REVEREND HORTON HEAT frontman Jim Heath is content with his career.
After 28 years bringing an unabashed celebration of sex, booze and hard living to venues across the US, Heath and his band have cultivated a diverse and loyal fan base.
Heath is feted by peers and loved by fans for his ability to make his guitar cry the blues and wail rock ‘n’ roll with blistering, reckless abandon.
He loves extremes: Sudden drops from loud to soft, or a sweet, sustained guitar riff followed by a jolt of speed.
When he started RHH in the mid-’80s, Heath didn’t want to be pigeon-holed into a specific genre.
Instead, he used rockabilly as a foundation from which to build an original mix of surf guitar, swing, country, jazz, blues and up-tempo rock ‘n’ roll.
Spawned from the Deep Ellum neighborhood of Dallas, Texas, the band would play in the punk-y club one night, and around the corner in a blues bar the next.
Later, RHH opened for Johnny Cash and two weeks later played with Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson.
The band released its two-CD and DVD box set 25 to Life in 2012. It recently announced its signing with Victory Records and plans to release a new album this year.
Heath is flanked by upright bassist Jimbo Wallace and drummer Scott Churilla.
Heath absorbed all kinds of music growing up and was influenced early on by Cash, The Cramps and The Blasters, along with blues artists such as Howlin’ Wolf, Freddie King and Buddy Guy.
“I took a few lessons, but what really worked for me was just listening and trying to copy what I heard,” Heath said. “I dropped the needle about a million times until I could imitate what I heard.”
Another signature move calls for Heath to play lead and rhythm guitar simultaneously—a technique he uses to fill out the trio’s sound and which he’s named the “hurricane”.
“I play a drum note on the low end while I am playing the strings on the top end—the key to that is how I mute the strings.
“One technique I worked on my whole career is mimicking pedal steel and steel guitar licks with my guitar—the way you hold three notes, and then bending one of them will give you a kind of pedal steel guitar swell effect.”
But his skills aren’t confined to the technical realm.
With lyrical prowess Heath writes pun-filled songs such as the fast-tempo “Big Little Baby”, a love song for his tall “girlfriend” whose “heart is as big as her feet are long”.
Whether he’s singing with gentle menace or bending new curves into a blues note, Heath is a master of tension and release. For Heath, performing live is the ultimate expression of his art.
“To me, music is an art form that involves getting up there and playing in front of people.”
Reverend Horton Heat plays at the Rosemount Hotel on Tuesday May 28.
by JO FAULKNER