Reverend Horton Heat

By Dominick A. Miserandino,
No, he's not a religious spiritual leader but one of the best selling blues/rock-a-billy bands touring the country. His cds have been at the top of the college charts continually and his concerts almost always sell out.

DM) Where did you come up with the name Reverend?

RH) I lived in a warehouse when I was really poor. I was renting out my P.A. to bands, and this warehouse was like an art gallery theater kind of thing. My nickname was Horton and my last name is Heath. Anyway, this guy who owned the place had nicknames for everybody. He opened up a new bar and told me that he wanted me to play. So I showed up at the gig and I set up all of my amps, and he came up to me and said, "Hey, your stage name is going to be Reverend Horton Heat." And I went, OK, that's kinda goofy. But he had already made up flyers and everything.

DM) So he just made up a name for you?

RH) Yeah, I had no idea. But I was so poor and desperate at the time that he could have said my name was Dogs____ and who knows what I'd be today. And then he came back to me some time later, after he'd became a born again Christian and said, "Jim, you really should drop this whole Reverend thing."

DM) That's pretty funny. I was reading some articles about you online and found a few letters by people who didn't seem to realize that you're a Reverend.

RH) Oh yeah, well having our web site, we get frequent e-mails from people who are shocked to learn that it's not a Christian web site, and then they see tattoo art with naked girls. They send us a few nasty e-mails but we don't get that too much.

DM) What's your first memory of getting involved in music?

RH) I was really about fourteen years old and I started practicing my guitar and got in trouble. I just started getting away from my friends by playing guitar. Well, I was asked to play in a band, but as time progressed, this little high school band was playing dances and making really good money. I was walking around with a couple of hundred bucks in my pocket, and that was great for some guy in high school. When I was in high school, I was in some band making really good money, and I was thinking, "Hey, this is great, it can only get better from here!" But I learned that if you want to start an all-original band and tour America, you basically have to go play for free for a couple of years. But it was interesting, and I was really into blues a lot. I first learned fingerpicking blues, and then I got into being the fingerpicking country kid. Overall, I was more of a rock and roll kid, and the first band I was ever in was a '50's band. That was probably the first time I really got into it. I started playing Chuck Berry and Bill Haley and the Comets. And it was years after that that I started hanging out with the record collector guys who turned me on to the underbelly of rock-a-billy. There are so many hundreds of recordings, and a lot of it is so rock and roll and great. By hanging around record collectors, I started getting into the stuff that wasn't so often played on the radio. This was around the same time that the punk rock thing was going on.

DM) Blues has a lot of different directions, from fingerpicking to rock-a-billy. In your own words, how would you describe your music? Not how your fans or the reporters would describe it, but how you would describe it.

RH) I think it's rock-a-billy on steroids.... (pauses) and beer. But we do all sorts of crazy stuff. We'll be going along on a song that's more of a hard rock or punk thing, and then we'll go into a rock thing like Merle Travis. The boring answer is usually to say we're a rock-a-billy band that plays some punk type stuff.

DM) But "rock-a-billy on steroids" sounds like a much more interesting way of putting it.

RH) Because we definitely get some punk rock and heavy metal in the set, and there's also jazz going on, and definitely a lot of swing, rock-a-billy, and country... and the blues thing, but not a lot. Our songs are more up-tempo and have a groove too 'em. I like a lot of fast music.

DM) Before you mention your fans a little bit, in doing my research I found that you have an almost cultish following.

RH) Oh yeah, we have a great fan base. Most of them have a great sense of humor; they are all sorts of different types of people. We have a good core following, and that's been a real blessing for us. It translates into my business problem, which really isn't a problem. We sell so many more concert tickets commensurate to our CD sales.

DM) What do you mean?

RH) Well, we can go and play the sell-out places that bands that have sold millions of CDs can't play anymore. A lot of the bands that we're competing with on the live level have sold many more CDs than we have.

DM) Then why haven't your CD sales caught up with your live performance levels?

RH) Well, I think a lot of it is because we have an odd kind of thing that doesn't really fit into the regular radio format. Frankly, we're down and out because our label isn't really promoting the radio play. One thing about that is that you can always do that. The current album might still have some legs with the radio. It's funny, because you have these little tricks. Just about every album we've done has made it to number one on the college radio charts. It's just one of those little things that everybody in the music industry knows, "College radio air play does not mean anything to commercial air play people." They don't look at it, they don't care.

DM) So I guess if you're so heavy in the college market, your music must be flying around on Napster.

RH) I don't know about that. I'm sure we're on Napster, but I've never been on Napster so I don't know.

DM) Would you do anything differently to improve your commercial success, or would you even want to?

RH) No, not really. Well, that's a good question, though. Like I've said, it's a business problem. It's not really a problem; all of my problems are really blessings, so no, everything's great. We have a chance to go and make a living, so it's all cool. And it is cool having that cult thing-- that is worth more than two million CDs sold right there. This is all stuff my manager says to me. I don't read Billboard or the trade magazines.

DM) Is your career where you'd want it to be?

RH) Yeah, there are some twists and turns that have happened to us, and we've done things that probably would have been better if we would have gone with another label instead of this label, but all in all, I think we did things right. I love to play music. I wanted to tour and play music for a living, and I now have a life in which that's all working out for me.


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