A&E » Music

Reverend Horton Heat thrashes on

Rockabilly cult king hits Garfinkel’s on Sunday



WHO: Reverend Horton Heat and Nashville Pussy

WHEN: Sunday, Sept. 4, 9 p.m.

WHERE: Garfinkel's


Musicians, man. Look at these Jon Bon Jovis and Steven Tylers as they reach middle age and pick up acoustic guitars and tease out wimpy ballads ours mothers might sing along too. Bah...

Then there's the Reverend Horton Heat. Now well into his 50s and he's still chugging along like a freight train conductor juiced on a quart of whiskey, howling at the night sky. Yeah man. The Rev.

This one time, at a gig, a cowboy sidles up to him. You see, the Rev - a.k.a. Jim Heath - is a rockabilly king and, like any king, can attract wide and varied audience beyond the diehards that make-up a genre or scene. You'll find the greasers mingled with metalheads while hipsters share cigarettes with snarling punk rockers.

Anyway, this cowboy sidles up to the Rev, looks at his electric Gretsch 6120 guitar, and asks, "Do you play an acoustic guitar?"

Heath laughs. "So I said, 'No, I don't play no wussy acoustic guitar.'" He laughs again. It's more of a wheeze, the sound people make after years of hard living.

He goes on, "That completely jammed his frequencies. He didn't know how to quite react to that."

Heath, you could say, is not a fan of slowing down. He's not a fan of going "unplugged" either. It's about rocking until the blood seeps through socks. Until the vocal chords are shredded and useless. Until death sidles up and takes a swipe. It's all or nothing.

"I've been doing this for all my life," he says. "I don't know how to do anything else."

Other than a few brief flirtations with the mainstream, Heath has remained a cult figure for two decades.  He's embraced his status as an underground icon because he says it's allowed him to remain a career musician. He's never sought fame or rock stardom.

"I know some guys, without mentioning any names, who were in some really big bands with really big hit songs and their descriptions of what it was really like when they realized that they would never be that big again, it's heartbreaking. I'll never have to go through that," he says.

No, instead he'll play 140 shows a year and spend the remaining days taking care of his kids, or dealing with the online sales of his albums. The band recently took their whole catalogue online and now he spends more time than he'd like tackling the business end of Reverend Horton Heat.

The Rev bathing in the dull glow of a computer screen, tracking online sales, is a bewildering image for anyone who's seen him tear crowds apart with "Psychobilly Freakout." He's spent the last two decades singing about booze and smokes and bales of cocaine. He's reveled in the great Southern underbelly. Computers hardly seem his style. He has, after all, deliberately avoided modern tastes, fashioning a mid-century-influenced existence defined by greasy hair, rockabilly swagger and 1950s hotrods.

"I was so drawn to what I call mid-century stuff. It's not just the music, it's the cars, the architecture and all that," he says.

The soundtrack to American Graffiti had a major impact on him as a boy. He remembers biking to the music store in the early '70s to buy a Black Sabbath album and leaving instead with a Howlin' Wolf record because the owner was playing it over the stereo.

"To me, that was way scarier than Black Sabbath," he says.

Perhaps. But the scariest thing of all would be the Rev singing Aerosmith's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" all alone, on stage, old, frail and past his prime. Thank the stars that will probably never happen.