If you’re looking for a rock ’n’ roll holy man to give your musical life some meaning, why not pick the one whose preaching is via fueled-up rockabilly tunes?
Jim Heath, the slick-haired, suited-up fellow known as Reverend Horton Heat, is the crooning, guitar-slinging supreme being you need.
He and the rest of his namesake band hit the Valley on Thursday, January 16. The crew will be playing a mix of the old and new tunes that have been making audiences dance till they drop since they started back in the mid-’80s.
Stand-up bassist Jimbo Wallace came on board in 1989 and has been plucking, slapping, and climbing all over his instrument since. Drummer Arjuna “RJ” Contreras is the group’s newest addition, playing on their last release, 2018’s Whole New Life.
Heath doesn’t have any intention of slowing down. This tour comes on the heels of a series of Christmas shows, and he’s feeling good about his musical partners in crime.
“I thought RJ was great when I saw him playing with a friend of mine. He’s got a degree in music, and he’s really on point, and he wants to work all the time,” Heath says.
After playing for so many years with Wallace, Heath describes their relationship as brotherly. “We have, of course, had our ups and downs, but compared to what I’ve seen in other bands, it is nothing like that. We are buddies. When we are on tour, it’s him and me hanging out in the morning, having coffee, talking, watching the news.”
Another thing Heath loves about touring is the times they’ve had guests sit in with the band, like Dead Kennedys’ Jello Biafra. The late infamous Motorhead founder, Lemmy Kilmister, was another.
“He was really fun to work with,” Heath says. “We got to know him when we played in Hollywood. When he wasn’t on tour himself, he’d always come and see the band. We did some recordings with him that I don’t know will ever see the light of day.”
The band toured with the Sex Pistols, and Heath says he’d love to play with frontman John Lydon. “It never happened while we were on tour, but it would be great. He’s a pretty funny, crazy guy. He’d gotten turned on to us through a demo tape someone had sent him, which shocked me.”
Heath adds that Lydon wanted a little more than just touring together — he wanted the Rev’s suit. “He’d always tell me, ‘Reverend, you have to give me your suit!’” Heath held onto his clothes.
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Jerry Lee Lewis is at the top of Heath’s wish list. “He’s one of my main musical heroes and a huge influence. His life has been full of wild circumstances, but he, like Little Richard, was one of the true architects of rock ’n’ roll.”
That early rock ’n’ roll sound is where Heath’s heart lies. “I would like to hear more of those roots of rock ’n’ roll — that really old style — in new music,” he says.
To give the music that he loves to the masses, Heath has started a label, Fun Guy Records, and his excitement about it is palpable. Rockabilly performer Jimmy Dale Richardson is one of the artists on his roster, and rock ’n’ roll singer-guitarist McKinley James is another. “I’m going to be working on the label a lot this year,” he says.
Eventually, there will be a new Reverend Horton Heat release, but Heath says that’s never something he likes to plan. “You know, I can sit and think about what I’d like to do for a new album, and it never ends up being that way — it always ends up as something completely different that I didn’t plan at all.”
The Reverend Horton Heat are scheduled to perform at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, January 16, at the Marquee Theatre in Tempe. Tickets are available at Lucky Man.