The Reverend Horton Heat
This Saturday, December 17, the Cox Capitol Theatre will be hosting the Godfather of Rockabilly, The Reverend Horton Heat. Come join The Creek and The 11th Hour for this truly unique show with a legend and his incredible band as they put their spin on Outlaw Country for the city of Macon.
You’re on tour right now with Unknown Hinson, Nashville P*ssy and Lucky Tubb- how’s everything going out there? It’s going real well. We’ve been having good ticket sales, playing a lot of good rooms, we just missed a lot of bad weather up in the Northeast and so it’s been good.
What do you feel initially drew you to Rockabilly music or influenced you to put this punk/ hard rock spin on Outlaw Country music?
I liked Outlaw Country back before it was really called that, back in the 70’s with Willie Nelson, Asleep At The Wheel, Waylon Jennings, Jerry Jeff Walker but a lot of that wasn’t really my style. I started focusing on Rockabilly… I guess it was a transition. I really discovered the Blues when I was a kid, trying to learn how to play Blues and I ended up being a lead guitar player in a Rock N’ Roll band. I was just always drawn to the mid-century American stuff, and not just music, but the style, and the cars and all that. When I really started evaluating, high energy Rock N’ Roll is what it’s all about. Listen man, Little Richard pounding straight eights on the piano, Jerry Lee Lewis pounding straight eights on the piano, man, that’s Rock N’ Roll. To me, that kind of energy got lost eventually. In the 50’s, Blues and Rock N’ Roll, that led me to Rockabilly. Of course, growing up, I knew about Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and that kind of music, there’s just something about it man, that’s kind of hard to describe. Then at some point I decided it was better to try and use Rockabilly as a platform rather than as the be all, end all. That helped Reverend Horton Heat have an open mind. If I come up with some lick that doesn’t sound Rockabilly at all, then if the guys like it, well then great, it’s fun to play, but it still falls into the Reverend Horton Heat Rockabilly thing. I would probably have to try really hard to make it not sound that way.
Y’all have been rocking for a little over thirty years now, take me through what this journey has been like for you.
Well, it’s been really long. I’ve actually been doing it for longer than thirty years. My first band tour of the region of the United States was, I hate to admit this, but it was 1978. I’ve done a lot of years with a band, and I’ve done a lot of years on the tour bus, but it’s been a dream career man, it’s a dream come true.
You have a very high-energy sound and that gets coupled with a very passionate and rambunctious fan base, tell me about the craziest show you have ever played.
A lot of them are crazy. One good story that really defines our career is, you know, once I got Jimbo [Wallace] in the band, my bass player who’s probably been with me about 27 years, but once I got him he was real gung-ho about doing gigs; he didn’t ask questions, he didn’t try to micromanage the gigs, he didn’t say, “Well, how much are we getting paid,” or, “Is it worth it,” and blah blah blah. Our first tour of the west coast we got some gigs in Southern California, and we made it over there and there was some guy who was going to get us gigs in Seattle. Well, on our way to California, we found out the guy probably didn’t have any gigs for us, or was still working on the gigs for Seattle. We had time blocked out to drive up there, and long story short, all of those gigs fell through. We went to Seattle anyway. Jimbo was all gung-ho, “Let’s go to Seattle!” Okay, let’s go to Seattle, let’s go anyway. It was a happening scene coming online. We got up there, and we didn’t have any gigs, we were running out of money quick, and some people let us stay on their floor. The really nice people that we were staying with, one of these guy’s apartment, had a couple of Rock N’ Roll connections. He got us added on to a show that we weren’t going to get paid for but at least we got to play. Well, on that show the band quit early and they came to us like, “You guys gotta go on now, come on!” We went on and played like four or five songs, and about the fifth song, Jimbo busted a bass string. He tried to just rip it off with his hand and it just- I didn’t see all this happen- but it just made a giant gash on his hand. I look over there and he’s playing with the three strings he has left and blood is just spurting everywhere. The look on the crowd’s face, they were shocked. The song had this break where we stopped, and I yelled “It’s a psychabilly freakout!” and we started playing the song again. I stopped and looked over at him and he walked right up to the center of the stage and took all the blood from his hand and he made a big cross down his nose and across his eyes with blood. He looked at me and he said, “Go!” I said, “It’s a psychabilly freakout!” and we kept playing and we won the crowd over. The guys from Sub Pop Records were there and we got signed.
I’m sure you never had a problem finding a gig in Seattle after that.
Yeah, we always did well in Seattle. Seattle, they love music there.
One of the things I like most about your music is the consistency; I never have to worry about hearing “The Reverend Horton Heat is currently writing an experimental indie pop record. What’s the most important element to a composition for you when you’re making a new album? Well, my thing is when inspiration hits me, when it’s something that I think is cool, then I’ll put in the grunt work to make that a song. The grunt work is a lot harder than the inspiration, that’s what really separates the kids from the adults in the songwriting world. So many times I can try and plan that we’re going to make an album this way or that way, and it never works out that way. I’m very intuitive, stuff just kind of hits me from out of the heavens, then I run with it. So it’s not a lot of times when I say, “I’m going to do this,” and it’s not really just writing songs, its almost everything in life, “oh, we’re going to do this.” And I think it is good to plan for the future but you also have to be ready because it doesn’t always work out exactly the way you wish it did.
Do you feel pressure to change what you’ve been doing and keep up with the times in any way with the Americana genre growing so fast?Well, no. No, because we’ve outlasted so many scenes, so many scenes have come and gone while we just continue to do what we do. We’re lucky. I was able to find a certain, specific style, a framework that is Reverend Horton Heat. I don’t need to toy with that at all. I just keep to that, and I find fresh stuff within that genre because for me, it’s not really that hard to do. Like any artist, I see what other people are doing and think “that’s pretty cool,” but I don’t go there. A lot of that is driven by jealousy, bands get jealous of other bands because they get big and so they start doing that. I don’t really worry about that too much. When I was really getting into Rockabilly, I moved into this warehouse, art gallery type of place and I lived there and I got exposed to a lot of different types of artists and I noticed that artists, really good ones, I mean these people had degrees and were art teachers and whatever, but they would come up with their own style and you would see the same types of things in all of their artwork, because they were trying to find their own voice, you know? It made me realize like, if you’re a painter, then you do a portrait somewhat like a Rembrandt, and on the next project you do a landscape like a Monet, and the next one is abstract, you have to find your voice. When I started living there I realized, you know what, Rockabilly, that’s my voice. And it wasn’t just Rockabilly, it was the blues too.
What’s ahead for you in 2017?
We’re doing all sorts of crazy stuff. I’m doing a solo tour with Dale Watson, he’s a really great country guy. We did a solo tour together last summer that was really fun and worked out great. I’ve been doing stuff in my little studio with other artists. I’m working on a Lucky Tubb recording right now, he’s on tour with us right now. We got a bunch of festivals coming in this next year, but the recording of a new Reverend Horton Heat album is getting really weird and hard because we’ve been doing a lot of these shows where we have guests come sit in with us and we’re having to learn all these people’s material so whenever we get together to rehearse we’re basically only working on cover songs for people who are coming to sit in with us on different gigs here and there. And that’s fun, like on this particular trip in Macon and Atlanta, we have Unknown Hinson, well he’s been with us the whole trip. Unknown is great and we already know all of his songs, we’re just doing a lot of stuff where we back-up people. Man, I tell you, we’re just spending some much time touring I just don’t know when this next album is going to get the work it needs to get. It’s a lot of work making an album [laughing].