Raising rockabilly from the dead 

Hellbound Hepcats take fifties rock back to its roots

The guys in Hellbound Hepcats play rockabilly as well as the late greats. It's like they fell through a time warp in 1953 Memphis and landed in the dark and dusty corner of some Montreal nightclub.

Add to the mix guitarist/vocalist Alexander Brown who sounds like Johnny Cash the Risen, and you're definitely back in Memphis, baby.

"We wanted to present a classic rockabilly, just three guys in a band, really simple stuff. Just going back to basics," says Brown from his Montreal home.

They've spent the last four years roaming the Montreal clubs, playing three nights a week - covering Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Eddie Cochran, you name it - before being signed to Stomp Records last year. They released their eponymous debut album in 2010 and that summer opened for their heroes, swing and rockabilly megastars the Brian Setzer Orchestra at the Montreal Jazz Festival.

"That was a big step up for us, because it was just a year before, going to that jazz fest and saying, 'Man if I ever got to play here...!'" says Brown, "and the next year it happened."

A lot happened in that one year, including recording the album - another big step up. Brown says covering the old Cash and Presley tunes made it easier for him to write his own originals once he started doing it. The songs on the album had been written over four years, when the Hepcats were still teenagers and experimenting with country and a little psychobilly to round out the rock.

It may seem a bit peculiar for a teenager to gravitate toward 1950s rockabilly and rock and roll, when most are concerned with whatever contemporary purveyors of teenage aggression are popular of the day, but the 22-year-old says his gravitation toward rockabilly was natural. Add to that a rich rockabilly scene in Montreal at the time and he just "fell into it."

"I don't think it's going to take over the mainstream ever again but it's going to be something that people will take their influence from and will be something that people will always go back and reflect on," says Brown. "It's the birth of rock and roll."

For him, rockabilly is feel good music. The best feel good music, actually, all about the jive and the rhythm. Never mind campy pop tunes. No! Good times need a little danger, a little swagger, perhaps a fleeting sense that everything's all right but the knowledge remains that it could all collapse into menace and chaos at any second. That was at the heart of Cash and Presley and the Hepcats get it like the best of them. It's like they've raised rockabilly from its grave, pompadours and all, sounding like the King and his band playing a dusty old tavern in the downtown core of Hades.

"It's very predictable music and anybody can jive to it, from someone who's my age to someone who's 75 or something," says Brown.

That predictability is exactly what the fans like, and he says he'd like to release another album of old-school rockabilly before doing what bands are supposed to do with their sound and "move on." As for what that will sound like, well, he laughs.

"That remains to be seen," he says. "I want to revolutionize it, change it, bring something new to it. Definitely. I'm not entirely sure what that new aspect is going to be but we'll wait and see."

Tickets are $15 and available at Merlin's and RE/MAX in Marketplace. Tickets will also be sold on Twongo on March 31 and April 1, with all proceeds benefiting Canadian Red Cross for Japan Relief.




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