Onstage, Jim Heath, aka The Reverend Horton Heat, is a big, bad rock & roller with a devious grin that’s slicker than his hair; his ear-blistering guitar-slinging abilities must have been earned by selling his soul to the devil at the crossroads. Over the phone, though, with his slow, steady Texas drawl that’s grittier than Tom Waits with a sore throat, Heath doesn’t bother with staying “in character.” In fact, he draws a sharp line between his rocker alter ego and his “mild-mannered” self.
“Those people that live out their persona 24/7 are very annoying people,” Heath says. “A lot of people think it’s cool, but I don’t. Basically, it’s all about narcissism and megalomania and ‘Me me me me me, I’m a rock star, look at me … I’m gonna grab the fire extinguisher and set it off indoors.’ Well, you know what, that’s the last thing that impresses me because it’s annoying.
“People talk about rock & roll,” he continues, “ ‘You gotta have the rock & roll attitude.’ In my opinion, no, you have to learn how to play a fuckin’ guitar chord right. Just having a rock & roll attitude doesn’t mean shit to me.”
Heath didn’t earn his evangelical nickname for speaking in tongues or casting out demons. While working as a loader and sound guy at a club in Deep Ellum, Texas, he was nicknamed “Horton” by the club owner, who told him, “Your music is like gospel.”
“He heard me playing and singing and liked it, and said he would give me a gig,” Heath says. “He came up onstage when I was setting up … and said, ‘Your stage name is going to be The Reverend Horton Heat.’ At the time, I was living in a warehouse with rats and roaches and no air conditioning. I was grateful to have a gig. So, I ran with it.”
The band of the same name—current members are Jimbo Wallace (stand-up bass) and Scott Churilla (drums)—was formed in 1985 in Dallas and earned a cult following through their manically energetic blend of country, rock & roll, surf, psychobilly and rockabilly, as well as high-octane live shows and humorous lyrics. Now, after 10 studio albums and a live-performance DVD/CD, Heath is writing songs for the band’s first album on Victory Records—which they signed with in November 2012—set to be released later this year. Heath hints that the album will be a return to the band’s roots.
“Our last album, [2009’s Laughin’ & Cryin’ with The Reverend Horton Heat], really leaned country, which was fun and cool, but I think we need to stick to our knitting and get back to the grittier, edgier stuff that was kind of what made up the early years of Reverend Horton Heat,” Heath says.
And he isn’t wasting any time, either—“That’s what I’m gonna be doing as soon as I hang up, is hanging out in the back of the bus and trying to kick out another song today,” Heath says. Who has time to live a life of rock-fueled excess when you’re keeping the focus on the music and things that really matter?
“Reverend Horton Heat obviously is a lot to do with who I am: It’s my band and, to a degree, I am The Reverend Horton Heat, I’ve got the nickname, all that,” Heath says. “But I make a pretty conscious effort to keep the two away from each other. I’ve got kids, so when I get home, I’m just a dad—maybe a little bit of a zany rocker dad. But where I live, few of the parents really know or care who Reverend Horton Heat is. I really like and prefer it that way.”
THE REVEREND HORTON HEAT
In the Venue
219 S. 600 West
Thursday, Jan. 24, 7 p.m.