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Hepcat Biography

The fans were crushed. In 2000, Hepcat, widely considered the premiere ska/rocksteady band in America, suddenly disbanded only weeks before the release of their latest record. There was no explanation. Greg Lee, one of the two lead singers, moved to Costa Rica. Alex Desert, the other, was busy as an actor filming Becker for CBS. And just like that, 11 years of making music together came to a stand still. After three years of silent response to the pleas of fans and well after most had given up hope, something happened. Everyone thumbing through the LA Weekly came face to face with a huge, black and white newsprint, smoking cat - HEPCAT LIVE AT THE HOUSE OF BLUES, 7/16/03. Without any warning, they were back.

The original lineup stood backstage together, peering through the curtain at the sold out house, excited and restless, when the faceless voice announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome back LA's very own HEPCAT!" The room exploded. Some were cheering. Some were jumping up and down. Some were even crying. And with that, Hepcat began their emotional two plus hour set and history was changed.

Fans have a long history with the band. Hepcat was formed in 1989 by vocalist Greg Lee and vocalist/keyboardist Deston Berry, two unassuming reggae aficionados with modest aspirations. Their first album Out of Nowhere was released on Moon Records in 1993 and instantly became a classic ska record for every collector. Their second album Scientific was released in 1996 on BYO Records and drew further praise. Tours of North America and Europe solidified Hepcat's reputation on the international ska and reggae scene.

With its reputation exploding to mythic proportions, the band inked a deal with Hellcat/Epitaph Records, co-owned by Brett Gurewitz and Tim Armstrong of Rancid, the latter of who says "Hepcat possesses a devotion to the classic stylings of reggae and ska that is unparalleled. There are few bands more knowledgeable about reggae -- when we took Hepcat to Jamaica to jam on some Rancid tracks, it was like they had lived there... they knew about every person, place, and studio in the Kingston scene. Hepcat are true scholars in this type of music."

Their third album Right On Time was released in 1998 on Hellcat/Epitaph Records and went on to become the most successful album to date both in terms of sales and critical acclaim. Co-produced by Stoker (drummer for General Public and Dexy's Midnight Runners and producer of The Specials and Dance Hall Crashers), Right On Time features 13 tracks of authentic sounding ska, reggae, rocksteady, R&B, and jazz, all delivered with a youthful fervor that is both humble and irreverent. Yet despite their maverick approach, it would be a grave injustice to pigeonhole Hepcat as just another ska band. There is a timeless quality that transcends labels and trends which succeeds in making Right On Time essential listening.

Time Magazine agreed and placed Hepcat's "Right On Time" seventh on their Top Ten Albums of 1998. Through heavy critical acclaim touting their authenticity and class, as well as endless international touring, Hepcat built a rabid following. Anyone who watches this band perform will attest to the group's cross cultural appeal. Hepcat have had great success playing the festivals, which include the UK Reading Festival, Holland's Lowlands, Germany's Bizarre, Italy's Independent Day, multiple reggae festivals, as well as European, Australian, and American Warped Tours. They try to keep it interesting by playing with widely varying types of acts -- everything from Ben Harper to Rancid to The Skatalites.

As the Hepcat sound evolved, work of mouth spread quickly and the band's performances began attracting a more diverse audience. Rastas, skatepunks, swingers, rude boys, mods, and latin jazz fans are among the fans who unite to savor the band's sunny Caribbean melodies, soulful harmonies, and swing inflected rhythms. "There are lots of different types of people who show up at our gigs," says saxophonist Efren Santana. "You'll see a bunch of rude boys, a bunch of skaters, and a bunch of regular people and older fans who just love the music. It's cool how everyone can enjoy it at the same time."

In the fall of 1999, the group began recording Push N Shove. "We were running pretty hard," says Hepcat's cool frontman Greg Lee. "We went through a lot of trials as a band, like any other band does. But all the while we kept pushing toward one goal, which was ripening this Hepcat sound. We have all these songs where we talk about problems, but you've got to keep keepin' on. Hepcat's underlying theme throughout all these years has been about perseverance, keeping ourselves focused, and keeping the love there."

It's ironic that Hepcat's first record Out of Nowhere, (out of print for years), is being re-released on Epitaph this year. The band decided to dust off the old reels and even found some old recordings that predated their first full length release to add to the new printing. With new pages of liner notes, old photos, and some previously unheard recordings, Hepcat will release a historical and personal record this March, 2004.

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