Cranford resident rocks New Jersey with his band, The Gutter Kings

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CRANFORD, NJ — The Gutter Kings are rocking crowds throughout New Jersey with the best rock tunes from the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and beyond. But they don’t perform the overplayed songs you always hear. They’re more about the deep tracks and you’re more likely to hear from Badfinger, Ian Hunter and Warren Zevon.

“Sometimes our stuff is all over the place,” said Nelson Popp, a Cranford resident who has been in The Gutter Kings the past eight years.

The Gutter Kings is made up of Popp on drums, Cory Robinson on bass and Scott Cumming and Anthony Fernandez on guitar. Fernandez sings the most, but all members take turns as the lead vocalist.

Describing the band, Popp said, “We’re four experienced musicians. We play what we want, with a slant towards regular rock of all types – stuff you normally wouldn’t hear a cover band play.”

Popp, originally from Elizabeth, began taking drum lessons when he was 13 years old. He took private lessons for a couple years to get the basics together. His younger brother, James, was an accordion teacher and needed a drummer for the night at a VHW hall in Elizabeth. It was Popp’s first gig and he made money.

Continuing in his musical journey, Popp had a small group with his brother, himself and two other musicians from Roselle Park, playing small gigs at pool parties and house parties.

Then he started playing with guys in an established band called UNI – Under No Influence – which did original music. Popp was in the band for a couple of years.

“They were a little older,” he said. “We played CBGBs … the New Brunswick scene. That particular band didn’t go anywhere, but got me ready for the next step.”

That next step was a big one. The band was Pharaoh and they were big in the 1980s glam rock scene. During their career, they were on A-list record executive parties, where guests included people such as Jeff Beck, Gene Simmons and Joey Ramone. They released an album on their own label, “Lipstick East,” and showcased a video on MTV’s “Headbanger’s Ball.” They played all the big New York City nightclubs, including The Cat Club, Club Nirvana and The Limelight. In New Jersey, they frequently played at clubs such as Studio One and The Dirt Club. They were also featured in magazines such as Rock and Rock Scene.

“Just being in the whole eye of the storm, everything that was going on at the time; it was great,” Popp said. “The clubs, the parties … It was the most popular band I was in up to that time. That was a nice situation. We were a glam band that tried to have a cohesive look and a very polished show. We were always courting record companies and trying to get a deal. Now you can get famous online by playing a computer. Back in the day, you had to work for it — and we did.”

By the end of the 1980s, grunge came and that killed the whole glam resurgence. Pharaoh disbanded, but from time to time had reunions. One of their last shows was supporting Cinderella at the Starland Ballroom.

After Pharaoh, Popp played with a friend, Cory Robinson, in a band called Something Primitive. Then there was Everlounge, which released a pair of independent records and received good press in many New Jersey publications.

“I had to re-learn how to play the drums,” Popp said. “In Pharaoh, you just had to hit as hard as you could. Everlounge was more about dynamics. Don Dazzo from Whirling Dervishes had an idea to put a lounge band together. In the early ’90s, Everlounge was very popular. He reached out to me. It gelled. I was in the band for seven or eight years.”

When Popp left Everlounge, his children were still young, and he spent more time with his family. Then his friend Robinson, from his former band Something Primitive, who was now playing with The Gutter Kings, reached out.

Currently, in addition to the Gutter Kings, Popp performs in an acoustic duo called The Hired Hands.

Popp’s advice to anyone who wants a career in music is: “You can make it a hobby or make it your career. You have to be driven to want to do it.”

When he’s not playing music, Popp works for a musical instrument company in New Jersey as a musical instrument repairman. “That’s what I’ve been doing my whole life,” he said.

The best thing about being in the music business, for Popp, is the pleasure of playing with other people with like minds. “Just to make music in general,” he said. “It’s really the joy. That’s why any of us play. When you play with others, it’s great.”

To learn more about The Gutter Kings, visit:

Photos Courtesy of Gary Gurman and Linda Jackson