The Widely Revered Reverend Horton Heat
There’s a lot to be said regarding the disarming effect of a weather-beaten Texan drawl – it’s probably as close as we’ll get to an aurally ingested form of valium. It’s also hard to believe such a smooth, rich baritone can belong to the same man who declared a Psychobilly Freakout close to two decades prior. As Jim Heath – better known as the widely revered Reverend Horton Heat – prepares for an all-out blitz on Australian pubs, clubs and a festival stage, he looks back on a storied quarter-century’s worth of performing on the road, “Well, the set we’ll probably bring over is what we’ve just started doing around the ‘States in the last few months,” Jim explains, “which has been based around the fact it’s been twenty-five years of Reverend Horton Heat’s existence.”
These many years of existence have seen the good Rev steadily establishing himself as one of the Lone Star State’s consummate performers, as well as earning a reputation as one of the biggest names in contemporary rockabilly. We can expect to hear an exhaustive sample of the act’s back catalogue during their whirlwind Australian tour, but cramming it all into one set is proving to be a daunting task. “Well, the aim is to run through it all chronologically, starting off with a few songs from our very first album, then a few off our second, third, fourth,” he pauses and chuckles, as if he’s lost mental track of the amount of albums released. “Well, we do a few songs off the new album as well, which seem to get the crowd goin’ wild,” he adds.
That new album he refers to is Laughin’ And Cryin’, which marks somewhat of a natural divergence of style for the trio. “I had the idea I wanted to a very straight country record, sounding very much like the classic country from around 1960; I’d say 1962 to be specific,” Jim explains. The transition isn’t too much of a stretch from the band’s veracious brand of rockabilly, and it’s that sense of purity which has always steered Reverend Horton Heat’s creative direction. “Well I’ve always thought that my favourite rockabilly bands are ones that do it really authentically,” he reasons. “I guess what I’ve done is just turned it up in volume a little more and got a little more aggressive.” While rockabilly has received a devout underground following, it is yet to crack the mainstream in a big way, a fact that fails to trouble the Rev, “It never had the widespread popularity that I thought it would,” he laughs, “but I’ve been able to do pretty ok I guess you’d say.”
While Laughin’ And Cryin’ was initially an exercise in capturing a ‘pure’ form of country, it soon delved into an exploration of the Laughin’ side of things, “Well, as the album started to evolve, I had the realisation that in a lyrical sense I wanted it to be funny, humorous, zany, or just plain ridiculous,” he laughs. “I think in the end there might have been a serious moment or two which may have snuck its way onto the record, but it’s a collection of the best songs I had laying around at the time, regardless of what style I was going for.”
This may well be a case of catering for the audience’s demand, with these “ridiculous” tales of women and booze whipping up an uproarious reaction akin to what you can hear those San Quentin prisoners give out as Johnny Cash tells the tale about A Boy Named Sue.
The rowdy reaction could well be the result of tapping into a deeply resonating facet of the human condition. “It’s real life, you know?” Jim muses. “Country music is all about people that have to work hard – they work hard and play hard,” he laughs. “It was really born, or at least brought forth, in all those old honky tonks where people were drinking and dancing and partying, so consequentially that’s what the music is all about.”
Speaking of boozing, a limited edition ‘Rev Wine’ collection of vinos have been bottled to commemorate the good Rev’s auspicious return to our shores, a fitting tribute to the man who croons Drinking And Smoking Cigarettes. “Well that’s definitely quite an honour, that’s pretty darn cool of them to do that,” he says with a sense of pride. “To be honest, I’m not too much into wine, but I’m looking forward to sharing a bottle with my wife,” he explains. “She’ll probably enjoy drinking it more than I will, but I’ll definitely be leaving a little room in my suitcase to bring a few bottles back home.” It’s apparent Jim may be a man of more discerning taste, particularly when it comes to hard liquor. “For me man, I’d rather slam a shot of whiskey, get some vodka tonic going and I’m all set to go,” he laughs. “Perhaps it’s a little over the top, but what can I say?”
As the Australia-wide tour looms, the demand for shows seems to be running hot, with a second Melbourne show just announced for The Espy’s Gershwin Room, in addition to their show at Billboard The Venue and a prime Friday night slot at Meredith’s Supernatural Amphitheatre. “Well for the festivals I like to keep ’em all really upbeat and keep the energy levels peakin’,” he details. “Well, maybe we’ll squeeze just one slow number in there.”
And with the promise of burlesque supports at his sideshows, punters are guaranteed a fine mix of a distinctly classy brand of Texan charm, as well as a good deal of old-fashioned rowdiness, no matter what the setting. “Last time in Australia, well I can’t remember much about it apart from it being a hell of a lot of fun, so I’m really looking forward to coming back,” Jim laughs. “I think Australian people really like to cut loose, you know?”
REVEREND HORTON HEAT plays the MEREDITH MUSIC FESTIVAL across December 10-12 (which is sold out, if you hadn’t heard), with the only other chances to see him being two other shows at The Espy Gershwin Room on Tuesday December 14 with Midnight Woolf and The Level Spirits – tickets from espy.com.au, and Billboard The Venue on Friday December 17 – with DollSquad, Bitter Sweet Kicks, DJ Electric Mudcat and burlesque by LUX ST SIN and The Strawberry Siren. Tickets from ticketek.com.au, 132 489, moshtix.com.au and billboardthevenue.com.au. Laughin’ And Cryin’ is out now through Shock.