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DURST, ALBERT LAVADA [DR. HEPCAT]
The “Texas Piano Professors”—(left to right) Lavada Durst (Dr. Hepcat), Roosevelt T. Williams (the Grey Ghost), and Erbie Bowser—at Mollberg & Assoc. Piano Restoration, Austin, ca. early 1990s. Photograph by Clayton T. Shorkey, Texas Music Museum.
DURST, ALBERT LAVADA [DR. HEPCAT] (1913–1995). Albert Lavada "Dr. Hepcat" Durst, pianist and first black disc jockey in Texas, was born in Austin on January 9, 1913. As a youth he taught himself to play piano in the church across the street from his home. Later, influenced by Boot Walden, Baby Dotson, Black Tank, and others, Durst became a master at playing the 1930s and 1940s barrelhouse blues.
He also had a talent for a pre-rap method of rhythmic "jive talk." During the mid-1940s this helped land him a job as an announcer for Negro League baseball games at the old Disch Field in Austin. When players such as Jackie Robinson were in Austin some whites attended, including a young World War II veteran, John B. Connally, Jr., who was impressed by the talented, smooth-talking Durst. Connally and another progressive young war veteran, Jake Pickleqv, owned KVET radio in Austin. Connally was also the station manager. In the late 1940s the two opened their station to African-American and Mexican-American broadcasts. In 1948 Pickle hired Durst as the first black disc jockey in Texas. "Dr. Hepcat's" cool jive-talk was a hit and made him a celebrity with the local white college students. He can be credited for introducing an entire generation of white Austin listeners to jazz, blues,qqv and rhythm and blues. While working as a disc jockey, Durst made two singles, "Hattie Green" and "Hepcat's Boogie." Both were recorded in 1949 for Uptown Records, which was owned by KVET program director Fred Caldwell. During the 1950s Durst managed a spiritual group, the Charlottes. He also wrote the hit gospel song "Let's Talk About Jesus" for the group Bells of Joy, and published a pamphlet called The Jives of Dr. Hepcat, a dictionary of jive-talk.
Durst retired from KVET in the early 1960s and gave up performing the blues to become a minister. He was ordained at Mount Olive Baptist Church in 1965 and was named an associate minister at Olivet Baptist Church in 1972. In the mid-1970s, convinced that God wanted him to use his talents, he returned to performing the blues. For the next several years, he played "boogie-woogie barrelhouse blues" at festivals, museums, and other venues.
In addition to his musical endeavors, Durst worked for the city of Austin as director of athletics for the Rosewood Recreation Center. He retired in 1979, after working there for thirty-five years. Durst was preceded in death by his wife, Bernice, who died in 1983; he himself died in Austin on October 31, 1995, and was buried there in Cook-Walden Capital Parks Cemetery and Mausoleum. They had two sons and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren. In 1995 Durst was inducted into the unofficial Rock Radio Hall of Fame. In 2008 he was one of the inaugural inductees for the Austin Music Memorial.
Austin American-Statesman, November 1 and 4, 1995. “Austin Music Memorial,” Texas Music Office (http://governor.state.tx.us/music/tour/austin-music-memorial), accessed November 1, 2015. Fort Worth Star-Telegram, March 2, 1993. Colin Larkin, ed., The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music (New York: Guinness, 1995). San Francisco Chronicle, September 3, 1989.
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, James Head, "DURST, ALBERT LAVADA [DR. HEPCAT]," accessed September 19, 2019, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fdu65.
Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Modified on November 1, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.