Belly Up revs up for weekend of rockabilly
January 4, 2007
Aspen, CO ColoradoASPEN The way Jim Heath, aka the Reverend Horton Heat, tells it, he was working as a loader and sound guy at a bar down in Deep Ellum, Texas. The owner heard him singing and playing after one of the shows and asked Heath to play at a night spot opening across the street. “It was a new place called the Prophet Bar,” Heath said. “He came up, was talking to me, then he kinda said, ‘Your stage name is going to be Reverend Horton Heat.’ I said, ‘No. I’m not going to have a stage name; that’s stupid.'”Little did Heath know, the owner had already advertised the name in the paper and made up fliers, 40 people showed up to see the Reverend Horton Heat playing solo.
“I finished playing, and they came up and said, ‘That was great, Reverend.'” Heath said. “I was so desperate. I was poor, living in a warehouse with rats and roaches running around. To have this thrown in my lap, I was grateful for it. So I’m the Reverend.”Twenty-some years later, the Rev is still touring around the country, playing his unique mix of 50s rockabilly with a punk attitude. The sound has attracted something of a cult following and large crowds at roughly 150 shows a year. The bar owner who named him, however, experienced a change. “He became a born-again Christian,” Heath said. “He would say, ‘Jim, you should really drop this Reverend thing.’ I said, ‘Because of you I’ll be the Reverend for the rest of my life.'” So Reverend Horton Heat is both Heath’s stage name and the name of his three-piece band, which includes Jimbo Wallace on upright bass and Paul Simmons on drums. Wallace and Heath have been playing together for 17 years, but Simmons is a newbie.
“He’s the best drummer we’ve ever had,” Heath said. “It’s working out great. Changing drummers was almost perfectly seamless. He did his homework and learned all the songs. Wasn’t like we even had to rehearse. It was awesome. We rehearsed for four days, then headlined at a festival in front of 10,000 people.”That was back in May, and except for getting stuck on the bus for a few days in Albuquerque, N.M., and nearly missing the New Year’s show in Fort Collins, being on tour has been good. To many, the Reverend is a taste of the ’50s with a modern touch. It’s a time period he says he’s had a fascination with since he learned his first lick and penned his first song.
“What I like and what influences me is midcentury American stuff, music included,” Heath said. “The rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll from the ’50s, blues fom the ’50s, TV and movie themes, about ’49 to ’65, I just really like a lot of stuff from that era.”Heath said the first lick he tried to learn was from Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” though it was only later that he realized the guitar part was Luther Perkins.”Going back a long time ago, before the term ‘rockabilly’ was known by anybody, I started hanging around record collectors and made a focused decision that that would be my style, my platform,” Heath said. “I’ve been into the ’50s for a long time, but a lot of the more obscure stuff. It’s really raw crazy stuff, it had the same type of intenstiy and scare factor that punk rock did.”Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is email@example.com