By Rose Riot
For the past 20-plus years Jim Heath has been an icon in the 50’s rock-inspired scene. It is fitting then that he is known best by the name Reverend Horton Heat. The Rev has been delivering a message of unity between punk and country and has a devoted cult of followers. The Reverend Horton Heat’s music embodies what rock and roll should be about, doin’ fun things. I talked to the Rev in the fall and we discussed the upcoming release of his box set due out any minute now…
Rose Riot: You’re last album was in 2009, what are you working on right now?
Reverend Horton Heat: We have a live DVD kind of box-set. It’s called ’25 to Life’, it’s going to have three CDs, an album and maybe a book. It should be out in January. I have a bunch of songs right now but they’re kind of just works in progress right now. At some point I’m going to have to really do the grunt work to get those songs or those ideas shaped into real songs. But I’ll eventually get around to that.
RR: So this will be in January and I imagine there will be a really big tour to support that boxed set?
Rev: Well, we don’t really have a definitive tour for that. We tour irrespective of any album release. So we just kind of plan and go as we go. We don’t say, “Okay we’re going to release an album and then go on tour.” We’re kind of always on tour anyway. But we are going to have a gig for it. That time of year we do what we call the Tundra tour where we go up and play all the ski resorts, drive through the snow and go play all the towns in Colorado and Utah and Wyoming and all that area.
RR: Oh fun! I didn’t even know that happened.
Rev:We’re going to be playing at the Sundance Film Festival and we’re going to try to time the release of the DVD with the Sundance Festival gig.
RR: This wouldn’t be your first Sundance Film Festival, right? Or is it?
Rev: No, this is the first time. Our first one.
RR: I’m sure it will be great. So you’re just working on this project mainly right now, right?
Rev: Well, we’ve been working on it for a year and a half or more. It’s kind of crazy how long these things take sometimes. Because it’s up to the label people and how quickly they want to work and what they want to do. But yeah, we’re going to have a little more work to do next week on it but not too much. It’s pretty much hammered into what it’s going to be. So we’re just working now on the book part of it to try to make it as good as we can.
RR: Are you working with any other people who I might have heard of or anyone notable on this? Or doing some other side projects with anyone else?
Rev: No, not really. You know Reverend Horton Heat takes up so much time, it’s just kind of mind-boggling. I’m the business manager as well as the leader of the band and so there’s not a lot of time for side projects. I had a little side project in Dallas that was a lot of fun but I couldn’t do it any more. It just was just too much to even throw away that one gig every month or two. Reverend Horton Heat’s my baby – it’s the baby that never grows up. It’s always needing to be put to bed and changed.
RR: So Rockabilly, and I don’t know if that’s necessarily how you like to classify your music – how do you like to classify your music?
Rev: Well, I call it Rockabilly just to get people in the ballpark. We don’t try to be purist or absolute, we use Rockabilly more as a platform to bridge off and do whatever we want. And it kind of evolved from something that was more straight Rockabilly than some of the stuff we’ve done in our career but I don’t know what to call it. I try not to sweat it. I’d rather be called a Rockabilly band than a Psychobilly band.
RR: Because some people get real sensitive about how they’re labeled and sometimes even for me, when I see a review and talk to these bands all the time, I say you tell me what you want to be called because I’m not so sure. The lines get blurred.
Rev: Yeah, I can understand that. But if I meet a guy who’s completely not into rock and roll or music and they say, what kind of music is it? Most of the time I’ll say we’re a rock and roll band that’s 50’s Rockabilly influenced. They’re like, “Oh okay.”
RR: So Rockabilly really has made some changes throughout the years and really seems to be getting a little more mainstream with certain areas of it. What do you think the future of Rockabilly is?
Rev: Well, I think that eventually it will be held in the same esteem as blues and jazz and other forms of American music – country, blues and jazz and that kind of thing because it’s a solidly American music that is in many ways even more of a melting pot than the blues or jazz or country because it’s all of those things together. It’s a blend of all the American musics. I think that at one time it was the kicking dog of all musics and I think eventually it will be recognized as something that’s cool and valid.
RR: An actual viable genre that might be learned about in the future instead of just an alternative genre, I guess is what you’re saying. It’s becoming a viable genre. That’s the best term I can use to describe it. Even though its viable music, you’re right, kind of the kicking dog in the past. How do you feel about the tattoo and Rockabilly connection? There’s an obvious connection and sort of the way that Rockabilly has become a little more mainstream with the rest of the world, so have tattoos. I don’t know exactly what the statistics are, but it’s staggering vs. 20 years ago, 30 years ago, 50 years ago, the people who had them. But there’s this obvious connection between Rockabilly and tattoos. What are your feeling on that? Because you don’t have a lot that I can see.
No, I just have one real bad one. When I got mine tattoo artists weren’t as good as they are now. One thing about tattoos is they’ve gotten a lot better, ha ha!
(Rose Riot is a photographer in Atlanta and contributing blogger for Tattoo Artist Magazine.)