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A Timeless Tune

Bop-A-Dips experiences the evolution of their band over half a century

At first glance, Ronnie Riptide & The Riptones look like a children's band, reminiscent of The Wiggles. They strum wildly around in their bright Hawaiian shirts and leis. Keyboardist Kevin wears a ship captain’s costume while trombonist Ben sports a parrot on his head. The stage is a tiki bar stuffed with surfboards and crates of Landshark. Lead vocalist Greg shoots the audience with a squirt gun while their fans enthusiastically chant Ba-Ba-Ba-Ba-Ba-Ba-Ba-Barbara-Aaaaaaann.

The nine-man Missoula band that fully embraces their tropical rock soul actually got their start 870 miles west at Chico State, playing ‘50s and ‘60s music for frat parties in the ‘70s. Greg Carter, founding member of what was then the six-man Bop-A-Dips claims, “This story would actually make a better movie than an article.” After graduating with a degree in industrial technology from the California State University, Greg knew he wanted to keep playing. The group spent the summer of 1975, “just being young and dumb and playing rock-n-roll up and down the west coast.”

Then a call from an agent asking the Bop-A-Dips to play The Hop, a ‘50s Denver nightclub, set them on a forty-year trajectory. That gig led to a successful audition at Harrah’s in Reno. After their stint there, the guys catapulted to Vegas and beyond.

“We played all over the U.S., Canada, Hawaii, even a couple of Carnival cruises. Back then, bands were very showy and interacted with the crowd. It was all about the comedy and costumes,” said Greg. Humor is so much a part of the experience that the band was invited to open for the famous Smothers Brothers variety show during a time when satire pushed political boundaries.

Jim Jacob created “Grease” in the 1970s, making the ‘50s cool again, and the band already had the set list to give the audience what they wanted. Their performances ebbed and flowed between iconic decade genres. In addition to the rebellious greasers they invoked, the Bop-A-Dips portrayed everyone from the Beach Boys to the Monkees to Roy Orbison.

Eventually the band needed a home base. Life on the road was great, but babies were being born. Greg and his wife settled in Missoula where he took a job as an entertainment consultant with a national agency and a new Montana-based Bop-A-Dips continued to bring their high energy sets to sing-along audiences.

Flash forward to 2020. With a greatly diminished demand for ‘50s and ‘60s tunes, and those that do demand it calling them “Oldies,” the Bop-A-Dips knew they needed a refresh. They brought on an entire horn section. All original members—except guitarist Tei Nash—migrated on to new endeavors while several newbies joined up. Ronnie Riptide & the Riptones evolved from what was actually the joke nickname for their surf set. They incorporated new oldies like Bob Seger and Hank Williams, both Sr. and Jr., into their play lists. Audiences sang along again, only now it was to the tune of nostalgia, enriching their voices with memories of where they were and who they were with the last time they heard that song.

While the name of the band has changed, the essence has not. Greg rolls his eyes when he says, “These days everyone is so cool and takes themselves so seriously, but we’ve always been about comedy and interacting with the audience. If the audience doesn’t know the words, don’t sing it.” Having said that, Ronnie Riptide & the Riptones have a few new surprises for their fans. Just as the classic intro riff to "Margaritaville" begins to blare from the tiki bar stage, Greg pulls a hysterical launch into the band’s original “Quarantinaville.” It’s very tongue-in-cheek.

These days, Ronnie Riptide & the Riptones perform less and less in Montana due to the fallout of Covid and the spacial needs of their stage sets. However, they continue to walk and live among us when they’re not on the road. They own restaurants, landscaping companies, and recording studios. Their music is available on any of the main audio apps (Spotify, iTunes, etc.). A cruise through their website is a succinct taste of what you can expect in person. Videos and photos of past performances not only accurately depict the evolution of the Bop-A-Dips to the Riptones, but also take viewers through the evolution of what it is to experience a performance. First, you think they’re a kids’ band. Next, you are flooded with lyrics and memories of when you were a kid. At last you are a kid again, singing wholeheartedly to "Barbara Ann."

“These days everyone is so cool and takes themselves so seriously, but we’ve always been about comedy and interacting with the audience." - Greg Carter