photo by jennifer broussard
by David Ensminger
Jim Heath, a.k.a. Reverend Horton Heat, is a Texas gringo who has dodged every pigeonhole by hot-wiring the sounds of boot-stompin' country, piston-pumping swing, greased lightning rockabilly, and even heavy metal. His records reek of greasy gas stations and hairnet gals with tattoos. His latest offering, Spend A Night In The Box (Time Bomb), produced by ex-Butthole Surfer guitarist Paul Leary, is a return to the Reverend's lean and lithe Sub Pop-era rockabilly sound-with 12 pounds of sonic dynamite packed under its hood.
Being the king of hot rod culture, do you ever risk becoming a caricature? Do some people not see your artistic side?
I think they completely see my artistic side. All that hot rod stuff is icing on the cake. They're there to see me perform, that's it. I love all those hot rod people, though I'm not really into hot rods that much; I'm a guitar player man. I wake up in the morning and spend four or five hours playing. Sometimes I do laugh, 'cause I wear flashy suits, and that will definitely turn you into a caricature when you wear some of those that are as bad as I have (laughs).
Do you feel closer to Junior Brown or the Supersuckers?
Junior Brown is just a hero of mine. It's the real gutbucket country, you know. At the same time, I might not necessarily enjoy seeing Los Straightjackets any less than Junior Brown. Then again, I like singers too. I tend to be a person who misses the musicianship of eras gone by. At the same time, I love Rage Against The Machine. That's what happens with a lot of music critics. Music is all about the guy at the record store going, "I was into them back when they were cool." Hell, to me, I think a band like Rage Against The Machine just keeps getting better.
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Which do you prefer, the large Warped and White Zombie tours or smaller shows?
We have fun every night; it's hard to say what I prefer. There's no doubt that I have a blast when we're doing those things. There's rock stars hanging around; Slash is there. Our set is 35 minutes exactly-not 36, not 34-then we're done. We can hang around and watch the people freak out when White Zombie set off their bombs, because we know exactly when they're coming.
Artistically, of course, I want to get across as many of my songs as possible. That's pretty hard to make happen with a cold crowd for 35 minutes. We went out with ZZ Top, but there are a lot of older people in their crowd. We'd get heckled every night, then I'd get in some banter with the heckler, and finally I'd tell him, "Fuck you, this is rock & roll!" Then everybody would go, "Yeeah!" I'd have to win them over every night. It was hilarious.
Out of 30 songs you pick to record, 25 are Reverend songs. What are the rest?
If we want to try a funk beat or something pop even, guess what the record company is saying? "Well, those songs are okay, but these five songs are great-this doesn't sound like y'all at all." What am I supposed to say? "Thanks a lot. We finally did something that doesn't sound like us. It's a hit?" They'd be like, "Well, no, it's not a hit, but these five are good enough for your new record." So I am definitely going to be more careful about sending out all my demos and all my songs to these guys, because I do what I do. Frankly, it's an insult when somebody tells you the song is great because it doesn't sound like y'all at all. And, man, I am sick of being insulted by record companies.
You've been playing guitar since age 10, but why didn't you become a songwriter until your mid-20s?
The truth is I was writing songs back when I was 16 or 17, but having an outlet for those songs was the hardest. I was basically a lead guitar player in all my bands; there was always another front person. Whoever is singing the lead of a song, the lyrics have to be very heartfelt, very personal. A song that someone else writes for me may not be something that I personally want to say. I got to the point where I figured, man, if I want to get my songs across I've got to be a lead singer. So instead of hiring a band, I started out doing a solo thing.
Are you going to play the circuit forever?
Oh, yeah. Just like Ernest Tubb, who did it until he died.