For more than 25 years, the Reverend Horton Heat has been laying down the testimony and preaching the true gospel in all its various prefix-laden forms. But whether adding "psycho-," "punka-" or just plain old "rocka-" to their billy, the good Reverend and his band have done it in a way that's kept the hillbilly cousin of rock 'n' roll up to date — instead of being pickled in a greaser-soaked retro-fantasy world of the 1950s.
"There are some bands that try to be a museum piece," frontman and guitarist Jim "Reverend Horton" Heath says, referring to the often-retro, fashion-obsessed world of neo-rockabilly. "We perhaps came close at the beginning, but we were always trying to turn it into our own thing."
Throughout the '90s and into the new century, the Reverend Horton Heat built a loyal following by updating the sound of rockabilly with elements of country, surf, big-band swing and more in a way that lassoed the attention of indie-rock and punk fans. The trio combined hard touring, frantic stage shows and twisted humor, snatching bits of retro culture that appealed to them and ignoring the kitsch fashion police. For Heath, grabbing hold of the rockabilly beat in the late '80s was an act of pure punk defiance.
"Rockabilly was the kicking dog of music within 10 years after it started," says Heath. "It was kind of a laughable thing, and a lot of it had to do with Beatles haircuts. Because once the British Invasion was happening, people would laugh at the silly greaser guys. In some ways, that's what attracted me to rockabilly. I realized there were a lot of great '50s artists who didn't get the respect they deserved. It was something that a lot of other people weren't into doing, and I loved it."
With the band's latest release, 25 to Life — a combination live album, concert DVD and best-of collection — one might think they are ready to rest on their laurels. But relaxation is the last thing on the band's minds. They recently signed a new contract with punk and hardcore label Victory Records and hit the road for a 57-city circuit they're calling the Stewed, Screwed and Tattooed Tour.
"I don't want to look back," Heath says. "I want to look forward. We're really excited about being on Victory. Our first label was Sub Pop in Seattle, and a lot of people were surprised that they would want a rockabilly/neo-rockabilly band on their label. It ended up working out real well. To me it makes more sense than a lot of people may think."
As for their next album, Heath already has plans for it. "Our last studio album really leaned country," he says. "This time around I really want to focus on getting back to all-out rockin' stuff. But I can sit here and say that's what I'm going to do, but it may not end up that way. You never really know. I'm not looking for any more outcome than having a really good song. I just get in there and jam around on my guitar until I find something cool. It just hits me from outer space."
As for their stop in Music City, Heath is expecting a great show.
"We have a lot of good friends and connections in Nashville," he says. "and something good always happens there."