Jim Heath doesn't worry that his style of music will go out of style.
"It's like a '55 Chevy," says Heath. "Rock 'n' roll, rockabilly, is sort of forever young."
Heath is the leader and namesake of the group The Reverend Horton Heat — a trio that takes its cue from the great rockabilly and pioneering rock 'n' roll acts from the 1950s and marries them with the wildness of classic punk. Inspired by acts, including The Blasters and The Cramps, Heath started The Reverend Horton Heat in the mid-1980s and signed with punk label Subpop.
The group's original bio created by the label has been a source of confusion ever since.
"They had kind of a funny idea about publicity," says Heath in a call from Framington, Mass., where he is enjoying a day off on the current tour. "When they started they were kind of a young punk label and had some pretty young punk ideas about marketing."
Heath says a person with the label did an interview with him asking things like "What's your favorite food?" and "What do you like to do other than music?" and "Do you smoke cigarettes?" Heath did smoke and he liked to play pool and somewhere during the interview he said he was adopted.
"When it came out they said I was an orphan who spent his formative years of my life hustling pool, drinking Jack Daniel's and smoking Lucky Strikes! Next thing I know, people want to play me at pool with me and talk about their childhoods in the orphanage. And there was all this about being in and out of the penitentiary ..."
In actuality, Heath grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas, and had a fairly normal childhood. The Reverend Horton Heat began with a different bassist and drummer, but bassist Jimbo Wallace has been a constant since 1989 and drummer Scott Churilla has been with the group for many years.
There was definitely a time when the band's lifestyle mirrored the wildness of its music. Heath says that's no longer the case.
"I try to get a lot of rest and keep partying to a minimum," says Heath. "It's been a really long time ago when me and Jimbo had a little conference together and said, 'We're here to play music and we're here to play music for everybody.' ... I really started liking the road better then, too. Working the road is my favorite. I have to get a lot of sleep when I'm out here. I don't do too much else, but play the gig and sleep."
When the group began it was proffering rockabilly in the age of grunge, but the act seemed to fit everywhere, well almost everywhere. Early on, there were a few rough nights.
One night at a club in Wichita, Kan., the room was empty except for the bartender and two somewhat overweight ladies who heckled the group after each song.
When the duo shouted "Play something we all know," Heath made up a song called "Something We All Know," much to the women's disliking.
"When we were done the real mean one came up to the stage and talked to Jimbo. She said, 'We like you and we like you (pointing the drummer), but we don't like HIM!'"
That wasn't the norm, though.
"One week in there we did a huge gig in front of, like, 32,000 people with Soundgarden, Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails," says Heath. "Marilyn Manson opened for us. Then 10 days later, we opened for Johnny Cash at the Fillmore."
That aspect of the act has never changed. In the last month, the group opened for both X and the Misfits.
"They were two totally different crowds. Reverend Horton Heat is a pretty adaptable beast."
While the band hasn't had actual hits, the group gained some young fans for performing the theme to the cartoon show "Johnny Bravo" in the late 1990s and acts' songs have shown up in several commercials, TV shows and videogames.
"We were on 'Guitar Hero II,'" says Heath. "For a band like us, that was like having a hit song. Suddenly we had gamer-type people coming to see us play. Then also in neighborhoods where I live with middle aged parent type people they'll go, 'Hey, you're on a game my kid plays all the time!'"
He says the band relies on young people constantly discovering the act as something "new to them" and that sustains them. There's no talk of retiring any time soon.
"I'm on the Willie Nelson retirement plan. I hope I never stop."
The Reverend Horton Heat
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 19
Where: The Square Room, 4 Market Square
Tickets: $18, advance, $20 at the door, available at www.thesquareroom.com
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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