Reverend Horton Heat: Spending a Night in The Box


If you're looking for Jim Heath, a.k.a. Reverend Horton Heat, we might suggest you check your local watering hole, particularly if you live in Dallas. Not that Heath isone of those miserable figures who feels the need for constant inebriety, but the Rev has a habit of gravitating toward places where someone wants to buy him a round.

'That's one of the occupational hazards of doing what I do,' Heath says with a laugh, just hours before a gig in Phoenix. 'Being in a band, especially in Dallas, you can get free drinks just about anywhere you go.'

And Heath has had more than a few drinks in his time, free or otherwise. You can hear it in his libation-heavy lyrics and freewheeling solos. But these days, he has good reason to celebrate. His sixth studio album, Spend a Night in the Box, recorded at Willie Nelson's Pedernales Studios outside Austin and produced by Butthole Surfers guitarist Paul Leary, finds his band in vintage form, serving up another shot of fun, raucous, immediate and unapologetic 'punkabilly.' The band's humorous, we-don't-take-ourselves-so-seriously verse (evident on tunes like 'Sue Jack Daniels,' 'King' and 'Sleeper Coach Driver'), along with a no-frills approach to making music, incorporating rockabilly, blues, country, swing, swamp, surf and a ubiquitous guitar presence, again remind us of the genius in simplicity. It's the same approach that's allowed this three-piece outfit (which includes bassist Jimbo Wallace and drummer Scott Churilla) to be a catalyst in the revival of hot-rod culture.

Born in Fort Worth and raised in San Antonio and Corpus Christi, Heath is somewhat of a Texas vagabond, he's lived all over the state. And while he's not exactly the guitar-slinging-orphan-turned-paroled-pool-shark that his record company spiritedly makes him out to be (although it is true that he was adopted and does enjoy having a cue stick in hand), his life isn't without its share of good stories. One of the best tales answers the most timeless of questions: What's in a name? More specifically, what's in his name?

"There used to be this guy who ran this place in Deep Ellum, Texas, who used to call me Horton,' says Heath. 'Anyway, this guy hired me, and right before the show he goes, 'Your stage name should be Revered Horton Heat! Your music is like gospel.' I thought it was pretty ridiculous. So I'm up there playing and after the first few songs, people are saying, 'Yeah, Reverend!' What's really funny is that this guy gave up the bar business and actually became a preacher! Now he comes to our shows and says, 'Jim, you really should drop this whole Reverend thing.'" Spend a Night in the Box. Is it safe to assume that you're a fan of Cool Hand Luke?

Jim Heath: We're big fans, although the [title track] is actually about getting in trouble with your girlfriend. We're on a bus a lot, and when you've got a bunch of guys on a bus, you watch a lot of guy-type movies. And that's one of the best guy-type movies out there. (Laughs). We really like the scene where the guy talks about all of the rules. You know, if you're caught playing grab-ass, you spend a night in the box. Smoke in the prone position, you spend a night in the box... I thought it would be a good title for a song. Many of the tunes have a humorous, whimsical feel. Is it all about fun?

Heath: It's definitely about fun. It's about entertainment. Of course, not all songs and poetry are supposed to be bright and happy, but humor is definitely a big part of what we do. That's one thing I've noticed about Reverend Horton Heat fans: Whether they're a bunch of metal guys who are into White Zombie, middle-aged guys who are into golf and [Texas singer/songwriter] Robert Earl Keen, or college kids who are into No Doubt, if they're at our show, they've all got a good sense of humor. Compared with past efforts, has your role as guitarist changed?

Heath: The songs that [producer] Paul [Leary] helped guide us toward, I had something like 32 songs originally, are the ones that had a lot of guitar solos in them. So it kind of ended up that there's more guitar playing on this one than just about any other CD we've ever done, at least as far as soloing. But I'm trying to strike a good balance, you know. We're only a three-piece band, and sometimes I feel a little guilty because it seems like I'm always playing a guitar solo! (Laughs). Speaking of balance, do you consider singing, songwriting and playing guitar to be equal parts of the pie?

Heath: That's a hard one to answer, you know? I definitely know that I've been a lead guitar player for longer than anything. When I was a kid, that's what I wanted to be. The bands that I was in, I didn't sing. We always had another lead singer. I kinda hit a point in my early 20s where I was realizing that songwriting would get me a lot further in my career than just being able to play great guitar. I guess I realized that no matter how great I could play guitar, it still wouldn't really mean that much unless I could write some good songs. How did you discover rockabilly?

Heath: I would hear a band like Johnny Burnette and the Rock and Roll Trio and think, 'Oh my God, this is the coolest music ever!' I felt like if I were really going to do blues, it would be a little bit too laid back for me. And then here's rockabilly. The more I learned about it, and the more I listened to people like the early Elvis Presley and Scotty Moore, the more I knew that that's what I wanted to specialize in. Got any advice for your fellow guitarists out there?

Heath: I would try to learn things off the records by ear. I've learned theory, and it's a great thing, but learning by ear is big. You've gotta walk before you can run. Listen to it by ear, figure out what notes are there, and then start playing it real slow ' don't just start trying to play it real fast. Get it to where you can play it slow and hit the notes right, then slowly pick up your speed. And try not to follow the fashions and fads. Probably the best advice I can give right now is this: Try your best not to sound like Korn or Limp Bizkit! (Laughs).

Just can't get enough? Check out...