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Hepcat’s the hippest thing around

Many young fans today may see No Doubt and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones as the definitive ska bands. Hepcat singer Greg Lee knows better.

Lee and band mates Deston Berry (vocals/keyboards), Alex Desert (vocals), Dave Fuentes (bass), Efren Santana (sax), Raul Talavera (sax), Kincaid Smith (trumpet), Aaron Owens (guitar) and Scott Abels (drums) have put authenticity back into the ska genre with their impressive Hellcat/Epitaph debut album, “Right On Time.”

Getting to the heart and soul of reggae and its roots and other forms is what Los Angeles-based Hepcat is all about.

“We wanted to separate ourselves from what’s happening now in ska, like No Doubt, Mighty Mighty Bosstones,” Lee said. “No respect taken away from them, because The Mighty Mighty Bosstones are very good friends of mine and I enjoy their music; I don’t know No Doubt personally, but they do what they do really well too.

“It’s just the way things work in America, with hype, when a band like one of these two is at the top and they fly the ska banner, when they decide to call it quits or someone decides they’re not cool, they also take that ska name down with it. We always thought ska, the original form of ska was actually ska, and the English version that people are playing hybrids of should have been maybe called something else.”

The ska Lee knows and loves combines reggae’s bouncy, Caribbean rhythms with an R&B backbeat.

“Ska is such a vast world in itself,” Lee said. “The ’60s was so huge; there were so many different styles, so many performers, that when the English people started doing it, they added to that but they were playing something different. They were adding rock, adding disco. It got kind of, for the lack of a better word, bastardized.

“The reason we made this album is to show those different forms, to show that there’s a lot more to it than just playing fast and pogo-ing. It’s all about people getting together; it’s all about a sunny day; it’s all about a girlfriend and a boyfriend, a man and a wife, two lovers, maybe two people of the same sex. It doesn’t matter; it’s about people getting together.”

Lee and Berry formed Hepcat in 1989, and the group’s ranks swelled over the years. They released two independent albums before opening for such reggae-ska legends as Desmond Dekker and The Wailers and developing their own following. “Right On Time” was co-produced by the band and former General Public drummer Stoker.

“The music we’re playing is the music that I’ve been listening to,” Lee said. “It’s just like sitting in my room when I was 15 listening to a Skatalites tape. It’s the same thing as playing now. I get the same thing out of it; I love it. It really has nothing to do with hitting it or making it. It’s just about perseverance.”

BWF (before we forget): The Hepcat album discography – “Out of Nowhere” (Moon Records, 1993); “Scientific” (B.Y.O., 1996); “Right On Time” (Hellcat/Epitaph, 1998).

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