By day, Jim Heath is a mild-mannered musical historian well-versed in the birthing days of rock and roll. But when the sun goes down, he straps on his signature Gretsch 6120, steps up to the mike and is transformed into REVEREND HORTON HEAT, a hellfire-spewing, rock and roll dare-demon. Jim’s tome is iconic: From recording with Lemmy Kilmister, being revered by country music legends like Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, touring with Soundgarden, ZZ Top, The Cramps, Social Distortion, White Zombie and the Sex Pistols, to providing touring opps to upstarts Kyuss, Hank III, Marilyn Manson and countless others across decades on the road. “This tour started around 1986,” Heath chuckles dryly. REVEREND HORTON HEAT still performs nearly 200 shows annually, including their trademark Horton’s Hayride Festival in Southern California, which has expanded to an end-of-the-year jamboree under the name Horton’s Holiday Hayride. The band has also wowed sold-out crowds with their multi-city residencies across America, including performances at Coachella, Reading, Austin City Limits, Riot Fest. The Texas troubadours also took a unique approach to the term ‘Special Guests’ on recent tours. Recalling the time the band opened for Jerry Lee Lewis, Heath had a vision, “The idea of playing in Jerry’s backing band would have been pretty neat. So every once in a while we’ll have a load of fun putting that aspect in our live set. In the middle of our set, we’ll have a special guest come on stage for a mini-set where REVEREND HORTON HEAT is the backing band. The first time we did it was with Lemmy Kilmister. We stopped our set midway, the road crew dragged a Marshall amp on stage, wiped the Rickenbacker clean and out came Lem. He was adamant on playing deep cuts, but I fought tooth and nail with him to do ‘Ace Of Spades.’ I told him, ‘Lemmy, we must do this song, we have to give the people want they want.’ He took a drag of his smoke, looked me square in the eye, and said ‘Never give them what they want, give them what they need!’” With over 1 million albums sold and nearly 35 years in the game, Heath and company have been delivering blood-pressure inducing scriptures to millions of fans worldwide. Call it rock and roll, psychobilly or what have you, REVEREND HORTON HEAT is often considered an early architect of the latter genre (at least on this side of the Atlantic) and occupies a peculiar place in American musical terrain.
I had the privilege of talking with Jim ahead of the August 15th show at the High Noon Saloon in Madison. We get into the scene we should be seen at in Madison, the new comers in the band as well as the making of the groups latest record, “Whole New Life”, on Victory Records. It is a thrill to hear Jim talk about how the album got off the ground…..finally and how the making of the music for him never really changes, it’s what he does. Jim speaks on how fear motivates him. It was so cool to hear him talk about the vision for the sound of this release, and how he believes they are working every day and night to keep the rock and roll many of us knew once, moving forward with a strong pulse. I truly feel that the music Jim has made all these years is instrumental in many of the careers of the new kids on the rock and roll block, an they might not even know it yet.