The gospel according to Reverend Horton Heat
By MARK GUARINO | Sun-Times Music Writer
January 14, 2014 5:29PM
Reverend Horton Heat is a band that survived grunge, dominated rockabilly and bypassed indie rock trends over the last 30 years. Known primarily for raucous live shows and a healthy musical eclecticism that covers country, surf, punk, big band, swing and, of course, rockabilly, singer-guitarist Jim Heath (the “Reverend”), along with bassist Jimbo Wallace and drummer Scott Churilla, are road warriors in direct lineage to the Cramps and the Blasters.
“Rev,” the Dallas band’s latest album (its 11th) arrives this month on Chicago’s Victory Records. Heath talked via phone last week. What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation.
Q. You haven’t released an album in five years, the longest gap in your long catalog. Does longevity mean slowing the page of releasing music?
Reverend Horton Heat: My art form is music, so it has very little to do with recording. I play gigs. So we play a lot of gigs … 120 to 130 road days a year. We used to do way more but that’s still a lot. Traveling around, touring, playing our songs, time just flies. Two or three years between an album can go by really quickly. Part of the answer is we have so much material now, coming out with two new albums too quickly kind of [angers] our fans. What happens is, we come out with a new album and fans don’t accept it until we come out with another new album two or three years later. By the time we’re done with those songs is when everyone hears them. [Laughs]
Q. You’re primarily a rockabilly band that tried an all-country album last time around. Do you ever feel cornered by the style of music you play?
RHH: Every now and then I think maybe it might be fun to do something different. And then we hear a song we got influenced by — Henry Mancini to Motorhead. So Reverend Horton Heat will do some jazz, a little blues, and then rip and do wild rock ’n’ roll shows. One thing is, it would be great if I did a jazz album. That would be a lot of fun. But the one thing we learned in our dabbling in the country world is those fans are fun and great, I love talking to them, but country fans, and those shows, aren’t nearly as wild as Reverend Horton Heat fans and shows. Our regular Reverend Horton Heat fans are silly, it’s so weird. If we had a huge jazz gig and did a jazz album and sold bigger than any Reverend Horton Heat album sold, we’d be stuck. I don’t know if I want to go there. Musically, there are parts of Reverend Horton Heat that are jazzy and I can have that outlet and still be doing what I’m doing.
Q. Your audience is devout. What’s the connection between you and them?
RHH: I really wish I had all the answers. I’m just grateful that they’re there. I love my fans. I’m not sure exactly how this whole thing works. Reverend Horton Heat is kind of an odd deal. One thing I would say is all of my fans, whether they have no kids or are middle-of-the-road country guys, they all have a sense of humor. So they all are pretty funny people it seems like, by and large. I’m grateful for that too. I don’t try to pick it apart too much.
Q. Does touring so much, and at such a breakneck pace, take its toil on your body?
RHH: In some ways no, in some ways yes. This “yes” side is the reason we’re still here. We had to curtail the party. We were a band people liked to party with. When we show up and do a gig, we drink, we’ll have fun and we’re there to party, too. But in the early days of Reverend Horton Heat, the party showed up as soon as we hit town. We’d drive in and start drinking as soon as we were loading out the gear and as soon as we found the parking place on Lincoln Avenue in front of Lounge Ax or wherever it was. We were drinking and partying, the whole bit. There were times when I barely made it on the stage. And then, after all that, I have to drive out the next night and go wherever, Madison [Wis.], or somewhere else, and it got to the point where me and Jimbo said, “We’re here to play music, we’re not here to party.” So we made an agreement not to drink before the show. Once we play gig, we can have a beer, it’s fine.
Q. Lounge Ax closed more than 10 years ago. What is your best memory of that club?
RHH: Our first gig was at Lounge Ax. We went in there and we played one song during soundcheck and two other bartenders came out and said, “You guys are great; we’re so thrilled we booked you.” I’ll never forget that. That was thrilling. [We were] coming into one of the most important music cities and having someone say that — and this is band with no album out yet and no track record. We were thrilled. That was the kind of place Lounge Ax was. It was artist-driven more than other clubs. It was just a beautiful thing, man.