Rev. Horton Heat

Interview by Dennis Morgillo

Reverend Horton Heat (aka Jim Heath)
Interviewer - Dennis Morgillo
Madhouse: What was your childhood like, growing up in Texas? 
Rev. Horton Heat: Great. I had great parents, family and friends. Every day there were kids in the yards and in the streets all up and down the block. 

Madhouse: Who were the main influences on your guitar playing?
Rev. Horton Heat: So many. Too many to name. I started out trying to learn Johnny Cash, BB King licks and Robert Johnson licks. Chuck Berry too. James Burton, Duane Allman, Then so many others. I played in a couple of rock bands that were pretty pro. When I really started focusing on rockabilly I focused on Scotty Moore, Cliff Gallup and Paul Burlison/Grady Martin. I love all sorts of players. Jimmy Vaughn and Stevie Ray Vaughn. Brian Setzer and Dave Alvin. Too many to list.

Madhouse: What was your first guitar and where did you get it?
Rev. Horton Heat: It was a Stella that my parents bought me. I tried to play the solo on Folsom Prison Blues. I thought I was trying to play like Johnny Cash. Years later I realized that I was trying to play like Luther Perkins, his guitarist. 

Madhouse: I heard that the name ‘Reverend Horton Heat’ was thrust upon you. That you did not pick the name and you were unhappy with the name at first. In looking back now, are you glad you stuck with the name? Did you ever consider pulling a ‘Mellencamp’, and changing to your given name - Jim Heath?
Rev. Horton Heat: No. I ran with the name once I realized that people were coming to the show and calling me "Horton" or "Reverend"

Madhouse: What was the music scene like in Texas in the 1980s ?
Rev. Horton Heat: Different than now. There were almost zero upright bass players. Besides the old guys playing jazz or bluegrass, there was Jim Wallace in Houston and my bass player in Dallas, Jack Barton. Music writers asked me all the time, "What is rockabilly?" Music writers across America asked me that just about every interview in the early days. Now, all of them act like they grew up with it.  

Madhouse: What was the biggest gig you ever played?
Rev. Horton Heat: We played with Soundgarden and Nine Inch Nails in Toronto. 32,000 people were there. Marilyn Manson was still kind of new and they played before us that day. 

Madhouse: Can you detail your sound? What Guitars, Strings, Pedals, Amps, Rig etc. do you use?
Rev. Horton Heat: I started using the reissue Gretsch guitars in about 1990. Now, Gretsch makes a Reverend Horton Heat model. RHH6120. It's got TV Jones pickups. I run through a volume pedal for steel guitar licks then into a delay/echo pedal to give me that fifties style slap back like Sun Records and Gene Vincent, but it's usually not as extreme as they used the effect. I go into a Gretsch Executive Amp that was made and designed by Victoria amps with reverb and tremolo. I used to use strings that were based on .11 high E string, then light top heavy bottom, but now I use .10s made by Dunlop. I also play a Smith Special that has heavier jazz type strings that have a wound third and are flat wound. 

Madhouse: Based on your song lyrics, You appear to have a great sense of humor. What Comedians/TV Shows were your favorites as a kid?
Rev. Horton Heat: Johnny Carson. Laugh In. George Carlin. Richard Pryor. Rodney Dangerfield. Music like Spike Jones, Roger Miller and the like. 

Madhouse: One of my favorite songs of yours is ‘Cowboy Love’. It’s a great country song with hysterical lyrics. Did you ever get grief from fans who didn’t get it? And what about now in our current Politically Correct environment. Do you get any grief now? 
Rev. Horton Heat: We've always been appreciated in places where you'd think they might be too PC. I used to do a faux sermon that was a parody of a hellfire and brimstone preacher who would heal various people. One of those routines was me healing Michael Jackson's chimp Bubbles. One time we played a college where a little group of busy bodies didn't like it, but the rest of the crowd loved it. 

Madhouse: What was the craziest thing you saw while on tour? 
Rev. Horton Heat: I saw a bald eagle in Texas yesterday. 

Madhouse: What’s your favorite country to tour? and why?
Rev. Horton Heat: The US is great because we're used to it. But we love the people everywhere we go. 

Madhouse: Who was the coolest person you met? One of your heroes?
Rev. Horton Heat: Carl Perkins told me stories for about an hour and a half. I've met Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Tiger Woods and Lyndon B. Johnson. Too many to list. 

Madhouse: You have a reputation as a hard partying fun band. Have you slowed down?
Rev. Horton Heat: Yes, we slowed down about twenty years ago because we wanted to focus on music instead of being party hosts. That decision is why we got better and are still here. 

Madhouse: Are you into cars and motorcycles? What do you own?
Rev. Horton Heat: I've got less and less time for hobbies. I've got a 1932 Ford. Not sure why sometimes as this band thing and my family consumes all of my time. The band thing takes way more work than people imagine. 

Madhouse: Can we look forward to the memoirs of Rev. Horton Heat?
Rev. Horton Heat: Not sure. 

Madhouse: Do you have a new album in the works?
Rev. Horton Heat: I'm always working on stuff. But right now I'm so busy that I can't see the new album coming within the year. 

Madhouse: Do you ever see yourself retiring?
Rev. Horton Heat: No. I'll do this until I can't do it anymore. I tell people I'm on the Willie Nelson retirement program. All of my heroes were that way - B. B. King, Ernest Tubb, Ray Price...all of them. I'll probably die on that tour bus.

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