Greg Lee, singer of influential L.A. ska band Hepcat, dies at 54


Greg Lee, co-lead singer of stalwart L.A. ska group Hepcat, died March 19. He was 54.

Lee suffered a brain aneurysm followed by cardiac arrest on March 17 at his home in Paramount; he died in a hospital. Hepcat was slated to perform at the highly anticipated SoCal festival No Values at the Pomona Fairplex on June 8.

“He has touched the lives and hearts of so many people all around the world through music and travel. His songs with Hepcat helped so many of us in both joyous and even depressing times. He has inspired so many to create, dance, sing, and love. Myself included. His unique talents and presence will forever be unmatched,” his partner, Mandie Becker, wrote in an Instagram post.

Lee was an original member of Hepcat, which formed in the late 1980s and continued to perform for more than 30 years. The eight-piece band, a pioneer in California’s ska and reggae revival scenes, released six records over several decades. Its live shows were particularly beloved, energized by Lee and singer Alex Désert’s soulful harmonies and dynamic, synchronized dances.

Hepcat drummer Greg Narvas called Lee a “pure ball of energy.”

“I’ve learned a crucial lesson, as a performer, that whatever vibe the band exudes, the crowd absorbs — and exudes back as well. It’s a mutual, chemical reaction. And Lee made sure that no matter what, every single time, his vibe was 100% pure positivity — I mean like a huge freakin’ sunbeam that he broadcast from the stage, warming everyone in its path,” Narvas said. “That’s what I’ll miss most. It really is like having a flame extinguished. Just like that. So it’s up to us to keep the fire burning — and we will.”

Over the years, the band influenced generations of ska fans. “When [audiences] accept Hepcat in, it becomes a piece of the story of their lives,” Lee told L.A. Weekly in 2017. “Then other people at that age group find it and do the same thing and it repeats itself.”

Throughout the years, Lee also would perform with Western Standard Time Ska Orchestra, the Aggrolites and other Southern California groups. Offstage, he enjoyed going to scooter rallies and supporting local music.

“Gregory will also live on in every piece of music he wrote and recorded, in every photo and video you took at a Hepcat show or scooter rally, and in every memory you have of him,” Becker said in her post.

Remembrances flooded social media in the wake of Lee’s death. “Thank you for the energy and life you have left with us. Thank you for your support of the scene and my projects,” wrote musician and promoter Bubba Sanchez.

“We are devastated to hear about the passing of Greg Lee from Hepcat. Greg’s contributions to the ska scene have been monumental and his voice shaped the sound and soul of ska for decades. Please send your love and support to his family, friends, and Hepcat family,” Virginia’s SuperNova Ska Festival posted.

“RIP Greg 😔 🙏 I’m sure the great band in the sky needed an amazing front man,” wrote San Diego DJ Cory Hunt.

“Rest easy Greg. Thank you so very much for all the happiness and great times you brought to me. You left your wonderful mark on this planet and will be sorely missed by so many,” DJ and Angel City Records founder Mark Morales wrote.

“It is truly heartbreaking to learn of the passing of Greg Lee. He is one of the warmest, kindest, and most beautiful souls I’ve ever come in contact with, and his impact on the world of ska music is immeasurable,” said the account for “Pick It Up! Ska in the ’90s.” Lee appeared in the 2019 documentary.

Lee is survived by his four children, including a baby due in the fall; Becker; his mother, Janice; and brothers Michael, Steve and Tony and sister Jennifer.





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