Stick with the Funny: The Reverend Horton Heat, August 22 at RIBCO Print
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Thursday, 30 July 2009 09:30

The Reverend Horton Heat. Photo by Drew Reynolds.

As we began a recent phone interview, Jim Heath was filing and dealing with music-publishing paperwork. You can be certain this is nothing that his alter ego, the Reverend Horton Heat, would ever do.

"The reason I joined a band is 'cause I wouldn't have to do this crap," he said. "I end up spending all day filing and talking to accountants."

That's the price of being a successful, long-running purveyor of lighthearted, Texas-scorched rockabilly, nearly impervious to the fickle trends of popular music. Appearing at RIBCO on August 22, the Reverend Horton Heat has a new album - the country-flavored Laughin' & Cryin' with the Reverend Horton Heat - due out September 1, and the band will be celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2010. Heath turned 50 this year, and bassist Jimbo Wallace has been with the group for 20 years.

But Heath would prefer that information not get out. "In the world or rock and roll," he said, "telling people that you've been around a long time isn't necessarily the best thing."

No one would accuse Heath and his band of being geezers, although there's a hint of curmudgeon on the new album's "Ain't No Saguaro in Texas," a didactic song in which Heath tells listeners that the long-armed cactus "only grows in Arizona / And part of northern Mexico, too." And on "Rural Point of View," he faults city dwellers and academics for a lack of empathy: "You don't need a gun if you can just call 9-1-1 / And a cop is at your door in just a few."

Beyond that, Heath certainly doesn't act like a respectable adult, instead singing about heartbreak and hard livin' and gamblin' - all with tongue in cheek, accompanied by blistering guitar leads. And while Heath has written serious songs - "Someone in Heaven," from 2004's Revival, was an earnest and sweet reaction to the death of his mother - he has put that aside.

From the band's outset, he said, "I didn't want Reverend Horton Heat to be a cartoon novelty act. ... I wanted to have some serious music. Some serious lyrics. And some stuff that wasn't a comic-book type thing.

"But then recently I realized the funny stuff really works well. And the serious stuff doesn't always work, even if it's a good song. At least for the time being, I've decided to stick with the funny."

The new record's "Please Don't Take the Baby to the Liquor Store" is loaded with priceless lines, for example: "Don't need tequila candy with the worm inside / It's hard for him to swallow / As well as our pride."

It's not always a joke, though. Heath has used humor to confront the unpleasantness of life. "Where in the World Did You Go With My Toothbrush?" dealt with the collapse of a marriage with a sterling wit: "You didn't even leave the cushions for the sofa / And now that I'm used to the couch, you left the bed."

There's not much profundity in the Reverend Horton Heat's music, but it's undoubtedly a good time, no matter the topic.

And I doubt he wants you to ponder his lyrics. Heath has little affection for recorded music or the recording process. Asked whether he liked the studio, he said, "Not a lot, no."

New albums - which the Reverend cranked out reliably, one every couple years, from 1992 through Revival - are commercials for the band, he said, and a way to introduce new songs. Beyond that, he said, he prefers the transience of live music.

"You don't write a song to just play it one time in the studio one day," he said. And unlike other art forms, music exists only in the moment: "You play your flurry of notes, and they're gone as soon as you're done playing them."

The Reverend Horton Heat will perform at RIBCO (1815 Second Avenue in Rock Island) on Saturday, August 22. Throw Rag and The Afterdarks are also on the bill, and the all-ages outdoor show starts at 8 p.m. For tickets, visit RIBCO.com.

For more information about The Reverend Horton Heat, visit ReverendHortonHeat.com or MySpace.com/reverendhortonheat.