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The Reverend Horton Heat trio consists of James Heath, known as the Reverend, vocals; Jimbo, bassist; Scott Churilla, known as Taz, drums. Addresses: Record company--Interscope Records, 10900 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 1230, Los Angeles, CA 90024, (310) 208-6547.
The trio Reverend Horton Heat mixes a brand of maniacal, Texas- based rockabilly--or "psychobilly" and "trashbilly"--with edgy, high-octane punk and old-fashioned Jerry Lee Lewis-style rock 'n' roll to create a uniquely potent style of wild, Texas punk-metal- rockabilly fusion. James Heath, known as The Reverend Horton Heat, plays with bassist Jimbo and drummer Scott Churilla, known as Taz; the purposely demented threesome began as a rockabilly band and then, after evolving into a punkbilly band, would present a show of mock religious preaching, complete with tongue-in-cheek warnings of hellfire-and-brimstone and a clearly inebriated "preacher" in the form of Heath. Although The Reverend Horton Heat has dropped the religious humor from their live shows and lyrics, they retained the original name of their band.
The Reverend Horton Heat appeals most widely to the independent record crowd, offering songs that entail precision-like guitar work and enthusiastically crazed drumming. Tony Ferguson, an Interscope A & R man, brought the Reverend Horton Heat to the label because he felt psychobilly/punkbilly bands have the potential for a broad appeal in the current market. He told Billboard's Chris Morris, "I think people are getting a little fed up with the dark grunge metal stuff, and it's a pleasant thing to hear these cross-musical ideas with a rockabilly base."
Heath was raised in Corpus Christi, TX, and picked up his first guitar at the age of 6. He spent his adolescent years in various Texas juvenile correctional facilities after having committed a string of petty crimes. He told RIP magazine's Steffan Chirazi, "I started hangin' out with the kids who smoked cigarettes at the bowling alley, playing foosball, tryin' to get older kids to buy us bottles of booze, hangin' at the local record store." Heath became a noted pool hustler, a talent he has retained throughout the decades. One of Heath's formative experiences was listening to Johnny Cash's "Folsum Prison Blues" with his cousin, a former point-man for the Marines in the Vietnam War. He told Chirazi, "That song was the coolest song I ever heard in my life, so I had to learn to play like it. "
Heath formed his first band, Chantilly Lace, in junior high school and played standards from the 1950s. Heath loved the music of Jerry Lee Lewis in particular. He told Chirazi, "I always lived fast music ... I always have liked the 'edge' performers, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry...I love a lotta Buddy Holly's music but some of it's too sweet and cutsie, and once you start getting cutsie you start to lose me."
In 1987 Heath formed a band with old friend Taz and newer friend Jimbo; they released Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em on the Sub-Pop label that year, followed by The Full-Custom Gospel Sounds ofReverend Horton Heat, which was produced by Gibby Haynes of the Butthole Surfers. Between album releases, the trio tours seemingly without a break, usually playing more than 200 live shows a year. Liquor in the Front, released in 1994, was the band's first album as part of a joint agreement between Sub Pop and Interscope Records; it was produced by Ministry's Al Jourgensen in a style consistent with Heath's band: fast, loud, and raucous. Heath was introduced to Jourgensen by Haynes, and knew a working partnership was born when Jourgensen got down on his knees and licked the band's shoes after a performance in Chicago. It's Martini Time was released in 1996.
Heath used to feign "preaching" on stage, which was in keeping with the band's name, but he grew tired of it after deciding that the band was considerably more than a novelty act. Due to his moniker, friends often ask him to officiate at weddings and he turns their requests down without a second thought. The band started out in 1987 as a rockabilly band playing mostly originals and made a conscious effort to create a "harder and faster" sound. Heath told Guitar Player's Chris Gill, "We're not really looking for that big break that's going to vault us into rock stardom ...We just want to make sure that things get a little better, one step at a time."
Liquor in the Front differed from the bands earlier material in that it reveals the Latin-music influence of Heath's youth in Texas. While growing up in Corpus Christi, Heath played in bands with Mexican-Americans and was influenced by Tex-Mex music, authentic Mexican music, and Chicano music. The album is about "good ole times" and sex, liquor, cars, love, and brawls. Songs range from surf to country, from the pointedly humorous to gentle ballads to deep-country inspired songs and twangy covers. The band's drunken rendition of "The Entertainer" includes belches as memorable sound effects.
Heath told Gill, "My latest guy to rip off is Carlos Santana. I love the way he plays guitar. That's what it's all about, man." The band experimented with a more psychedelic sound, coupled with a faster beat than was found on previous albums. Their music is upright bass music, with many of the songs relying on the rhythmic aspect. Heath told Gill, "Taz is really good at double kick. It doesn't fit with most rockabilly bands, but he plays it so good that it's got to be heard."
It's Martini Time featured breezy jazz tunes, howling guitar psychobilly songs, rollicking dance tunes, and country swing lilts. The band's fourth album was produced by Thom Panunzio instead of Jourgensen; Panunzio worked with U2, John Lennon, and Rocket From The Crypt. It's Martini Time differs from the band's previous albums by being calmer and infused with more humor, and the album utilizes horns, piano, accordion steel guitar and sound loops for the first time.
The band writes partially about their true experiences and wants listeners to appreciate the straightforward lyrics. Heath told Gill, "It doesn't matter what kind of guitar you play. It's how you play it ... it's what comes out of your heart." The band has opened for a remarkable variety of artists:Smashing Pumpkins, White Zombie, Willie Nelson, Toadies, Butthole Surfers, and Nine Inch Nails.
The Reverend Horton Heat earned more money when touring around town on the blues circuit because of the vastly lower overhead, but they found the blues audiences to be too polite and restrained; they took a cut in pay to tour punk clubs across the country, savoring the beer-sloshing, mosh-pit diving enthusiasm of rock fans. Heath enthused to Dama Darzin of Cash Box, "We're really lucky. We've managed to drive ourselves through the cracks."
by B. Kim Taylor
Reverend Horton Heat's Career
Band formed in 1987. They released Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em on Sub-Pop in 1987 and The Full-Custom Gospel Sounds of Reverend Horton Heat in 1993, produced by Gibby Haynes of the Butthole Surfers. Liquor in the Front, released in 1994, was their first joint Sub Pop/Interscope album, produced by Ministry's Al Jourgensen. It's Martini Time, released in 1996, was produced by Thom Panunzio, who worked with U2, John Lennon, and Rocket From The Crypt.
- Selective Works
- Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em, Sub Pop, 1987.
- The Full-Custom Gospel Sounds of Reverend Horton Heat, Sub Pop, 1993.
- Liquor in the Front, Sub Pop/Interscope, 1994.
- It's Martini Time, Sub Pop/Interscope, 1996.
- Cash Box, July 13, 1996.
- Entertainment Weekly, July 29, 1994.
- Guitar Player, July 1994; September 1996.
- RIP, September, 1996.
- Rolling Stone, October 6, 1994; June 13, 1996.
- Los Angeles Times, September 11, 1996.
- Tribe (New Orleans), June/July 1996.
- Vanity Fair, August 1993.
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