The Reverend Horton Heat, aka Jim Heath, has been touring with his trio bearing the same name for close to 30 years now. The band mixes a ton of different influences so it’s difficult to stick it into just one category, but many have called Heath, “the Godfather of modern rockabilly and psychobilly music.”
Although, as we found out when we recently spoke to him, it’s a label that he’s not entirely comfortable with. “I wrote and recorded the song ‘Psychobilly Freakout’ but we do things that psychobilly bands don’t normally do…We can get bluesy, jazzy and country,” said Heath.
The loud and energetic trio with the comedic undertones recently launched a U.S. tour and will be playing next week at the Cornerstone in Berkeley. In between soundchecks, the charismatic lead singer took some time out of his day to answer a few questions for us. We talked about what he thinks explains the band’s longevity, what fans can expect to see at one of their shows, and what the craziest thing is that’s happened to them while on the road (you won’t want to miss this one!)
Having been around for close to 30 years now, how do you explain your longevity?
Whiskey. Haha. Actually, Jimbo and I had a long talk and decided that it wasn’t the partying that made us, but the music. After that, we didn’t feel compelled to party – we focused on doing the gig the best we could. That saved us.
You’re heading out on the road again and you’ve been quoted as saying that sometimes it feels like you’ve been on one big tour that started 30 years ago. Do you ever get burned out on it?
Yes. It’s a grind. But I’ve had real jobs so I know to be grateful for this. I actually enjoy playing music more now than when I was younger. There was more pressure back then as every new club was a chance for a steady gig and every industry executive was…so on and so forth. Now, none of that crosses my mind. I just smile and let it rip. I will say that I’m burned out on traveling though.
What can fans expect from the Berkeley show? Will you be playing only the new material or some of your old stuff as well?
We play stuff from pretty much all of our albums. We may have a song from the project that has yet to be released, but we’ll see. We will have our new drummer, R.J. Contreras with us and a piano player named Matt Jordan. We’re really having a blast with our new guys right now, but it’s still the Rev and Jimbo show…no one will be disappointed.
From all your years of touring can you share one of your craziest road stories for our readers?
One time we played in this very small town in Russia. The people were super glad we were there, but this town didn’t have a hotel, so they put us up in the insane asylum. We fit right in.
What is it about Rockabilly that you think has made it stand the test of time?
It’s high energy music designed to entertain a crowd of people. It’s funny and light-hearted even though it can be dangerous at times. I’m glad we helped bring it back. It’s never going away again now thanks to the Stray Cats, Blasters, Robert Gordon, us, Big Sandy, Deke Dickerson, etc.
Your particular style of music has been categorized as “Psychobilly.” Are you comfortable with that label?
No! I wrote and recorded the song ‘Psychobilly Freakout’ but we do things that psychobilly bands don’t normally do…We can get bluesy, jazzy and country. However, I have a lot of respect for that scene and I’m glad that they embrace us. The real inventors of psychobilly are the European bands like The Meteors, Guana Bats, Batmobile, Demented R Go and is still going in Europe – they’re very serious about it. But we love going and playing the psychobilly festivals in Europe and we fit in pretty well with that scene. We tour a lot in the states with the Necromantix. They’re great. And I love Mad Sin and a ton of other psychobillies.
Your relationship with Lemmy from Motorhead has been well documented, what do you miss most about him?
His knowledge of history was pretty immense. He knew a lot about World War Two, but he was really amazing when he talked about World War One and the trenches and such. I also just miss him every time we play Hollywood and he’s not there. He used to come out almost every time if he wasn’t touring.
What are you listening to these days? Anyone that stands out?
JD McPherson is great. I love his style, songwriting, guitar playing, and production. But, his singing is super good as well. I like Bloodshot Bill, the stuff I’ve heard. You know Big Sandy and Deke Dickerson are still out there making great recordings and touring the world. I love Dale Watson, Junior Brown and Jesse Dayton too. Actually, I’m not really that great of a guy to ask about new music as I still listen mainly to oldies radio. Hey, there’s a great young guy named McKinley James…he’s an up and comer.
Reverend Horton Heat is playing the Cornerstone in Berkeley w/Voodoo Glow Skulls, Big Sandy // Jan. 24, 2018 // 2367 Shattuck Ave Berkeley, CA 94704 // 7:30 PM //18 & Over //$20
Photo courtesy of Victory Records