ROXBURY, NJ – People who know Tom Hartos as “Chef Tom,” the former owner of a Succasunna deli, might have trouble envisioning the Landing resident as a longhaired headbanger. To them, he’s a clean-cut cook who also sings in a fun-loving cover band called Under a Ton.
But it’s true: Hartos has a past life, one that likely entailed frequent trips to the shampoo aisle of the supermarket. His locks might not have attained Dee Snider awesomeness, but the currently clean-cut fellow - who’s playing a free Succasunna concert Friday with Under a Ton - wasn’t always so scissored.
“Back in the day, in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, I was in a hair band,” he conceded. “That was my original band.”
Alas, like sands through the hourglass, so are the hairs on rockers’ heads. By the time Hartos moved from Rutherford to Roxbury in 1998, his days of flowing follicles had ended. “That whole era came and went,” said the 49-year-old, not sounding particularly wistful. “It was time to settle down and raise a family.”
It was also time to live his dream of cooking for people, so Hartos opened Chef Tom’s Gourmet Deli and Catering on Route 10 in Succasunna. “That was in 2001,” he said. “And I was in business until 2010. That’s how I really got to know everybody in town.”
Then, the recession forced cutbacks by many of Hartos’ catering customers. He had to close the deli in 2010. Hartos, a professional chef who served as a cook while in the U.S. Marines, went back to corporate cooking. He now cooks at the Mars Chocolate plant in Mount Olive.
However, there’s this thing about playing in a band. For many, performing music in front of people can almost become an addiction. Hartos loves to perform, so he and a buddy put together Under a Ton about four years ago to scratch the itch..
“Some guys have their hobbies,” he explained. “Some people like to go play darts. Some go play pool. Some have boats and some like to golf. This is just what we do … Once you’re in a band, it never leaves you. You just want to keep playing. This is our thing.”
He described Under a Ton as “a group of really talented musicians,” a quintet that rehearses weekly and plays at many different functions all across New Jersey.
A recent gig was the State Fair Meadowlands. “That was a pretty big deal,” said Hartos.
The band calls itself as “a high energy rock cover band,” and Hartos said the musicians have no intention of taking Under a Ton beyond that; there are no attempts to write and record original music. “We don’t even try to pretend,” he said.
However, the band strives to be excellent at covering popular songs from the 1980s through today. “We really take this seriously, Hartos said. “We rehearse a lot. We promote ourselves well. We do things the right way. We want to be very good. We not happy until we get things right.”
The 7 p.m. concert, part of the Roxbury Arts Alliance’s free summer concert series, will be at the bandshell at Horseshoe Lake Park. The show will last about 90 minutes.