As the legendary psychobilly trio Reverend Horton Heat winds their way across the U.S. on his way to a tour stop in Des Moines on April 19 (details below), the Reverend himself, Jim Heath, took some time last week before a show in North Carolina to talk to Examiner. The “Godfather of Modern Rockabilly and Psychobilly,” as he has been called my more than one reviewer in his day, talked about learning his craft, some crazy experiences on the road, and what he and the band that bears his name have on tap in the future. Here is that conversation.
Examiner: Describe your journey from playing in Texas cover bands to becoming the legendary Reverend Horton Heat.
Heath: It was actually a long journey. Those days playing with the cover bands…I learned how this whole thing is done. I learned about travelling and being on the road and doing tours. I learned about how to entertain a crowd. I learned about showmanship and how to play with other great musicians. Even the bands that weren’t really doing what I wanted to do…it was a learning experience, and it was well worth it.
Examiner: The band is putting out a 7-inch and a new video for Record Store Day. Tell fans what they can expect on April 16.
Heath: It is a song called “Hard Scrabble Woman,” and it is off the Rev album. An animation artist did a video for the song that will be released simultaneously with the [7-inch]. It’s an awesome, awesome animated video. It’s really good. They’re super-talented; it’s these twin girls that do the animation together. They kind of think alike and draw alike and work this stuff up, and it’s really unusual. “Hard Scrabble Woman” is a song that is influenced a lot by Johnny Cash…it’s a little bit of a country song. The B-side is “Lying to Myself,” and it is kind of almost jazzy. It has a horn arrangement thing going on…it’s kind of a swingish sort of deal.
Examiner: The band has toured endlessly over the years, and you have given your share of mock sermons on stage. I am sure that people have heard you referred to as “Reverend.” Have you ever been mistaken for an actual man of the cloth in public?
Heath: Maybe one time we had a misunderstanding, but most people get it. It’s not something that we run into much.
Examiner: Can you share one of your favorite stories from all your time out on the road?
Heath: One of the craziest things we did is we played in Russia, and we were part of a travelling festival that started out in Norway and ended up in Russia. There were like 25 of us on the bus. We crossed into Russia, and they put us up in an insane asylum. They didn’t have a hotel, so we stayed in the insane asylum. The whole trip was crazy. We had the KGB following us. We had the black market guys there selling stuff. We got mobbed by like 200 kids who thought that we were from Norway, and then we said we were from America…and they just went wild. They mobbed us. We thought, “Man, this is great,” and then they started picking our pockets. So, we had to fight them off. That tour was crazy. Going in there was like going into something from 1945.
Then on the way out, these Finnish journalists that had a hunting looking vehicle…kind of an off-road half jeep sort of thing…when we were leaving Russia they convinced me to ride back with them, and I said, “Alright.” So, we’re driving, and they say that they need to make a stop first. They wanted to stop off and pick up some potato vodka, and I thought, “Oh great, we’re going to be bootleggers here.” We pull up to this building, and they knock on the door. Out comes this big Russian woman and she’s holding what looks like a gasoline pump, but it’s for vodka. I look in the back [of the vehicle,] and there is this big gas tank…but it is a brand new gas tank that has been sterilized and cleaned out. She starts pumping vodka into this 20-gallon tank. I was thinking, “Oh great, we were going to bootleg a few bottles of vodka and be arrested,” but no, we’re going to bootleg 20 gallons of vodka out of Russia. This is great. I’m going to end up in a prison in Russia. We managed to make it out somehow. We bribed them with duct tape. We gave them duct tape, and they let us out. [Laughs.]
Examiner: If you could change one thing about the music industry, what would it be?
Heath: Well, I think it would be the industry standard way to pay mechanical royalties that could be tracked and verified…and to be paid better by Google.
Examiner: After more than 30 years of making music, what still lies ahead for Reverend Horton Heat?
Heath: I am starting my own record company, and I am partnering in two festivals: one is called Horton’s Hayride in Southern California and the other is called the Elm Street Music and Tattoo Festival in Dallas. So I’m going to be working a lot with that. I have been, slowly over the years, building my own studio, so I am doing a lot of experiments with audio. I am especially interested in vintage sounding audio. You know, we are still growing as a band. I still try to get better on guitar and singing. I still try to get better at writing songs. As long as I feel like I am getting better at doing this, I’d imagine we’ll still be out here doing this for a long time to come.
Fans of Reverend Horton Heat in central Iowa can catch the band at Wooly’s on Tuesday, April 19 at 7 p.m. (doors at 6 p.m.) Tickets for the all ages event are $18 in advance and $20 on the day of the show. They may be purchased at the Wooly’s box office or online through Ticketfly. Unknown Hinson, Nashville Pussy, and Lucky Tubb will be opening the show. If you plan on trying to grab the Rev’s new 7-inch release on Record Store Day, click here to find a participating record store in your area. You can follow Reverend Horton Heat online through the band’s website and Facebook page.