke Dickerson, 1999)

Always Wild (Rolling Rock Records, 2000)

Evil Six (released while perfornimg as the opening act for Brian Setzer's 68 Come Back Special, 2001)

Triple Deuces (Split 7 Media, 2006)



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