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Laughin’ and Cryin’ with Jim from The Reverend Horton Heat

Intro by HMXHenry: While I was on the road, HMXPope went behind my back and STOLE an interview with The Reverend Horton Heat, one of my favorite bands of all time. The legendary Sub Pop psychobilly trio was playing in Boston at the House of Blues and they had just recently joined the growing ranks of bands introduced to the game via the Rock Band Network. HMXpope chats with Jim, the Rev himself, about rockabilly history, their exposure to music video games, and what it takes to make it 20 years as a hard traveling band. Click on the video to watch HMXPope plunge a dagger into my back and host an amazing interview all at the same time.

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HMXPope: What's up everybody? I'm here with the Reverend Horton Heat, Jim Heath. It's a real honor. He's one of my big heroes in life, so this is super cool for me.

Jim Heath: In life, huh?

HMXP: Yeah, yeah.

JH: Maybe you should set your goals a little higher.

HMXP: Yeah, I have really low standards. Should I call you Jim or The Rev?

JH: Jim is fine.

HMXP: So Jim is here in Boston doing a show and we got to grab ten minutes with him and it's super cool. So he has two tracks, his band Reverend Horton Heat has two tracks in the Rock Band Network - "Indigo Friends" and "Death Metal Guys." Have you been hands-on with that process at all?

JH: You know, I've just kind of been letting 'em do what they wanted to do, and I think the label did as well. We got one of our best producer buddies, Ed Stasium, who produced a lot of The Ramones' great stuff and produced a lot of great albums. He helped them get the tracks that they needed together. And I trust Ed, so I didn't [step in]. I just said, "Ed, do it." I knew he'd do a good job, and he did.

HMXP: Yeah, and the reaction's been pretty good. You've got a good base of fans that have been wanting Reverend Horton Heat tracks in our game.

JH: Well, good.

HMXP: 'Cause - I don't know if you remember - but in Guitar Hero 2 we had "Psychobilly Freakout." And people are nuts about that. And ever since Rock Band came out, [they've] been wanting like, the full-band version. Any chance that might be down the line?

JH: For "Psychobilly Freakout"?

HMXP: Yeah.

JH: Oh, yeah, I mean if they want it, I'll answer my phone. Just phone me up - it's easy. I did like that. It's been a great thing because "Psychobilly Freakout" got into Guitar Hero and for a band like us it was like having a hit song. And what's also been funny too, is now a lot of the older people I know suddenly know who I am because their kids play. You know, "Reverend Horton Heat? Oh yeah, we know him!"

HMXP: [laughs] Actually, it's funny. The way that I discovered you guys...I grew up in really rural Maine. Where shows didn't come to town at all. I never had a chance to see you growing up. There was this computer game called Redneck Rampage. It had two of your songs on it. It was you and Mojo Nixon, and I can't remember who else. It was a great soundtrack for a silly video game. But that's how I found out. You've had music in the Tony Hawk games...

JH: There's a English one called Motor Storm.

HMXP: Yeah. It seems like you've always been really open to different ways of getting your music out there.

JH: Well the thing is, honestly, it's not us. We're lucky that we get to do what we do. You just kinda... stuff falls into your lap and you're grateful that it does. The key to getting into stuff like that for us is just by virtue of the fact that we're a hard-working band. We're out there all the time playing music and doing our thing.

HMXP: Pretty much every year, it seems, you're on your for a good portion of the year, right?

JH: Yeah, we tour about a third of the year.

HMXP: Wow.

JH: Yeah, and that's back down way down from where we used to be. You know, when we were younger - and it's not just that, though - it's because we like to play a lot still. But we were going to these cities so many times a year, it was kind of like we were blowing our wad. It's a little better to only go once a year to the major cities. But there's still plenty of cities to go to.

HMXP: Yeah, man. And you're coming up on twentieth year since your first album, since your first major release came out, right?

JH: Wow.

HMXP: '91?

JH: I think 1990.

HMXP: '90. There you go!

JH: I didn't even think about that.

HMXP: Oh, sorry. [laughs]

JH: Thanks a lot. [laughs]

HMXP: Twenty years, ten albums. That's a lot. That's pretty awesome. You guys have not let up. You've got your side project, too, which is also very cool. How's that going?

JH: Well, I kind of had to stop that. You know, my main baby is Reverend Horton Heat. And so, to have a whole other side thing, it was getting to be a bit much. But I've been talking to Tim, the organist, and we've been talking about firing that thing back up very soon.

HMXP: Very cool.

JH: Which is kind of a matter of me, now, getting with the program and learning the new songs that they wanna do.

HMXP: So that was more of like a jazz trio, almost, right?

JH: Well, we do some jazz. But really, it's based more around rhythym and blues and New Orleans rhythym and blues, but then we do some crazy stuff too. We do a lot of TV and movie show themes. Vintage TV and movie show, or TV show [and] movie themes.

HMXP: Right.

JH: And some Harry Mancini songs and Nelson Riddle arrangements. That's kind of a challenging, fun deal to do an orchestra arrangement with just an organ, a guitar, and drums. But it's fun, you know. And I learn a lot. Tim's a great...he's actually one of my musical mentors, going way back over twenty-five years ago. I've known him for a long time.

HMXP: Very cool.

JH: And it's good to get a perspective from a keyboard player, because I'm not. I'm a guitar player.

HMXP: Right.

JH: It's fun.

HMXP: Very cool. I'd like to talk for a sec about rockabilly. It's such a specific genre, and it speaks to specific types of [people]. Like, it speaks to me. I grew up in the woods where people listen to country music. We had two radio stations - the country station and the oldies station. So when I discovered rockabilly - and I didn't actually discover it as a genre until I got older - it's those things together, obviously with some other stuff in it. What drew you to it?

JH: Well, a lot of it was just the ideal of the '50s and I guess at some point I saw the movie American Graffitti and I thought that was the coolest movie ever.

HMXP: Totally.

JH: And it really got me interested more in the '50s styles. But also my first real heroes in music, when I started learning to play and learning about stuff, were blues guys from the '50s. So a lot of the Chess Records stuff - Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy and Sonny Boy Williamson and Little Walter. That kind of thing and Chuck Berry. And then of course Elvis and Johnny Cash. I kind of grew up with all that stuff there anyway. I just got more and more drawn into it. And then hanging around record collector friends. You know, at one point, though, I do remember I just had the realization that rockabilly, this stuff was the most fun, high-energy, crazy, rocking music...

HMXP: Oh, totally.

JH: And it was a kicking dog of all music, so nobody really cared about it a lot, especially in the late '70s, early '80s. It was the dumbest thing to do in the world.

HMXP: [laughs]

JH: You know, the smart thing was to wear spandex and make your hair this big and be in a really stupid band. So I kind of latched on to the rockabilly thing and it's been a really cool, wonderful thing. I feel kind of in touch with history a little bit.

HMXP: And in your own place, as far as rockabilly or post-'50s rockabilly is, there's The Cramps, there's Stray Cats, and there's you. It's pretty marquee stuff.

JH: There were some others.

HMXP: Oh, I mean the big names.

JH: Right. Honestly, there was The Blasters that got pretty big. Robert Gordon was pretty big. And then there were a few English people that were doing it - Shaking Stevens and bands. Well, there was some other stuff.

HMXP: Definitely.

JH: There were all sorts of bands that were keeping it alive. But quite honestly, it was still, when we first started touring America, rockabilly was like you were from outer space. Nobody knew what it was, even back then. Now it's gaining more [recognition]. At least people know what it's about. One of my favorites is The Palladins, not a lot of people talk about them. And they're just dynamite. They're just awesome.

HMXP: Cool. Check out the Palladins, guys.

JH: The Palladins, The Blasters. But we got to tour with The Cramps. We did a long tour with them. And several shows. And we've done a couple of shows with The Stray Cats and had Brian Setzer come sit in with us. And that's been fun.

HMXP: That's real cool.

JH: Yeah, he's awesome.

HMXP: Cool. And that's another thing - there's this sort of plugged-in community with rockabilly. I've been to a number of cities where I've gone to a rockabilly show and there's a community there that clearly comes out to the shows and it's really neat. I actually caught you a few years ago. You played with the Dropkick Murphys and the Sex Pistols in the same bill. And it was sort of remarkable because there were the rockabilly guys, there were the young punk guys, and the older punk guys, and there was like the Boston Irish Dropkick Murphys fans that wanna knock crap over. It was the coolest group of people all in one place at one time. It was just really neat.

JH: Oh yeah. And part of that, too, is [that] we have a really good manager so he's able to find us unusual stuff to do and does, at the end of the day, work, but be a little odd. A lot of the tours we do aren't with other traditional rockabilly bands, but we do it when we can and when it makes sense to the promoters and all that.

HMXP: Yeah, you toured with Hank the third a couple years ago and I think that was my first exposure to him, too. It's a great way to figure out these other bands that maybe we wouldn't find otherwise.

JH: Well, good.

HMXP: And you're playing with Cracker tonight?

JH: Yeah. And that's a little bit different. But they kind of embrace the country and the roots thing after having a kind of punk-alternative beginning. So they got some great songs and we're really liking having them with us.

HMXP: So whatcha got coming forward? Any more albums you're working on?

JH: Well, no, right now...well, our latest one is called Laughin' and Cryin' with the Reverend Horton Heat. It just came out in September. And so it's gonna be kind of time to start thinking about getting some new songs for the new album together, but right now we're still basically just working that album.

HMXP: Yeah, "Death Metal Guys" is such a great song. [to camera] It's basically, if you haven't played it yet, it's comparing death metal guys to rockabilly guys. And it's just really tongue-in-cheek and funny.

JH: It is kind of a goofy, zany song.

HMXP: Yeah.

JH: But a lot of fun to play. It's got some good guitar licks in there.

HMXP: Yeah, totally.

JH: I worked on getting some good ones on that one. Sometimes I don't. I just play whatever.

HMXP: [laughs]

JH: And then I think I coulda done something better there, maybe. But that's alright. I'm glad they liked that one and used it [for Rock Band Network].

HMXP: Do you have any advice for the kids? A lot of our fans - obviously they're playing video games - but a lot of them have aspirations to become real musicians. How do you get as good as the Reverend Horton Heat?

JH: [laughs] Well, you know, obviously you've gotta practice your instrument and all that. But the bottom line is, no matter how good you get, you're gonna need a good van, and you're gonna need a group of guys that's willing to travel because at the end of the day, music isn't just about sitting around making music in your apartment studio. It's about playing in front of people. And when you get to that point, you're gonna have to go start traveling. If you're, for instance, in the Boston area, you're gonna have to start trying to make a little bit of an inroad up in Portland and then down in Newhaven and what-have-you. And that's kind of what I tell a lot of people. You can make your own career doing this if you're willing to do that. Because so many guys have aspirations and think that, "well, we don't have to go through all this trouble of touring. Let's just get a record deal." And that never works.

HMXP: I guess you just bring the work ethic to it, and it'll all follow.

JH: Yeah, that's right.

HMXP: And you guys have definitely done that. Congratulations on twenty years of great albums, great music.

JH: Well, thank you, man.

HMXP: Honestly, you guys still put on the best show I see every year every time you come around. It's nuts. You standing on Jimbo's bass, it's crazy. Crazy stuff.

JH: Well, good.

HMXP: [to camera] I urge you all, check out these two tracks that are on Rock Band Network. Check Rev when he hits you in your town. Pick up his albums, and have a good day.

JH: Thanks a lot.