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Veteran College Pt. rocker going strong with new CD

On June 5, College Point native Bill Popp and his band The Tapes celebrated the release of their newest album, "My Lonely Mind," at Kenny's Castaways on Bleecker Street, a favorite venue of the band.

Popp's career took off when he began performing at CBGB in 1981. The club was a hot spot for underground rock until its close in October 2006. That same year, Popp started up The Tapes by recruiting musicians hip to the underground scene of the time, which was focused on punk rock.

For 27 years Popp has kept his day job as a plumber while maintaining a cult following as an old-school rocker. His down-to-earth nature, along with his following, helps explain why he is good at doing his own promotion. This newest album is a simple yet thoughtful collection of songs that exemplify his sense for power-pop melodies and catchy lyrics.

"My Lonely Mind," written and produced by Popp, is the band's fourth, preceded by "Blind Love Sees Tears" (2001), "Insides" (2000) and "Popp This" (1990).

Popp has a rather chipper and upbeat disposition, which would lead one to believe that his music would be the same. However, the tone of his tunes is quite bluesy. "I write sad tunes," said Popp.

When asked about the New York City club scene now vs. the 1980s and 1990s, Popp said the difference is that back then a lot of clubs had their own following.

"They didn't want anyone walking out back then, so they were concerned about what kind of music was played, not just who it is," said Popp. "Now they can put four to six bands on a night and they don't care how they sound, but they care about how many friends the band brings."

However, Popp said that at the end of one of his live songs, he and his band still snag applause. "People have heard of us, yet it doesn't always equate in numbers at the door — but sometimes it does," he said.

The Beatles-, Kinks- and Yardbirds-influenced musician got into music at age 13, at a time when he was an avid follower of Ringo Starr. "I had a drum set, and played to Beatles records (by ear)" said Popp, who, along with his family, gave a piano to his mother, who was ill with cancer at the time. His mother also played by ear, but due to her illness was soon unable to continue with the instrument. That's when Popp took over.

"A friend showed me how to play 'Hey Jude.' From that I could learn how to compose a tune," said Popp. However, after playing for 10 years and relying on his own self-teachings, Popp decided to take a few lessons. "It was hard for me to go to block one after I've been playing for ten years," said Popp.

Some of The Tapes' members have come and gone since the band's formation in 1981, but currently Gerry Barnas is on guitar and vocals, Roger Foster is on drums and percussion and Mary Noecker is on bass.

Back in 1981, Popp came up with the name The Tapes because at the time there were names like The Ramones, The Talking Heads and The Dead Boys, so he wanted to follow the pattern. And since back then CDs were not yet invented, he wanted to keep it simple and call the band "The Tapes."

"People hear that [name] now and must want to put their fingers down their throat," laughed Popp. However, he has no plans to change it. Nor does he have any plans to move from the house in Queens that he's lived in his entire life. As for his College Point neighborhood, Popp said it has changed a lot over the years thanks to over-development.

"We've got the East River, Flushing Bay. As a kid I would go in boats and swim up the docks. Now a lot of it is destroyed. They ripped down the one- or two-family homes and stuck in four- or six-family ones." said Popp. "Also, there used to be plenty of parking."

The album is their first since Popp's return to the scene from open-heart surgery in 2006. His operation put the album on hiatus for a bit. "We had tracks down, then I had the operation," said Popp.

For 20 years Popp has been an avid supporter of the American Heart Association by organizing an annual music benefit to raise money and awareness for the foundation. Popp dedicates the event to the memory of his father, who died of a heart attack in 1986 and was supportive of Popp's pursuit of a career in music.

A full schedule of upcoming shows and information about The Tapes' albums are available at www.billpopp.com.

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