By JON FERGUSON , Staff Writer, Lancaster Online
Circumstances forced Jim Heath to choose music for a career.
Heath, who will lead his crack rockabilly band, the Reverend Horton Heat, into the Chameleon Club for a Saturday night show, needed to make money.
With a wife and a daughter to support, Heath quickly discovered that spending his time as a student at the University of Texas wasn’t going to pay the bills.
“My first marriage, I was really young and it was really hard for me to conceptualize what I was going to do to have a career and take care of my family,” Heath says during a telephone interview. “Most people, when reality kicks in, they have to quit the band and go back to college.
“But I never knew how to make money any other way than through music, so I had to quit college and go back to playing music. It was sort of backwards for me, but it’s worked out well.”
The Rev. Horton Heat, with Heath on guitar and vocals, Jimbo Wallace on upright bass and Scott Churilla on drums, is one of the hardest-working acts in music.
The high-energy band, made up great musicians who play an inspired brand of rockabilly with country and blues influences, has cut down on its heavy touring schedule, but still manages to play about 150 gigs a year. Heath can remember one year when it played 275.
The band, which also has a rich recording history, recently signing with Victory Records, draws consistently well and always seems to replenish its audience with younger listeners.
Perhaps that’s because most music fans with a sense of history usually find their way back to rockabilly, an early form of rock ‘n’ roll popularized by the likes of Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash.
“Rockabilly is kind of like the ’57 Chevy of music,” Heath, 53, says. “It’s always young, in a certain way. Rockabilly’s weird. It’s really gotten a bad rap and it really was the kicking dog of music. That’s the reason I gravitated toward it.
“When I really started getting into it, I realized this stuff is every bit as important as jazz, every bit as important as blues or straight country or just the rock ‘n’ roll stuff.”
Heath, who grew up in Dallas and still lives there, says he listened to the popular music of the day when he was a teenager.
His taste started to change when he began frequenting a record store that was big on the blues, especially the blues of the 1950s found on the Chess Records label.
“For me, Howlin’ Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson were just as scary as Black Sabbath,” he says.
Heath started playing guitar, spending time in what he calls “run-of-the mill cover bands.” He soon found rockabilly, however, and when it came time to form his own band it focused on music from the 1950s.
“I realized that there was a niche there,” he says. “I realized rockabilly was the kicking dog of music and it deserved better, and I could awaken people to something that was cool. I didn’t think that would lead me to grand riches, and it really hasn’t. But quite honestly, it’s led me to a better artistic and financial life than I ever would have dreamed.”
Heath’s daughter from his first marriage, which ended in divorce, is 28. He’s started a new family and has two children, who are 5 and 10, with his second wife.
He says his kids understand that their dad’s job is going on tour, playing music at shows and making people happy.
It doesn’t make the time apart any easier, but they’ve never known anything else.
And neither has Heath.
“It’s a dream gig,” he says. “It’s something I don’t take for granted, or I try not to. The touring is hard and all that, but being up there onstage and having the people excited and partying and listening to music, I feed off that.”
Source: Lancaster Online