The Reverend Horton Heat on Lemmy, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins—and Paul Pigat!
The Reverend Horton Heat—aka Jim Heath, the guitarist and frontman for the trio of the same name—last played the Rickshaw Theatre in May 2015. Considering that he’s coming all the way from Texas, an understandable reaction to the announcement that he’s playing there again on Thursday (March 10) might be: Holy fuck, it hasn't even been a year, does this guy spend all his time on the road?
Reached at home in Dallas, Heath slips effortlessly into raconteur mode at the question. “Well, it’s a lot less than we used to. We used to go out and play 250 days, 275 days a year, when we were younger. And then about 15 years ago, the kids started coming”—Heath is a family man—“and it kinda made more sense to back it down. Ever since then, we average about 120 days on the road, sometimes more. That’s still kind of a lot.”
The March show has an impressive lineup, with Texas-based, “Southern-Gothic Psycho-Blues Revival-Punk One-Man-Band” Lincoln Durham doing a set, followed by Kentucky swamp rockers the Legendary Shack Shakers. Most interestingly, North Carolina musician (and Squidbillies voice actor) Unknown Hinson will be taking the stage with Heath’s trio as a backing band. “He isn’t going to do his own set, he’s going to come out in the middle of our set and we back him up.”
This is something Heath has been doing plenty of in the last couple of years. “We get somebody that we know that likes the band that is of some notoriety,” he explains. “We learned Jello Biafra’s songs and did a bunch of shows with him. We did that with Deke Dickerson, and Johnny Reno is a guy locally in Dallas we do it with.”
There's a long list of collaborators in Heath's résumé. He’s currently planning a side project with Dale Watson, “a great singer-songwriter who sings very traditional country”.
Then there’s Robert Gordon, with whom the Reverend can be seen playing on YouTube. Rickshaw proprietor Mo Tarmohamed was keen to hear more about that. “Man, he really laid the groundwork for all this neo-rockabilly music,” Heath says admiringly. “He’s one of the greatest singers of our genre, ever, so it was pretty cool. I hope to work with him again.”
Another collaborator Heath is happy to talk about is departed rock hero Lemmy Kilmister. The Reverend Horton Heat did a full-on tour with Motörhead a few years ago (including a Vancouver Vogue date, alongside Nashville Pussy). Heath’s band also served as Lemmy’s backing band for a short tour, and recorded with him, though that remains unreleased.
The story of how trying to keep up with Lemmy’s drinking put Heath in the hospital is immortalized in the documentary Lemmy. (“He had a strong constitution, that guy,” Heath quips.) The Reverend also clearly admires Lemmy’s passion for history, remembering in particular that “he loved the history, and hated it too, of World War I. He explained to me what the battles were like, with the nerve gas and what it was like to be in the trenches. He was a really well-read guy, a really smart guy.”
What really brought Heath and Kilmister together, however, was an esteem for rock ‘n’ roll’s past. “His real heart was in Chuck Berry and Little Richard and Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps and Elvis,” he says. “And then also he loved the Beatles and the Stones. But he was around when the Beatles and the Stones were young, and all those guys listened to Carl Perkins and Willie Dixon. He had a very deep love of that stuff.”
Heath and Lemmy got to meet one of Lemmy’s heroes when Motörhead rockabilly side-project the Head Cat played Jerry Lee Lewis’s 75th birthday party. “They were waiting in line to get to meet Jerry Lee, and I thought, ‘Oh man, he’s into this.’ He got to hang out with Jerry Lee, I didn’t.”
The Killer aside, Heath has had the fortune to spend quality time with a few of his heroes over the years.
“The coolest thing ever was Carl Perkins,” he remembers. “We opened up for him. And they didn’t have a green room, necessarily, at the Hard Rock Café in Dallas, but they had this VIP section, where it was all the beautiful people, the rich people of Dallas. That was our dressing room, and I went in there, and it was all these rich people mingling at the bar, and I look over to my right, and there’s Carl Perkins sitting all by himself. I went down and said, 'Mr. Perkins…' and he talked to me for an hour and a half. It was great, he told me the funniest stories. I cherished it, it was really awesome.”
Vancouver, which Heath has repeatedly said is “one of the best cities we do”, has also caught Heath’s attention as a music fan. “You’ve got one of the hottest rockabilly guys ever up there, named Paul Pigat. He’s cool, he’s really good.”
Heath also counts himself a fan of departed local great Ray Condo. “One of the best hillbilly-rockabilly-swing things ever, I love him.” But he didn’t know, when I asked, that many of Condo’s sidemen, including guitarists Jimmy Roy and Stephen Nikleva, now regularly gig with a “guy named Petunia”.
“A guy named Petunia?” Heath asks (the recorder almost picks up the sound of his eyebrows raising). “That sounds pretty funny!”
We’re going to have to hook him up.
The Reverend Horton Heat plays at the Rickshaw Theatre on Thursday (March 10).