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Of the Reverend Horton Heat’s early years, Jim Heath says, “We were totally unpredictable. Who knew what we would do?” Courtesy photo
Arts News

‘Music is more than enough’: The Reverend Horton Heat not so crazy after all these years

As Jim Heath and Jimbo Wallace, the longtime core of psychobilly act the Reverend Horton Heat, approach the 30-year mark as bandmates, they can’t help but look back.

“Much has changed with us and much has stayed the same,” Heath says while calling from Petaluma. “I look back and kind of laugh at what we were when we were starting out.”

Anything could happen when the Reverend Horton Heat played during the psychobilly band’s salad days.

“We were totally unpredictable,” Heath says. “Who knew what we would do?

The incendiary Cramps had quite an impact on the Reverend Horton Heat. “That band was out of control and they were such an influence,” Heath says. “I remember when we toured with the Cramps during the early ‘90s and (Cramps vocalist) Lux (Interior) banged a hole through the stage and during a guitar solo ran backstage, said hello to us, popped under the stage and placed his hand and through the hole and then started singing. We did similar sort of things.”

During shows in Austin, vocalist-guitarist Heath and bassist Wallace ran out into the street and played on their backs in the middle of an intersection. “I ruined a lot of shirts when we played that club, the Hole in the Wall, in Austin.”

The out-of-control shows are over for the middle-aged members of the band. “We can’t do that stuff anymore,” Heath says. “It’s alright since we realized that we’re musicians, not a circus act. When we did crazy stuff Jimbo and I would get injured. I think the music is more than enough for people who want to come out and see us.”

The Reverend Horton Heat have plenty to draw from since the act has recorded 10 albums, primarily comprised of visceral, edgy rockabilly, with elements of country, punk, surf and swing.

The band’s potent guitar attack stood out at Coachella in 2016. There were acts like the uncompromising Reverend Horton Heat and AC/DC and then there was DJ culture at the Indio festival.

“My wife and I wandered into an EDM (electronic dance music) tent and it was like a totalitarian state,” Heath recalls. “You had a big crowd and a stage with one guy, who was like Adolf Hitler up there. It’s certainly different than what we do. We’re about music. That’s what we deliver. Sure, we do some shtick when we get up there but we don’t jump on the bar anymore. We stick to the music.”

There is more coming from the Reverend Horton Heat, which will perform Sunday at The Observatory North Park. The band, which also includes drummer RJ Contreras, plans to complete its upcoming album by the end of February but don’t expect the trio to preview any material.

“Too many people put stuff up on YouTube,” Heath says. “I want to be able to debut the new songs on our own. You’ll hear the new material soon enough. We’ll play the familiar when we come back to San Diego. We’re always up for playing there. We’ve had so many memorable shows there.”

The concert that is stuck in Heath’s memory bank is a date at the Casbah in 1990. “I’ll never forget playing the original Casbah (2812 Kettner Boulevard) back not long after we got started,” Heath says. “What got me about the place is that when we first started playing there the gig was so packed that the only way we could get our gear onstage was to pass it from our van to the crowd, which passed it all over their heads so it could get up onstage. I remember how the original Casbah was an unconventional venue (it was an Irish pub). But I remember so well passing the gear onstage and playing in front of this packed, enthusiastic crowd. We played so hard then but we still play hard now. The only difference is that we’re not going to risk breaking our neck onstage. We’re just going to play the songs as hard as we possibly can.”

Heath will be joined during the encore by Big Sandy, who is one of the support acts. “We’ve been mixing it up with whomever is on the bill for about a decade,” Heath says. “It’s fun playing with someone outside of our band every night. I think it started for us when we were on the road with Motorhead and Lemmy (Kilmister) joined us. We’ve had Jello Biafra and Deke Dickerson come up and play with us. It’s always been unreal fun.  But this time out we have Big Sandy, who I believe is the best rockabilly singer on the planet. Who knows what we’ll do? That’s part of the fun and maybe our best connection to what we used to do back in the day.”

The Reverend Horton Heat appears Sunday at the Observatory North Park, 2891 University Avenue, San Diego. The Voodoo Glow Skulls and Big Sandy will open. Tickets are $5. Show time is 8 p.m.

For more information, call (619) 239-8836 or visit