Saturday, December 30, 2017

Reverend Horton Heat (The Lost Interview)

Years ago I was asked to interview one of the most unique and talented musicians around- The Reverend Horton Heat. Unfortunately the interview got lost in the editorial shuffle and never saw the light of day. Below is that lost interview.

Setting The Record Straight With The Reverend Horton Heat
Interviewed by D.A. Sebasstian
Jim “Reverend Horton Heat “ Heath has been tearin’ it up for over two decades now, with eleven albums, dozens of compilation appearances, songs in major motion pictures and even video games and cartoons! You might expect a man with that kind of success to slow down...just a little. Well sir- not on your life! The latest incarnation of Jim Heath’s band including The Reverend on guitar and vocals, Jimbo Wallace on upright bass and Paul Simmons on drums, is arguably one of the tightest and hardest working bands on the road today. I got the chance to talk with the Reverend by phone while they were in the midst of their 2009 tour...somewhere in the beautiful state of Colorado.

From what I’ve read on the internet you had it pretty rough as a teen growing up hustling the pool halls for cash- 
You read the wrong bio (laughs). Lemme tell you what happened. We had just signed to Sub Pop Records back in the ‘90’s and I get this call waking me up early in the morning. It was some girl from Sub Pop wanting to ask me all these questions. She had this monotone voice with questions like (speaking like a robot )  “Where did you grown up?” “What do you like to do?”  “What cigarettes do you smoke?” etc. So I told her that I was adopted, like to play pool and I smoke Merit Cigarettes. Later on Sub Pop gets this information and turns it into, “Reverend Horton Heat was an orphan who became a pool shark and smokes Lucky Strike Cigarettes.” (laughs). Complete B.S. I have hung out in pool halls, but growing up,I had a wonderful middle class family, a great extended family with cousins, aunts and uncles. You know Sub Pop had a history of that kind of thing. 

Does personal experience fuel your song writing? 
Yeah- personal experience definitely fuels my song writing...but then again sometimes you gotta stretch out beyond personal experience and use your imagination. You know, get a little phantasmagorical. 

Besides Jerry Lee Lewis, who are your biggest musical influences? 
I really love the Sun Records stuff like early Elvis and Carl Perkins. Non-Sun bands like Johnny Burnette and the Rock & Roll Trio, Gene Vincent and the Blue Cats, but ya know man...I really like music from the mid-twentieth century era. I really love Henry Mancini as well as the Blues, a lot of the Chess records stuff like Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters. Its had a big influence on me. Then of course the Country Music of that era was just great too. 

As a band you guys are extremely tight live do you guys rehearse or just set and play out?
The only time we rehearse is during sound check. The way we really keep it going is that we play so much...we play so many gigs. We’ve cut it back from what we used to do- but we’re still one of the hardest working bands out there as far as our  tour schedule. I wish we could rehearse more but our new Drummer Paul lives in Nashville, so to schedule a rehearsal involves airline flights and motel rooms (laughs). It’s kinda crazy now. We got the new songs for the new album and we’re going to be getting together to actually rehearse it in Dallas in March. That’s really the only reason we need to rehearse, if we’re working up some new songs or going to rehash some older ones that fell by the wayside. 

I love your song Galaxie 500. Are you a Ford guy?
Well I like the design of Fords, I mean I think Fords design, you know alot of people get mad at me for this, but a I just think the way their cars look have always had something just a little bit better. I think Chevy came back into the picture with the ‘55 Chevy- and honestly I have a great appreciation for all American cars. A long time ago people were like “Ford Sucks” and “Chevy Sucks” but what's funny now is like- “What abut Toyota?”  “What about Hyundai?” All the sudden all that snobbery between Ford and Chevy people is out the window. It has to be or else we’re all gonna be driving Toyotas. We need to all stick together on this 

You are considered by many to be the King of Psychobilly is that a crown you would wanna wear?
No no man...the Kings of Psychobilly are European bands man. The Meteors, Guana Batz, Demented Are Go, Necromantix...those types of bands  We have a song called Psychobilly Freakout and when it came out alot of writers in the States didn’t really know what rockabilly was all about. So they heard the song title and were all “What is Psychobilly?” So that label got put on me. But in all honesty we do things that “Psychobilly Bands” don’t do. We’ll do a slow country song, we’ll do a slow blues song...ya know? Some of our stuff definitely fits in the Psychobilly mold but alot of it  really doesn’t.

How long have you been playing Gretch and what is your guitar rig live and in the studio?
Well I really haven’t played Gretch my whole career. I had an old Guild back in the mid-80’s with a Bigsby Tremolo that eventually led me to a Gibson  ES-175 with the 1954 P90 pickups. But with all the modern lights, dimmer packs and crazy electrical stuff they put in buildings for these light shows, those P90 pick ups would buzz so loud, almost as loud as the tone coming out of my amplifier. I dealt with it, I made it work, but once when I was on tour the 1/4 inch jake just broke into the guitar and at that time we were really at it- doing 275 shows a year. It was around the same time Gretch started doing their reissues.  I went into a Guitar Center, saw the Gretch and noticed it was about the same thickness as  the Gibson and had the Bigsby Tremolo. To me it had less of the older Gretch “nasal “ sound and more of a  Telecaster vibe. That was something that i really liked and that the Gibson definitely couldn’t get. Gibson's are great for Jazz and some Rockabilly, but they just don’t have that Tele Twang . The Gretch had all that plus the Telecaster  vibe, so I said, “That ‘s cool man.”  Not to mention it was functional (laughs), so I ran with it. Since then I’ve acquired a lot of nice old Gretch guitars, but I don’t take ‘em on the road with me. I do sometimes play  them in the studio along with my old Gibson 175 . Gretch started making the “Reverb Horton Heat”  model so I play that as well. 

What about Amplifiers?
I like the Silver Face Fender Super Reverb, I’ve got several mid seventies Silver Faces, but I have this one in particular that is’s just the perfect amplifier. And so I’ve used that on every album I’ve ever done and in fact I’m gonna use it tonight. I spent more money keeping that amp in good repair...I mean it’s the most expensive amp in the world (laughs). We put one mic on that Silver Face and we’re good to go. It’s kinda funny I’m into my amps almost more than my guitars. 

Your last album was the brilliant Christmas record Three Kings? Why a Christmas album?
Well for one thing our record label wanted it and for the other alot of my heroes did Christmas albums. They all did them. It was almost like part of their contract. Three Kings was a fun project.  What was really interesting is I’ve got alot of record collector friends and as soon s they found out  I was doing a Christmas album they all started mailing me their favorite CDs of the weirdest, craziest, most obscure and obscene  Christmas Songs... like who put the Dick On Snowman. All this nasty, over the top, blue Christmas music. So at that point I was thinking, I am going to do a Christmas album and all the kids in my family...ya know I started thinking Christmas is for kids. Maybe I’ll do a Christmas album like that someday but in the mean time I’m just gonna do a straight up Frosty and Rudolph traditional album. 

I’m a big rivet head so I gotta ask- what was it like working with Al Jourgenson of Ministry on the Liquor in the Front album?
Well..that was a crazy trip into an area  I’d never really gone before. It was scary as hell. I mean I would leave the studio after being in there for eleven hours,  working on one song,  just bleary eyed and tired of working and I’d look over there and Al was about to die, the guy almost killed himself...several times. Not purposefully but  you know what I mean? Al's a trip man...Al's a real trip. I mean Al and I got a little cross ways on that album but he brought a lot of good stuff to the table and alot of interesting ideas. You know that album sold more than any of our other albums so I really can’t knock him too much...but man he’s pretty out there. It’s funny though one thing about him is he knows alot about country music and obscure rockabilly stuff . He’s not just an industrial guy.

How about working with Gibby Haynes of The Butthole Surfers?
Now doin’ the sessions with Gibby, we ate so much Barbecue it was crazy...I mean every night it was BBQ. In fact  we were going to this really famous place called Jim Neely's Interstate Bar-B-Que. We were buying so much every day...they had  this shopping cart that they used when they would cater events and they just let us have the shopping cart full of Barbecue to use. We’d just take it to the studio, lift it out of the back of the van and roll it inside. Everyday we were buying a gallon of Barbecue was crazy! Gibby made his own drinks and was mixing Vodka and BBQ Sauce was really nasty (laughs).

What bands do you like touring with?
Well we like touring with Nashville Pussy they’re alot of fun, then there's the Legendary Sack Shakers and Throw Rag...we’ve done alot of great tours with them. Some of my favorite tours were goin’ out with great guitar players that were so over the top good it’s kinda scary you know.  Like Jr. Brown.  I didn’t get to talk to him much on tour, he keeps to himself,  but man what a great guitar player. I got to see him play every night. Deke Dickerson who's a monster player and Big Sandy and the Flyright Boys were always super inspiring because they are such great players and have such a great style.

Any new albums in the works?
Yeah it’s gonna be with Yep Roc, were gonna try to bang it out here as quickly as possible. Kinda on the cheap. We’re not gonna make too big a deal about it. Probably get Tim Alexander  to help us do a little production and musical arrangement as well as some piano and accordion on a coupla things. The plan is were gonna go in a   really old little studio in Dallas where Willie Nelson recorded “Red Headed Stranger” and “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain.”  I’ll give you a scoop- though I haven’t talked about too much, our new album is gonna be country...
And its not like “Well we’re goin’ country now,” because I actually have a lotta great rockin songs in the works too, but this upcoming album is just leaning heavily on country stuff. A lot of our fans that like us and are not Country fans seem to really enjoy our country type songs. We’re one of the only bands that they listen to that do anything like country music. So the guys who might normally hate country might still might like our country stuff. Many of my country songs and most of this new album have a humorous thing goin’ on with it.  

I’ve always thought of your music reaching across genre borders- I have friends with record collections full of punk or metal or lounge music but they also have some Reverend Horton Heat CD’s in there too.
That was kinda the intention from the very beginning. At the time it was almost like shooting apples in a barrel. Back when we first started  there really we not that many Rockabilly bands in existence. You had the Stray Cats, Rockats and Paladins playin’ upright bass and then The Blasters. Without getting into listing all the bands that were around at the time, it was pretty weird. There just wasn’t that big of a Rockabilly scene. So here we come in, doin’ original music that was Rockabilly, but a little more amped up. It really was like shooting apples in a barrel. People were like- “Whoa this band is really different!”  “We never heard anything like this before!” (laughs) 

Yeah but you have to be good too- I mean you could be different but if your not good your not gonna get the fans. There's a real power with what you guys do.
Well thank you. Anything you do at some point it’s gotta be entertaining 

So you guys are writing the new album on the road?
Yeah I’m writing as I go- yeah I’m gonna go in there and work on a new song today. So we're trying to get songs ready as we play on this tour,  because we aren’t together. You know? When we’re off tour Paul goes back to Nashville. This is our time together so we get to annoy all the opening bands and crew people by turning our sound check into a rehearsal (laughs) 

Do you believe in UFOs?
That's a cool question...and the answer (laughter).  I love to watch the shows about UFOs on TV. Its very entertaining to think about but I don't believe in UFOs. I’m one of these very skeptical persons- so until I see it myself I won’t believe it. I’ve got this thing about  Government- I mean people get all bent out of shape that our Government keeps secrets from us. The simple fact of the matter is that they have too keep secrets from us or we would all die. I don’t think their keeping UFOs a secret.  I think what they keep secret is the military stuff that if it came out that we had it then eventually  our enemies would use it against us. 

 If you could rewrite the soundtrack to any older movie (say pre 1977) what film would it be?
Probably Thunder Road with Robert Mitchim. I’d keep the title song, “Thunder Road,” but that’d be a fun movie to do. When I was a kid, my Dad would take me to the car shows and the drag races and  then he’d set me down and say, “You got to watch this movie Thunder Road.”  After I saw it I was like, “Hey Dad what does that mean- all hopped up?” (laughs).