Telling Jim Heath he can’t tour is like telling a kid that Christmas is canceled.
But Heath, founder and leader of psychobilly-rockabilly-surf trio The Reverend Horton Heat, had to store the tour bus in the garage due to the spread of COVID-19 and the shutdown of live music.
But Heath has been around the music biz since the mid-’80s, and like a cat, he always lands on his feet — on stages all over the world.
The Rev has been on one of the most notorious neverending tour odysseys in the past three decades. Only The Ramones’ 2,263 shows total may eclipse Heath’s nearly 2,000 estimated tour stops — 34 in Arizona alone since 1993. (His next local show is tomorrow night, Sunday, November 28, at The Rhythm Room.)
“We had all of our gigs canceled right around March of 2020,” Heath recalls while getting ready for a show in Tampa, Florida. “But then, after a couple of months people started wanting us to play. We lost all of our gigs in April and May, but then in June stated playing gigs again. A lot of outdoor gigs, and I did a lot of solo gigs ’cause it was okay to have one guy on stage instead of a whole bunch of people standing right next each other.
Heath, a healthy 62, is a successful modern-day rockabilly legend. The Rev has cranked out 12 studio albums over his 26 years.
The band’s insanely catchy, double-entendre-laden rock songs and Heath’s well-hewned, raspy, menacing, tenor vocal delivery is unmistakable on a wide variety of Heat standards like: “Wiggle Stick,” “The Devil’s Chasin’ Me,” the Ameripolitan satire-laced cuts like “Liquor Beer and Wine,” and “Let Me Teach You How to Eat” (used in a Subway commercial).
In the 21st century, artists have to stay current with the times by latching onto ways to make a life in rock ‘n’ roll a viable enterprise.
Heath is no newbie to diversifying his musical license beyond singles and albums — earlier projects include 2012’s “25 to Life” box set with lot of extras; TV commercials, like Subway using “Teach You How to Eat”; and countless video games like Guitar Hero and Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground companies using his music.
“Men in my neighborhood don’t’ have the slightest idea who Reverend Horton Heat is, until their kids sing ‘Psychobilly Freakout’: ‘My kids know you from Guitar Hero!’ they say.”
Heath has also dabbled with crypto-currency and NFTs (non-fungible tokens) which essentially allow artists to sell one-time recorded originals or cover versions of songs never before recorded. Heath adds that to provide a worthwhile value to diehard fans, music bundle packages guest passes, concert tickets, and other merchandise could be part of the mix.
“It’s the future,” Heath says, before qualifiying his statement. “It’s not really here yet ’cause the transaction fees are too high to sell an album … But that’s all gonna get figured out … and there are several different companies that are try focusing on trying to make NFTs a viable way to sell music. It’ll happen.”
But in the meantime, the band is making music the traditional way. Pandemic livestream sessions with the band’s longtime stand-up bass player, Jimbo Wallace, from Heath’s home studio in Dallas gave rise to the The Reverend Horton Heat’s next album, a trove of classic cover songs they’re hoping to release in summer 2022. (The current third member of the trio is veteran drummer Jonathan Jeter, who joined the band in 2020.)
The new album Heath Heat’s first since the 2018 Whole New Life will be called Roots of The Rev. Volume One and it’ll be released on Heath’s Fun Guy vanity label.
Heath says he plans on doing a comprehensive liner jacket with experiences on how the songs inspired the band, and he says that tunes by Carl Perkins and Willie Nelson will make the album.
“All of the songs have stories about how they relate to the band. Some of it is that we have actual connections to the artists,” Heath says.
But alongside working on the album, the band is hitting the road hard this year and next. There’s more than a dozen gigs left for the group this year, and as of right now, they’re set for more than 25 next year.
“It’s in my DNA to play a lot of live shows,” Heath says. “I’ve got a great family, and so I kind of lead a double life — kind of a wild rock and roller, and at home I’m a dad.”
While playing live gigs gets his blood pumping, cherishing time at home with his family is equally important. “We’ll keep playing a lot of gigs, but I don’t think I’m going to be on that hamster wheel quite as hard as I’ve been most of my life.”
But there is obviously no quit in Heath, and the road is where he makes a living and connects his music with fans the world over.
“People want to get out, and they want to see live music again, and they want to get together and build a music community again. I’m out here, and I’ll be ready.”
Horton’s Holiday Hayride. With The Reverend Horton Heat, Big Sandy, and Voodoo Glow Skulls. 8 p.m. Sunday, November 28. The Rhythm Room, 1019 East Indian School Road. Tickets are $40 plus fees.
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