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How the Reverend Horton Heat survived the odds by relentless touring, a manic stage show and ditching the party scene
Courtesy Victory Records
Reverend Horton Heat
Friday, April 12, 2013
Reverend Horton Heat frontman Jim Heath is content with his career.
After 28 years bringing an unabashed celebration of sex, booze and hard living to venues across the country, Heath and his band have cultivated a diverse and loyal fan base.
Heath, 52, is feted by peers and loved by fans for his ability to make his guitar cry the blues and wail rock ’n’ roll with blistering, reckless abandon. He loves extremes: sudden drops from loud to soft, or a sweet, sustained guitar riff followed by a jolt of speed.
When he started RHH in the mid 1980s, Heath didn’t want to be pigeonholed into a specific musical genre. Instead, he used rockabilly as a foundation from which to build an original mix of surf guitar, swing, country, jazz, blues and up-tempo rock n’ roll.
Spawned from the Deep Ellum neighborhood of Dallas, the band would play in the punky Twilight Room one night, and around the corner in a blues bar the next. The band’s name came from a club owner in Dallas, who had booked Heath and created a flyer advertising him as Reverend Horton Heat. Heath was a little taken aback by the name at first, especially by the Reverend reference, but he went with it because he was grateful to be playing live for an audience. Before he knew it he had a following and was quickly known as the “ Reverend.”
Later in their career, RHH opened for Johnny Cash and played with Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson.
The band released the two-CD and DVD box set “25 to Life” in 2012, and recently announced it signed with Victory Records and plans to release a new album in 2013. Heath is flanked by upright bassist Jimbo Wallace and drummer Scott Churilla.
Heath is to the guitar as Jerry Lee Lewis was to the piano — he is wild and skilled and he experiments with a variety of guitar techniques.
“One technique I worked on my whole career is mimicking pedal steel and steel guitar licks with my guitar — the way you hold three notes, and then bending one of them will give you a kind of pedal steel guitar swell effect,” Heath said.
But Heath’s aptitudes aren’t confined to the technical realm. With his lyrical prowess, Heath writes pun-filled songs such as the fast-tempo “Big Little Baby.” In a love song for his tall girlfriend, Heath writes, her “heart is as big as her feet are long.”
Whether he’s singing with gentle menace or bending new curves into a blues note, Heath is a master of tension and release.
For Heath, performing live is the ultimate expression of his art: “To me, music is an art form that involves getting up there and playing in front of people.”
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