The Reverend Horton Heat is the stage name of American musician Jim Heath (born 1959) as well as the name of his Dallas, Texas-based psychobilly trio. Heath is a singer, songwriter and guitarist. One reviewer calls Heath the "godfather of modern rockabilly and psychobilly."
The group originally formed in 1985, playing its first gigs in Dallas's Deep Ellum neighborhood. Its current members are Jim "Reverend Horton" Heath on guitar and lead vocals, Jimbo Wallace on the upright bass, and Scott Churilla on drums. The band signed to Victory Records on November 27, 2012, and released their eleventh studio album, REV, on January 21, 2014.
Their sound is self-described as "country-fed punkabilly". Some of their songs could also be described as psychobilly. Their music is a mixture of country, surf, punk, big band, swing, and rockabilly, all played loud and energetically with lyrics that are often humorous. The band has achieved success within the genre and even in mainstream America with their songs being featured in video games and commercials.
Heath played in a cover band called Southern Comfort with friends from W.B. Ray High School, his high school, before attending the University of Texas at Austin in the fall of 1977. At UT, he often entertained friends and dormmates and was often found playing in the stairwells at Moore-Hill Dormitory late into the night. Heath left school in the spring to join up with a touring cover band by the name of Sweetbriar. Three years later, former dormmate David Livingston, now in his senior year of school and at home visiting family, saw a familiar face on stage and reunited with Heath.
Livingston told Heath stories of the punk music scene in Austin and the acts playing at venues such as Raul's and Club Foot. Once, while home on another visit, Livingston took Heath to a Dallas rock and roll venue, The Bijou, to see an act called The Cramps. After the show, a brawl between punks and rockers broke out in the parking lot. While Heath and Livingston escaped any involvement in the scuffle, Heath later claimed to have had an epiphany on that evening. Always a fan of blues and honky tonk, Heath returned the favor by taking Livingston and his wife to see The Blasters in Dallas at the Hot Klub, starting his love for roots rock.
Heath had married a former bandmate from Sweetbriar, and together they had a child; they decided that the rock-and-roll lifestyle was over and that it was time to have real jobs. Around 1985, Heath was known as "Jim the Sound Guy" by those who frequented two warehouses that by night became music venues, Theater Gallery and The Prophet Bar. Heath used the old Sweetbriar PA system to earn extra money, running sound for bands such as the New Bohemians, End Over End, Shallow Reign and Three On A Hill. One night during a lull, Russell Hobbs, one of the original Deep Ellum visionaries and proprietors of these venues goaded him into getting up to play. He played alone, tearing through a version of "Folsom Prison Blues"; throughout the song, Hobbs hooted and shouted out, "Go Reverend."
Heath decided then and there to form a band and came up with the name Reverend Horton Heat, as an ode to Johnny Horton, using the shortened version of his last name, Heath. Soon, life on the road took its toll on the marriage, and his wife left with their child and dog. Heath's feelings upon the loss of his family are well documented in the song "Where In The Hell Did You go With My Toothbrush?" The Jimi Hendrix poster mentioned in the song was on the back of a door that Heath used for a practice room in the house he shared with his wife and child. The dog's name really was Smokey.
About this time, Livingston moved back from Oklahoma City, where he had lived since graduation. He began to book gigs for Heath and his new band, and they quickly won over the local music scene. They drew crowds to brand new music venues. Livingston continued to work with Reverend Horton Heat until 1989, when his own new family and day job required all of his attention, and Heath needed a real manager who could get him out on the road and into the studio. Heath and Livingston remain close friends today, and a song that they co-wrote together in the 1980s, "Liquor, Beer and Wine," appeared on 1994's Liquor In The Front.
In the spring of 1989 Heath met and befriended Charles F. Reid Jr. (aka "Charlie Ray"). Initially a full-time roadie for the band, Reid's role was expanded to include the job of booking agent/manager by the fall of 1989. Touring constantly through the Midwest and the West Coast, RHH quickly became a sellout act everywhere they played. In the fall of 1990 a bidding war to sign RHH developed between Hollywood's XXX Records and Seattle's Sub Pop Records. After moving to Seattle to run The Vogue on 1st Ave, Charlie Ray and attorney Barry Simons secured a two record deal with an option for three more, with Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman from Sub Pop.
Although present at the Reciprocal Sound Sessions, which made up the majority of material on RHH's debut album, Smoke 'em If You Got 'em, coordinating the photo shoot for the cover of The Full-Custom Gospel Sounds of the Reverend Horton Heat, and routing the band to New York City for the "Psychobilly Freakout" video shoot, Reid's role as manager/booking agent came to an abrupt halt in April 1992. Immediately following Ray's firing as band manager, Heath hired Scott Weiss as his manager/booking agent, and Scott continues in that capacity.
Victory Records signed Reverend Horton Heat in 2012, and an album titled Rev was released on January 21, 2014. A YouTube video for a single on the album, "Let Me Teach You How To Eat," was officially released on November 12, 2013.
Artistic And Commercial Success
The song "I Can't Surf" was part of the soundtrack of the video game Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3, published in 2001. "Psychobilly Freakout" was used on a commercial for Buell American Motorcycles and a slightly altered version was featured in the game Guitar Hero II and later on Guitar Hero Smash Hits. Their song "Baddest of the Bad" is featured on the soundtrack to Tony Hawk's Proving Ground. The 1997 PC video game Redneck Rampage also includes two of their songs: "Wiggle Stick" and "Nurture my Pig!" The song "Big Red Rocket of Love" is featured on the video game Motorstorm for the PlayStation 3 and a slightly altered version of the song was featured in a 1999 television commercial for the Mazda Miata. The song "Pride of San Jacinto" is featured on the video game Hot Wheels Turbo Racing.
Heath has a signature guitar from the Gretsch Guitar company, the 6120RHH. One of his favorite vintage guitars is a 1954 Gibson ES-175, which he rarely plays on the road since its wiring buzzes in certain venues. His favorite amplifier is the Fender Super Reverb.
- Jim Heath: guitar, vocals (1985–present)
- Jimbo Wallace: upright bass, vocals (1989–present)
- Scott Churilla drums (1994-2006, 2012-present)
- "Swingin'" Jack Barton: upright bass (1985–1989)
- Bobby Baranowski: drums (1985–1989)
- Kyle Thomas: drums (1989)
- Patrick "Taz" Bentley: drums (1989–1994)
- Paul Simmons drums (2006-2012)
Sean "Baggins" Bailey: Tour Manager(2001-2002) Merchandise Seller/Tour Manager (2014-present) Bobby Dunavin: Guitar Tech/Tour Manager (2014-present)
- Tim Alexander: piano/keyboards (1996–present)
- David Livingstone: Manager/Booking Agent/Road Crew (1985–1989)
- Charlie "Ray" Reid: Manager/Booking Agent/Road Crew (1989–1992)
- Scott Weiss: Manager/Booking Agent/Road Crew (1992–present)
- Love and a .45 (1994)
- A card advertising The Reverend Horton Heat appears prominently on a table in the Central Perk coffee shop on an episode of "Friends".
- Cartoon Network performing "Hey Johnny Bravo"
- Musical guest on Late Night with Conan O'Brien performing "Big Red Rocket of Love" and "It's Martini Time."
- Musical guest on the Late Show with David Letterman performing "Galaxie 500."
- Reverb (HBO live music series) performing "It's Martini Time" and several other songs. (1996)
- Drew Carey HBO Special (1996)
- The Drew Carey Show, episode "That Thing You Don't" - performing "Now, Right Now" (as The Underprivileged) (November 26, 1997)
- "Psychobilly Freakout" and "Wiggle Stick" were featured on the MTV program Beavis & Butthead.
- "Psychobilly Freakout" was featured on the CBS program Hawaii Five-0 (2012).
"The Reverend" (without the band):
- Homicide: Life on the Street, episode "Full Moon" - playing "Crazy Preacher in Motel" (April 5, 1996)
- List of psychobilly bands