Rockabilly singer, writer, disc jockey
Harry Hepcat, an original 1950s rock and roll performer, has been keeping rockabilly music alive for over 40 years, or as Hepcat told Northport Journal reporter Doug Reina, “I’ve been doing rock and roll since some of the oldies were newies.”Yet, Hepcat, unlike his well-publicized love for rock and roll, has kept his personal history a mystery. Hepcat told Reina that he couldn’t say where he is originally from “because they’re still after me, the sheriffs, irate boyfriends, and husbands, all after the ol’ Hepcat.” However, Hepcat is not only known for his quick wit and uncommon name, but also for his dedication to perform and preserve, what he thinks of as an American art form in music.
Born sometime in the early 1940s, Harry Hepcat grew up in a house blasting with music. His grandfather, played trumpet with a band, and his mother, wanting to dance in a chorus line, took tap dancing lessons. Around this musical house, Harry’s mother also sang along to old 78 rpm records. Unfortunately, Harry’s father was sent to Europe to fight in WWII, and never returned. According to his online web page biography, Hepcat, became infatuated with the guitar in the early 1950s listening to guitar pioneer Les Paul. “I dug [Paul’s] sound and his records. I would never miss his 15 minute TV show.” In 1955, Hepcat, like many teenagers of that era, had also fallen in love with rock and roll, and by 1958 was playing the guitar, performing live with bands, and recording albums. Hepcat told reporter James Turner that he “even cut a record that year, but I broke my copy.”
Times would change, however, and so would the music that defined them. The rock and roll of the 1960s, with it’s Mersey Beat, psychedelic, and acid rock off-shoots, would little resemble that which had so enraptured Hepcat as a teen. Undaunted, Hepcat continued to perform the rhythm and blues influenced rock and roll of his youth at clubs and colleges. Playing music, though, was not the only thing he did at colleges. He also studied, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in Literature from Lona (NY) College and a Master of Fine Arts degree in Communications from New York University.
In 1974, popular radio shows like Wolf Man Jack discovered Hepcat’s single, “Streakin’ USA”. That summer, along with rock and roll legends Chubby Checker, Ben E. King, and the Shirelles, Hepcat jammed at the “Rock and Roll Spectatcular” in Long Island, NY. As a result, Hepcat’s popularity soared and he and his Boogie Woogie Band toured the northeastern US, and released many albums for numerous record labels—including one in Germany under the name “Harold Jackson”. Hepcat has used many different names and told Reina that he has stuck with “Hepcat” because “Allen Freed [infamous radio disc jockey] appeared to me in a dream
Began playing guitar in 1956; started recording and playing live shows with bands in 1958; continued to focus on playing and performing 1950s rock and roll throughout the Sixties released the single, “Streaking USA,” which became popular on many radio shows in 1974; began hosting a variety of radio shows and acted in commercials and movies in the 1980s; released The Sunrise Special, 1981; Go Cat Go, 1988; and Reel to Reel, 1997; wrote and lectured about rock and roll’s history throughout 1990s; continued to perform and record throughout 1990s; inducted into Rockabilly Hall of Fame, 1998.
Awards: Fifth Annual Suffolk County (NY) Film and Video Festival documentary video award, 1988.
Member: Rockabilly Hall of Fame, 1998.
Addresses: Home —P.O. Box 9, Greenlawn, NY 11740. Websi te —http://www.mjet.com/hepcat.
and said, ’Go forth and carry the gospel of rock and roll and henceforth be Harry Hepcat’.”
Hepcat preached his rock and roll gospel throughout the 1980s, co-hosting various radio shows such as WNHU FM’s(Connecticut) “Rockin’ Richard Show,” and WCBS FM’s (New York) “Do-Wop Shop”. In 1988, Hepcat began hosting his own show on WNYG in Babylon, New York. Hepcat also took his act into the video realm, appearing on several TV shows, like New York’s “Joe Franklin Show” (1978-84), and Long Island’s “People Plus” (1983). He also wrote, directed, produced and edited six short films, including Teen Beat, his documentary about how teens growing up in the 1950s were treated by society. That documentary earned Hepcat the Suffolk County (New York) Motion Picture/Television Commission’s video award at the 1988 Suffolk County Film and Video Festival.
However, it was Hepcat and his Boogie Woogie Band’s performances that continued to delight audiences. Founder and President of the Rhythm and Blues Rock and Roll Society, Bill Dolan told James Turner, “Jerry Lee Lewis could not do ’Great Balls of Fire’ better than Harry Hepcat…. He isn’t an imitator; he is an original.” That originality shined through Hepcat and the Boogie Woogie Band’s 1981 four song, extended-play (EP) release, The Sunrise Special. That offering displayed Hepcat as the living, breathing, guitar strumming artifact of 1950’s rockabilly that he undoubtedly was. One album reviewer crowned Hepcat the king of “50s rockabilly nowstalgia. (Nowstalgia is the practice of surrounding oneself with the trappings of another decade but paying the bills in the the late 1980s).” And by the late 1980s, Hepcat had surrounded himself in the 1950s so much so that Joe Franklin of New York’s WOR-TV named him, “the official archivist and historian of the 1950’s rock and roll scene.”
Through a series of high school and college lectures during the 1990s, Hepcat shared his love of first generation rock and roll with a new generation of teenagers. The gist of his lectures, he told Reina, was thus: “Rock and Roll is pure American, historical art form. The 1950’s spawned a revolution in music, clothing styles, and attitudes which is still reverberating and evolving today.” Yet, Hepcat has not only opened the ears of the MTV generation through his speeches, he has reminded everyone of rock and roll’s history through his writings.
In History of Rock and Roll, a three-part essay available on Hepcat’s web site, Hepcat tells how rock and roll originally began when disc jockey Allen Freed started airing songs by popular black rhythm and blues artists. In Part II, Hepcat continued tracing rock and roll’s history, and in Part III, he revealed that “certain elements were out to kill the [rock and roll] movement,” and described the legal battles that many of rock and roll’s prominent figures, including Freed, faced in the 1950s. In 1998, Hepcat, for his dedication to preserve rock and roll, was inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. He and his Boogie Woogie Band continued to perform and record albums, like 1997’s Real to Reel.
The Sunrise Special, 1981.
Go Cat Go!, 1988.
Real to Reel, 1997.
Good Times, June30-July 13, 1981.
Northport Journal (New York), August 2, 1985.
Additonal information was provided by Hepcat publicity materials, 1998 and by materials provided by Gale Research, 1998.
—Ann M. Schwalboski