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Rockin’ Hep Cats bring rockabilly from Dodge Center

Dodge Center trio includes a father and son team playing music from rock 'n' roll's golden age.

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The Rockin' Hep Cats, from left, include Ben Owen, 16, lead guitar; Coltan Smisek, 21, rhythm guitar and lead singer; and Todd Owen, 49, upright bass. The trio is shown Saturday Sept. 10 2022.
Contributed / Donna Owen
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The Rockin’ Hep Cats are out of the bag, and they are bringing the rockabilly music of the 50s and 60s with them.

A trio of musicians, founded by 21-year-old Coltan Smisek of Dodge Center, Minnesota, have been rocking songs like “Blue Suede Shoes” and the “Flyin’ Saucer Rock & Roll.”

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Several years ago, when Smisek was a senior in high school, he connected with slap bassist Todd Owen. While Smisek was playing guitar and singing at the Annadine, a music venue and “bohemian beverage bar” in Dodge Center, Owen suggested the two could jam together sometime. Shortly thereafter, Owen’s son Ben Owen, a guitarist, asked if he could join in. One of the trio’s first official gigs was for the Eagles Cancer Telethon. Since then, the Hep Cats have played at events ranging from county fairs to car shows.

Smisek says he first became interested in music when he was about 10 years old.

“My mother and father introduced me to the music of Johnny Cash through the form of two videos, 'Ring of Fire' and 'Jackson,' after that I was hooked,” he says. A little later, Smisek says he discovered Elvis Presley. “That was when everything changed,” he says. “I knew I wanted to pursue music for my career.”

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The trio’s name, Rockin’ Hep Cats, brings some 50s-era slang to the fore. Smisek references Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1952 campaign song lyrics – “Get in step with the guy that’s hep, get in step with Ike” – explaining that hep means hip or cool. “Cats, is just another name for a cool guy in the 50s,” he adds.

For a band that focuses on music from an earlier generation, it seems to make sense to include two members from different generations of the same family. Todd Owen, who plays bass with the Rockin’ Hep Cats, is 49, and his son Ben Owen, the guitarist, is 16. Todd says he really enjoys playing with his son in the group since it gives him the opportunity and thrill to watch Ben improve his playing and ability.

Ben says he loves learning new solos and riffs and “simply being in a band.”

“For me, watching them both on stage is such a gift,” says Donna Owen, Todd’s wife and Ben’s mother. “I’ve watched Ben grow up as a musician, and it makes a momma proud to see Ben and Todd rocking out together.”

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She describes how full the dance floor was while the Rockin’ Hep Cats played a short set this year at the Dodge County Fair when JT and the Gunslingers, a band that Todd also plays guitar in, took a break.

As a “band mom,” Donna says “getting to know those other band members is crucial.” Lucky for her, the Rockin’ Hep Cats makes this part easy. “Being that Ben plays in this band with his dad, I don’t have much to worry about,” she says. “All I have to do is sit back and enjoy the show.”

For Smisek, having the father and son team join him to create a band has been a wonderful experience. “I enjoy working with two of the greatest musicians in this part of the country,” he says. “When I first started, I was on my own. Getting to play with Todd and Ben has been one of the biggest thrills of my life.”

When they aren’t playing music, both Smisek and Ben work at Dodge Center’s Sunshine Foods, but Smisek says he has several plans for the band’s future. Despite playing 50s-era rockabilly, he says some original material might be in the works.

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“I have begun working on a couple of ideas that I'm slowly but surely working towards an original piece of music,” he says.

A road trip might also be in order.

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The Rockin' Hep Cats, from left, include Ben Owen, 16, lead guitar; Coltan Smisek, 21, rhythm guitar and lead singer; and Todd Owen, 49, upright bass. The trio is shown Saturday Sept. 10 2022.
Contributed / Donna Owen

“We have aspirations of making a trip down to Memphis in the next two years and cutting a record at the historic Sun Studios where Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins all made their first recordings,” says Smisek.

To learn more about the Rockin’ Hep Cats and to be one of the things the cat dragged in to their next gig, check for new events on their Facebook page .

The cat doesn’t have Smisek’s tongue when it comes to extolling the rockabilly music he and his Rockin’ Hep Cats love to perform. As he puts it, “most of our songs come from the golden age of rock and roll.”

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The Rockin' Hep Cats, from left, include Ben Owen, 16, lead guitar; Coltan Smisek, 21, rhythm guitar and lead singer; and Todd Owen, 49, upright bass. The trio is shown Saturday Sept. 10 2022.
Contributed / Donna Owen

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