Reverend Horton Heat's Jim Heath Talks Music and Parenting on the Road

Reverend Horton Heat's Jim Heath Talks Music and Parenting on the RoadEXPAND
Courtesy of Victory Records

You would be hard-pressed to find a traveling musician who plays as many shows and as many towns these days as Jim Heath, of Reverend Horton Heat (RHH). 

In fact, there are not too many saloons, night clubs, festival stages and places that he hasn’t liked, and even fewer he has not played. If there is a town with fans of the man’s unique take on Gretsch guitarladen psychobilly licks, chances are Heath has played on their stages.

Along with his trusty stand-up bass side-kick Jimbo Wallace and time-keeper, double-bass drumming machine Scott Churilla, Reverend Horton Heat has played Arizona more than two dozen times dating back to the early '90s. Across the globe, RHH has shared stages with some great acts at some of the top festivals in the world including: Coachella, Lollapalooza. Reading, Riot Fest Vans Warped, Punk Rock Bowling, Shindig, Bunberry Festival, Arizona Bike Week, Sturgis, and Azkana.

He has recorded 11 albums over the past 27 years, and his last release and first for Victory Records, REV, gave RHH its highest ranked album on the US Top 200 at 111. The band’s catalog has variety from high-energy head-boppin’ songs like “Wiggle Stick” or “Psychobilly Freakout” to the more tongue-in-check numbers like the double-entendre risqué of “Let Me Teach You How to Eat” or ridiculously fun countrified “Please Don’t’ Take the Baby to the Liquor Store.” And as much as RHH has accumulated a fan base that is spread out the world from the U.S. to the Ukraine, it is the serious craftsmanship of ever-evolving passion for perfecting this sound that has allowed him and band to endure.

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New Times caught up with Heath before he comes to The Valley to hit the Phoenix Masonic Temple stage as a part of Viva Phoenix this Saturday with X, former Replacements’ bassist Tommy Stinson’s Bash and Pop. He talked about the long and winding road, playing live with Lemmy, the Cramps’ Poison Ivy, family and Italian cuisine.

New Times: Looking on list of tour stops of where you have played over the 30 years of RHH, you have played in the Phoenix area no fewer than 23 times in the past 20 years. Mesa Amphitheatre back in 1994 all the way up to last year when you guys played the Arizona Bike Week 20th anniversary show near Scottsdale [Westworld]. Does that sound about right?

Jim Heath: We played before then out there I am pretty sure, with Kyle Thomas on drums, he’s the guy that came before Taz (Patrick Bentley). I don’t need a complete list.

How many shows have you done in the 30-plus years of this band or if you have a list?

I wish I could have remembered. Reverend Horton Heat began [playing live gigs] in early 1986, and so 30 years of Reverend Horton Heat we did a lot more than 200 shows a year for a lot of years. So if you average it to be 200 shows per year, and then take away some. So 200 shows that would be 6,000. Now take away a little because we haven’t averaged 200 for a long time. So about 120 [now] about a third of that time which is a really nice sweet spot for me.

So that’s 5,200 shows. And when you are on the road like that you probably turn into Bill Murray in Groundhog’s Day.

Yeah. No, but it’s really still fun, and I really love to do it.

You have apparently been keeping your live shows fresh by adding guest appearance performers, can you tell us more about that?

We’ve been doing a lot of guest spots. Did a lot of shows with Unknown Hinson, El Vez, Deke Dickerson. Lemmy (of Motorhead) was the first guy we tried it on. We did a little tour where he sat in, in the middle of our set. We’d stop and guys would bring in a giant Marshall amplifier, and he played and sang. He did about six songs. It was really cool.

Didn’t you do some recording with Lemmy that are somewhat now infamous basement tapes never circulated?

Yeah, but it never came out, and I don’t know where it is now. Every once in a while I think of that day. Lemmy was a tough guy to hang with.

What tour has been the most memorable in terms of playing with some of the household name bands been?

The one the stands out was the first one we did with The Cramps, opening up for The Cramps. I remember all of those shows. They were so entertaining. Every night Lux (Interior, Eric Purkhiser) did something different. Lux was a competent entertainer; that was a show, it was killer.

What did you think of Poison Ivy as a guitarist?

She’s great. One of the best stylized guitar players of all-time. Well, most guitar players are just doing some style they fit into to – jazz or whatever. And, there are a lot of those people. But for her, she went for a style. Style is so important, at the same time I like musical ability as well.
For me it’s not all just about style, but style is what makes it fun, you know, listenable. She’s a dance party wrapped up in big orange Gretsch.

The rigors of the road and playing 120 to 200 shows a year, are just a part of the life of The Reverend Horton Heat, but how do you keep it fresh for you?

Well, Mark, it’s not hard. I love to play music, and I love to play it more and enjoy it more now than I did when I was younger, really. What I don’t enjoy is the travel. I’ve travelled a crazy, crazy distance. When you think of my life, it’s pretty crazy. The traveling is good; it’s fun to get away.

Being a parent must have its challenges with as many days as you are on the road. How hard or easy is it to jump from Reverend Horton Heat to mild-mannered Mr. Dad?

I miss my kids when I’m gone. They just hurt when I’m gone. That’s the worst thing. They need their dad.

Are they interested in Dad’s hot rod culture and music culture?

They see the hot rod magazines around the house. ... I’m a little more focused on them and where they have to be as kids, which means they have to be good students and they have to get to their lessons on time. We try to do some fun activities. I am a lucky guy. I’ve got a great family. I’ve got a great wife. We’re used to the way my schedule is, but not always thrilled with it.

It’s my art to play music live, you know. So I just them him (Weiss) run with it. I have a say, but we just have our way of doing it. I really would like to record another album but the band has been so busy. We’ll probably try to do a new album this year.

Tell us about your recent instrumentals with Australian rockabilly king Pat Capocci and your alias Reverend Organdrum that sold out?

I’ve done three releases on these little boutique 45s on Fun Guy Records. Now I want to do a fourth on Fun Guy Records, and have Lucky Tubbs be on it. But I keep getting side-tracked, but it’s all good. Reverend Organdrum (Heath Alias) with “Scream and Slide” and the other single is with Pat Capocci with “Capocci’s Crawl” and Side B is “Goose Bumps.” But they were limited pressing, and not really even to be on the Internet.

Also playing at Viva PHX are the legendary LA punk pioneers. X has been incorporating acoustic versions of their catalog. Is that of interest to you or would that be like taking the bone away from the meaty guitar sound of Jim Heath guitar?

I’ve done a lot of gigs solo lately, where it’s just me playing. I’ve done some listeners. It’s really, really different, and I really, really like it., and you know, I don’t take Reverend Horton Heat for granted at all. So Reverend Horton Heat plays, but every once in a while I will do a solo gig. Me and Jimbo did a little thing we called The Jimbos where it’s just me and him and we got a guy who just playing the brushes. People really like the listener shows where every third song I tell a story.


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