The Reverend Horton Heat has gone on to do many things that most rockabilly bands could never imagine.
The band’s music has been featured on soundtracks for television, films and video games; the group has toured with acts such as the Sex Pistols and Motörhead; the members have collaborated with rock ’n’ roll heavyweights; and it has been labeled as one of the hardest-working bands and best live acts in America.
The Reverend Horton Heat is returning to the desert for a show at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace on Thursday, Jan. 11.
During a recent phone interview, the Reverend himself, Jim Heath, said he never imagined what would happen after he started the band in 1985 in Dallas.
“I just wanted to do my own songs within the rockabilly framework, and I was just giving up on the idea of being a rock star,” Heath said. “We ended up on a major-label deal, and we worked with Al Jourgensen of Ministry and Gibby Haynes of the Butthole Surfers, and some other pretty heavyweight people. This has been quite a ride! We were on the tail end of major labels giving out big money. It’s been a lot of fun.”
If you’ve been to a Reverend Horton Heat show, you know that all kinds of music fans, across all age ranges, come out to see them play.
“In the early days, we would play a punk-rock room one night, a country bar the next night, and then a heavy-metal place the next night,” Heath said. “Even though we were playing our own original music, we could tailor the set list to fit any situation we were in. That really helped make ends meet when we were just trying to do it full-time, so no one needed to have a full-time job. It’s a blessing, because now, we have shows where we have a really diverse fan base. We have rockabilly guys, heavy-metal guys, old guys, country guys—it’s crazy! It’s flattering, and it’s a real blessing.”
In some places, the mixture can lead to chaos. During a Reverend Horton Heat show I once attended in Cleveland, a fist fight broke out between a couple of older guys and some young punk-rockers who had started a mosh pit. Heath agreed that the diverse range of fans can sometimes lead to drama.
“We played quite a few gigs on our first trip to California where they would swing-dance,” he said. “For those clubs, we would tailor our gigs to a swing-dance crowd. But there was one particular gig in Long Beach (at a place) called Bogart’s where we showed up and started playing, and the swing-dancers started swing-dancing—and the mosh pit started. It was a clash of cultures, and we had to stop the show because five to 10 fights broke out all at once. Some sweaty alternative rocker goes slamming into some girl in her perfect little ’50s dress, and her boyfriend hits him. It was just a big brawl. It is what it is, and people want to have fun, but I want them to have fun and not hurt each other.”
The Reverend Horton Heat was once on tour for 250 to 275 dates a year, but that number has been decreased to a still-substantial 120 to 150. Heath said the band has always been a touring band first, regardless of album sales.
“With where record sales are now and that side of the industry falling apart, the lucky thing for us is that our art form is playing music, which has nothing to do with recordings,” he said. “Music is about a live thing with people having fun, socializing and enjoying the music together. That’s my art form, and that’s what I do.”
The list of legends with whom the Reverend Horton Heat has shared the stage is quite impressive.
“One of the best shows we ever did was opening for Johnny Cash at the Fillmore. We got to meet Johnny Cash and June Carter, and guys in his band to this day still keep in touch with us,” he said.
“I did a recording session, played golf, had dinner and played golf again with Willie Nelson. We opened for Carl Perkins, and after the show, he sat and told me stories for over an hour and a half. He was so funny and had some of the best stories. Johnny Rotten, when we toured with the Sex Pistols, would come up to me and tell me the craziest and funniest stuff. We did a TV show that included Wayne Newton, and he told us stories ’til 4 in the morning.”
The band’s last album, REV, was released in 2014—but Heath said to expect some new material soon, despite delays.
“We took most of the summer off to try to record a new album, and in the middle of all that, we switched drummers,” Heath said. “The album project got a little bit pushed back, and now we’ve been so busy that we almost don’t have time to do an album. I think we have 10 basic tracks pretty well, but we might go back and try to redo some of them. The good news is we have 10 songs, and it’s coming. We just need to get in the studio and finish it out.”
A word to the wise: It’s well-known that throwing beer is a no-no at a Reverend Horton Heat show. Heath took a serious tone when he told me his thoughts on the matter.
“I don’t like it; it’s stupid, and it’s ridiculous. I’m not into it at all,” he said. “You’ll get your ass thrown out doing that, and it’s not right. The first thing you learn in kindergarten is don’t throw stuff; the first thing you learn in college is don’t waste beer. There was a guy who threw beer on me in Denver one time, and I told him, ‘I always wondered what kind of person throws beer, and I figured it out—it’s rich kids!’ If you’re a rich kid, you can afford to throw beer and then call Mommy and Daddy, saying you need money for laundry or whatever. He got mad at me, and he was a writer, so he wrote a bad review of the show, saying what a wuss I was, and I was going, ‘Who is this guy?’ I Googled him, and he was a lead singer in a band whose stage antics were throwing beer. I kinda blew his stage shtick, which is awesome!”
The Reverend Horton Heat will perform with Voodoo Glow Skulls and Big Sandy at 8 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 11, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Tickets are $25 to $30. For tickets or more information, call 760-365-5956, or visit pappyandharriets.com.