Reverend Horton Heat talks tour, new album, musical style
His name is Jim Heath but most know him as The Reverend Horton Heat.
Heath is the lead vocalist and guitarist for The Reverend Horton Heat. The band’s music has been described as rockabilly and even “psychobilly,” which Heath attributes to the release of a song he wrote in 1989 called “Psychobilly Freakout.”
Despite being together since 1985, The Reverend Horton Heat still tours the country regularly, including a stop at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 25, at Mesa Theater and Lounge, 538 Main St.
Tickets to the show cost $25.
I caught up with Heath on a recent afternoon as the band drove across western Kansas and eastern Colorado. We talked about his musical style. Then, his cell phone cut out, and the rest of the interview was conducted via email, where Heath wrote about how the band tours and its new album.
Melinda Mawdsley: First, I’m guessing you aren’t a real reverend?
Jim Heath: No.
Mawdsley: Where did the name The Reverend Horton Heat even come from?
Heath: (At a place in Texas) this guy had nicknames for everybody and instead of calling me Jim would call me Horton. I don’t know why. I was kind of the token rockabilly guy. It was all these hippie people who would make jewelry with beads and do artwork, and here I am with these ‘50s trousers and pompadour hair. It was really a beautiful scene, and I made some very dear friends.
Anyway, to make a long story shorter, the guy who owned the place ... told me he was opening a new place and wanted me to play. So I showed up. It was just me and my guitar. I was up there setting up my guitar and amp, and he told me my stage name was going to be Reverend Horton Heat. I said, “Um. no.” My last name was Heath, so in some ways I was a little offended that he was going to misrepresent my family name. Then, the Reverend part — I didn’t want to pretend I was comparing myself to something like that. But he had already listed it in the papers and made flyers, and I got up and played the gig and there were 30 or 40 people there. There were people coming up and saying, “Reverend, that was really good.” It kind of grew out of that.
Mawdsley: Describe your musical style.
Heath: I was a rockabilly guy. ... My idea was to write my own songs in an authentic ‘50s type deal. I did that, then it started morphing, and I started to get a little more turned up and louder. In the early days, our gigs were in more punk rock, alternative venues, ... In about 1989 I wrote a song called, “Psychobilly Freakout” which was more an instrumental than a song with lyrics. Since I wrote the song, a lot of people consider Reverend Horton Heat to be a psychobilly band. (But) we can get bluesy, jazzy, all out punk rock. We can almost get straight country. We’re rockabilly mixed with punk rock.
Mawdsley: How long has The Reverend Horton Heat been touring?
Heath: Reverend Horton Heat started touring America in 1989.
(This is where we had to switch to email)
Mawdsley: How do you travel? Have you upgraded through the years? Do you have routine places to eat, visit?
Heath: I did so many years in vans. Around the mid-‘90s, we started renting a bus to enable us to keep going to gigs that would not be possible in a van. ...The problem is now, since that night, we never got off tour or so it seems. Whenever we do get to ride in a limo, we open the moon roof stand up through it and yell, “We’re ZZ Top!” We have a few routines that we love. Lobster in Maine is one we always do. BBQ in Memphis if we can. These days though, I hardly even eat a regular meal while I’m on tour because it slows me down. I like to be hungry for the show. We are going to try to fit in some more sightseeing as we have now been everywhere and seen mainly the inside of venues. We went to the Viking Museum in Oslo, Norway, in October, and it was wonderful. Once we went to Niagara Falls. When we pulled up, there was another bus next to us. We asked them, “Who are you guys?” They said, “Wu Tang Clan.” We said, “What?” Then they asked us, “Who are you guys?” We answered, “Reverend Horton Heat.” They said, “What?” So then we just stood there looking at Niagara Falls.
Mawdsley: How do you take care of yourself both physically and vocally? This Grand Junction show will be one of 12 shows you have between Colorado and Utah in 14 days. That’s busy.
Heath: I’ve been real lucky that I’ve learned how to do it over the years. In the early days of RHH, I lost my voice all of the time. For some reason, even though I’m older now, it hardly ever happens. I do try to work out, but I think that it’s more because experience has taught me how to keep from going over my limits with my voice. And these days I don’t run crazy, screaming and yelling through the streets at 4 a.m. That may help as well.
Mawdsley: Do you have a new album slated for release this year?
Heath: The album is kind of in pre-production, but I need to do a lot of work before we do a serious recording. When I look at my schedule, I’m not sure how I’m going to do it, but I feel this way every time we do an album. We will still have our normal RHH fare, but with some harder edged stuff. A harder edge is the goal for now, but you never know what you will get.