1950s-obsessed Rev. Horton Heat keeps eyes on the musical future

By Adrian Chamberlain, Featured Writer, Times Colonist

The musicians who most influenced Reverend Horton Heat years ago were far  from famous. “These were local guys who could work a crowd so good,” says Heat,  a.k.a. Jim Heath.

In the guise of Reverend Horton Heat, Heath has led a rockabilly/psychobilly  trio for a quarter of a century.

To commemorate the achievement, the band is set to release 25 to Life, a  DVD/CD package offering a show at San Francisco’s Fillmore and interviews.

With his trademark slicked-back hair and Western-style suits, Heath is  renowned for his ferocious singing and guitar playing.

And – as befitting a faux reverend – he lobs the occasional mock sermon.

Chatting from his Dallas home in a Texan drawl, he recalled being impressed  as a young man by a bar-band singer who liked to joke around on stage.

“He wasn’t afraid to do all this crazy stuff right off the cuff. But somehow,  he could just turn straight around and sing a George Jones ballad and really

make it emotional and a powerful thing,” Heath said.

“He wasn’t afraid to do his shtick. That melds over into what I do.”

Like such early, unsung heroes, Heath is a character and a half. Other early  inspirations were the wildeyed rockers of the 1950s, such as Jerry Lee Lewis and  Little Richard. Country music also factored in.

When he was a kid, an older cousin returning from a tour of duty in Vietnam  played Johnny Cash on the tape deck of his new Camaro.

Heath loved that. In his mid teens, he got into the Chicago blues of the late  1940s and 1950s, artists such as Howlin’ Wolf and Little Walter. That, in turn,  got Heath interested in rockabilly.

At the beginning, his vision was to play authentic ’50s-style rockabilly. But  rather than doing covers, like other rockabilly bands, Heath wanted to perform  his own material. Early Reverend Horton Heat songs reveal a tongue in cheek  sensibility, with titles such as Eat Steak and Marijuana.

“We had this little rockabilly niche in a world of hair-metal bands. It was  pretty much not fashionable. But in a way, that helped because it made it  something different, you know.”

Later, Heath and his band (currently Jimbo Wallace on upright bass and  drummer Scott Churilla) drifted closer to psychobilly, a genre that fuses punk  rock and rockabilly.

American psychobilly pioneers The Cramps left an impression on Heath – he’s  said to have experienced a musical epiphany while attending a Cramps show in the  late 1970s.

Mid-century architecture, design and fashion are another big influence.

Heath says he’s cut down his collecting, but back in the day, he and his wife  lived in a vintage house crammed with 1950s stuff: Eames chairs, retro pottery  and other artifacts.

Why the ’50s fixation? Heath admits he “can’t exactly” explain the appeal. It  has something to do with the optimism of the decade, coming after America’s

struggles with the Depression and the Second World War. “Beginning in the  late ’40s, you know, you had an explosion of stuff. Prosperity. I think that  prosperity also breeds an explosion of ideas and all sorts of things.”

Heath’s interest in the 1950s extends to his car. He owns a grey-purple 1932  Ford hot-rod, the sort of wheels any ’50s teen would have lusted after.

“It’s a pretty intense car,” he said. “It’s got an interior that was done in  Austin by one of the best guys going.”

When not hot-rodding or gigging, Heath hones his guitar chops. Rather than  focusing on learning a specific lick, he strives to discover new musical  “concepts.”

For example, Heath uses a technique he calls The Hurricane. This means muting  bass strings on the fretboard with his thumb, allowing him to create a droning  bottom-end sound over which he plays lead guitar lines.

As for keeping the same band going for 25 years, well, Heath isn’t one for  resting on his laurels.

When a reporter congratulated him, the forwardthinking rocker said: “I don’t  like that. I don’t like to think back. I don’t want to stop and look back. It’s  really crazy that’s it’s been that long, you know.”

Source: Times Colonist

About Sad Man's Tongue: Rockabilly Bar & Bistro - Prague

We are a Bar and Bistro where old school meets the new school, dedicated to preserving the roots of rock and roll and it's modern adaptations as well as preserving the cultural identity of our neighborhood through our food, the the principles of the slow food movement. A little bit of rockabilly and retro combine with the kustom kulture of today, in an atmosphere devoid of Pretension.
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2 Responses to 1950s-obsessed Rev. Horton Heat keeps eyes on the musical future

  1. Cindy Meitle says:

    Today is our 11th anniversary. No, we are not married but might as well be. Reverend Horton Heat is “our” music…the songs that mold and sculpt our experiences together early on at the early Northern California Hootenanny, going NUT whenever Galaxy 500 is played, and on and on. It’s feel good music with a dynamic sense of humor behind it, which is why it’s our anthem. We both have a wicked sense of humor and always find the comedy in things, no matter how serious they may be. We collect Gretsch guitars and this is another reason Jim’s our hero…to stand in front of him while he’s up on stage bending those strings is enthralling, and it’s a high to turn people on to his music for the very first time. It’s pretty hard for anyone not to have a good time at a Reverent Horton Heat concert and to a great extent, he has a cult following. Hearing an entire audience chime in shouting “Marijuana” at the opportune time is reminiscent of a midnight Rocky Horror Picture Show outing from my youth. It’s FUN and you just gotta participate. You leave feeling like you just got rid of all your angst and tension. I actually think the Rev is good for your health! Thanks for posting about one of the greatest musicians and bands to ever grace the music scene. Here’s to another quarter century and more! Just think of all the creative stories the Rev will have to tell ten years from now if he gets in another relationship! LOL!

    • Sad Man's Tongue: Rockabilly Bar & Bistro - Prague says:

      Holy Shit!!!! You have to write for us. This comment is worthy of its own damn post. I fucking love it. Thanks for taking the time to leave such a great comment.

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