It’s a good feeling when you can make the Reverend Horton Heat –aka Jim Heath—laugh so hard he nearly drops his phone. I tell the Reverend (not an official title, in case you were wondering) the first song I played for my daughter after she was born was his decidedly irreverent, entendre-laced party anthem “Let Me Teach You How to Eat.” It’s safe to say he never imagined his rockabilly stylings would ever be used to encourage breastfeeding. But when you’ve been one of America’s greatest ambassadors for good time, down-n-dirty, rough-n-tumble rock ‘n’ roll for more than 30 years, your music will take on a life of its own.
Known for his riotous sense of humor and rowdy performances, The Reverend Horton Heat will be steaming up the Civic Music Hall on Sunday, August 12. We caught up with the rock apostle to ponder if he’s a “psychobilly” artist like it says on Wikipedia, his position on the immortal battle of The Stones vs. The Beatles, and – the burning question on every rockabilly fan’s mind – what kind of hair grooming does the man prefer?
First, let’s settle a debate: You’re often labeled as a psychobilly artist, but do you know who coined the term “psychobilly?” Was it you? The Cramps? Link Wray?
Well, I know it’s mentioned somewhere in a Johnny Cash song, but I don’t think he coined it. (Psychobilly) started out as more of a European thing from the late ‘70s. The Meteors were the first psychobilly band I knew of. I don’t think it was The Cramps. I might be wrong. I’m not really psychobilly, I’m a rockabilly guy. I took rockabilly and decided to make those songs a little more aggressive and turned up, and in the process, we did a song called “Psychobilly Freak Out.” But I’m grateful we fit into the (psychobilly) scene. Reverend Horton Heat has always done a lot of things that psychobilly bands don’t do. We can be country, we can be jazzy and bluesy, and then we have some romantic songs as well.
You have your own line of Gretsch guitars. Why is the Gretsch the preferred axe for rockabilly music? You use one, Brian Setzer uses one, Chris Isaak …
Well, part of it is the style and just how good it looks. But a lot of our heroes played Gretsch. Eddie Cochran for one. One of the best Gretsch players ever for rockabilly was a guy named Cliff Gallup, who played with Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps. Chet Atkins, Duane Eddy; they had that Gretsch thing going, too. (The Gretsch) was a little different from everyone playing Fenders and Gibsons.
Are you a Beatles man or a Stones man?
Oh, that’s a hard one. I think it’s a tie but I’m going to the Stones because all their songs can be performed live. The Beatles got to a point where a lot of their songs were impossible to pull off live without having a whole lot more people on the stage. The Stones stayed more true to bluesy rock and roll than the Beatles. But I love The Beatles. Love ‘em.
In your live set, do you do a lot of cover songs?
Not really. We’re doing (Motorhead’s) “Ace of Spades,” (Elvis Presley’s) “Viva Las Vegas.” Since Wayne Hancock is joining us on the new tour, we’re gonna have to cut out a lot of songs because we’re doing at least 5 new songs from the (upcoming) album. Our new record should be out in mid-October. It’s called “Whole New Life.”
What’s your favorite Johnny Cash song?
Oh, that’s gotta be “Big River.”
Why has rockabilly culture and music endured as long as it has?
I think because the music is high energy. It’s dangerous at times, but it’s also very positive and fun. It’s Americana and a real melting pot of blues and country. I think it speaks to a lot of people. I think rockabilly should be considered a national treasure like jazz and blues. I think in the future it’s going to be a lot more respected. It’s rock and roll but it’s got a zaniness about it. And at the same time, it takes some serious musicianship to play. You have to be a really serious musician to play rockabilly.
I’ve always wanted to know—what’s your favorite brand of hair pomade?
Vitalis. It works great for me. You use what works.
The Reverend Horton Heat performs on Sunday, August 12 at Civic Music Hall (135 S. Byrne Road, Toledo). 7 p.m. $18, $50 (general admission 4-pack). TicketFly.com.