Reverend Horton Heat consider their main job in music to be playing live shows—they tour constantly! Photo: Gene Ambo
Reverand Horton Heat are one of those bands that every music fan knows, and with the way they tour, fans have probably seen them live a few times. They’ve charged through a 28-year career, always attempting new and challenging paths. A recent choice has been to include a guest appearance by another musical figure in their set. Guests, so far, have been Lemmy of Motörhead, Deke Dickerson, and Jello Biafra, who joined them on their Salt Lake date.
When a band is willing to give its audience a new and singular experience in a live setting rather than the same set night after night, then the fans must pay some gratitude. SLUG had a chat with the front man, "the Rev" himself, Jim Heath, and we discussed everything from the new album to Jerry Lee Lewis’s wild ways.
SLUG: I’ve wanted to any interview you forever. Who would you like to sit down and interview?
Rev: I think the killer Jerry Lee Lewis would be great to talk to, but I want to get stuff out of him that he’s never going to want to talk about, like when he smashed his Cadillac into the gate at Graceland and started shooting a gun in the air and screaming up at Elvis that “The only difference between you and me is that you’ve got better drugs,” or when he found a bunch of bootlegs of his stuff for sale in a truck stop and grabbed them all and took them out of the parking lot and set them on fire. You know, stories like that would be great to hear from him.
SLUG: When you got started, grunge was everywhere, and you seemed like the least likely thing to come along. What you attribute your success in breaking out the way you did?
Rev: Well the fact that there wasn’t anything like us out there when we first signed to Sub Pop. I felt I had to go out of my way to be the anti-grunge band. So I started wearing the colorful suits, and yeah, we play fast, but I always made sure to keep it away from anything gloomy or heavy. We started out as a traditional rockabilly band that played original songs instead of 50 covers, and as we got into playing punk rock clubs, we realized that the audience was responding to the faster stuff, and that’s what started to feel right to us.
SLUG: On tour, you started having guess join you during your set. How did that come about?
Rev: Well I think the first one was Lemmy and, well, he was coming to every LA Reverand Horton Heat show, and we just thought, “Hey, let’s invite him up and to play a set,” and were so surprised when he said yes. It was just a great way to break things up and make it interesting for us.
SLUG: We in Salt Lake saw you with Jello Biafra. What’s it like to work with him?
Rev: [At] that Salt Lake show, I thought we struggled a bit, and was one of our first nights playing Jello’s stuff, and I just didn’t feel like we hit every mark. I hate to say that the next couple of nights, we were a little more on point, but it’s a challenge because these guys get up and have a short amount of time, so they want to do all their best stuff, and we as their hosts owe it to them to do our part.
SLUG: You seem to tour more than any other band I can think of. Is their philosophy behind that?
Rev: To me, the live show and the touring is our job. The recording and the other aspects of the business are more advertising for the live show. It’s the live show where you can go and watch a band do their thing right in front of you, and interact with you. More than anything else, [that’s] what I consider my job to be.
SLUG: The new record is more aggressive then you’ve been on recent releases. What’s the thought process on that?
Rev: Well, on our last record, I intended it to be an all-country album, and by the time we were done, it had morphed into something else, which is fine, but it just felt like it was time to swing back the other way for something different. The record is still rockabilly record and even has a country tune, but I think It harkens back to the early- to mid-’90s days.
You may think you’ve seen the Reverand Horton Heat show and all they have to offer, but Jim Heath is working hard to make sure that each show gives the audience something new. Their new album, Rev is out Jan. 21. Look for a show in the future, because you know they’ll be back.