Burnin' Down the House

The slinky, swingin' rockabilly of the Hep Cat Boo Daddies emerges from the open door of the Poor House in Fort Lauderdale on a recent Saturday night, drawing the attention of passersby. What is this mutant strain of full-throttle surf-blues? It sounds like there's one wild party going on.

Indeed there is. Inside the dark club, men in suits dance with twirling Deadheads. A group of flush-faced young men with beer mugs in their hands whoop in unison. Goth-girls and B-boys get into the groove. It's like David Lynch's vision of what a local bar should be. Up on the tiny stage at the back of the club, the Hep Cat Boo Daddies are working hard to set the mood.

Joel Da Silva, the young guitarist at center stage, rips into a vicious blues riff that's tinged with the melancholy of country music. When he sings he has the swagger of a young Elvis. You can hear the time-honored traditions of rhythm and blues in both his voice and guitar, but his energy is closer to punk rock. Beside him stands Sean "Evil" Gerovitz, a sinister-looking dude in dark shades hammering at his bass. At the rear of the stage sits the bespectacled Randy Blitz, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Phil Silvers. Yet Blitz towers over his '52 Gretsch drum kit, bashing the cymbals from on high.

"They're one of our biggest-drawing bands," says Jay Hemple, co-owner of the Poor House. "We get people in here from 21 years old to their late 40s and early 50s, all the way across the board. Everyone cross-digs them."

That's because the Hep Cat Boo Daddies cross-dig every species of rock music known to man, be it punk-, country-, or surf-rock. According to Blitz, "Our shtick is just to rock in your face. It's blues-based with surf and rockabilly, but it's not just blues. It's a mixture of a lot of really groovy things. It's high-energy, and we drive it home hard."

Home is the Poor House, the first venue the band ever played. Last year Hemple was looking for a decent house band to book on Monday nights. He was approached by Da Silva, the 22-year-old guitar wunderkind who had already made a name for himself with a local punkabilly outfit called the Underbellies.

Local music fans may remember the Underbellies -- which included Blitz, Gerovitz, and Billy Velvet on lead vocals -- as the Cinderella story of South Florida last year. The band had barely even formed when Columbia Records signed them to a record deal and put them in the studio with Pat DeNunzio, of the Smithereens, who served as their songwriter and producer. But, as with so many young bands, the Underbellies buckled under the major-label pressure, and they broke up this past October.

"At that time I didn't know what was going to happen, because we had a promising record deal with Columbia that went haywire," says Da Silva, whose offstage manner is surprisingly soft-spoken. "But I've always enjoyed playing with Sean and Randy as a rhythm section. So when Jay gave me the chance to do the Monday nights, we got this together. Pretty soon we became sort of like the house band."

Da Silva, Gerovitz, and Blitz soon began revving up the band's trademark blend of rockabilly, surf, punk, and blues. They named the band after an Underbellies tune penned by Gerovitz and took all of their frustrations out on stage.

"After the breakup of the Underbellies, we didn't waste any time," says Blitz. "We just wanted to get out and play and have fun and not have to rehearse endlessly, as we had been doing with the Underbellies. We just became a band on stage during those Monday nights."

The 44-year-old Blitz has been part of the South Florida music scene for quite a while. A native of Brooklyn, he turned pro at age fourteen, schlepping his drum kit to bar mitzvahs during the summer of 1968. He arrived in Miami in 1972 and gained a reputation for playing any gig that came his way: funk, rock, blues, punk, jazz -- whatever. He spent the next two decades playing with local bands such as Freewheel, Screamin' Sneakers, the Rockerfellas, Texas West, Slyder, and Voidville (fronted by the well-known local singer Diane Ward).

After a quarter-century of close encounters with fame (he's jammed with Ron Wood, Bernie Worrell, and Jimmy Page), Blitz thought he had a shot at rock 'n' roll stardom with the Underbellies. Gerovitz thought the same thing. He'd joined the Underbellies after years of touring as a bodyguard for Sebastian Bach, Guns n' Roses, and Ozzy Osbourne. During his stint as a bouncer at the Button South, he watched Blitz beat his kit to a pulp in various bands and knew instinctively that, together, they'd make a rock-solid rhythm section. For Gerovitz the Underbellies were a charmed band from the start.

"We had four rehearsals, and we signed a record deal. It was a magical thing," Gerovitz recalls. "We were in Billboard, Rolling Stone -- we were total publicity hogs."

But the Underbellies went belly-up when Billy Velvet left the band. Still, Da Silva, Blitz, and Gerovitz were determined to keep playing together. All they needed was a venue.

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