ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, JULY 6, 2000
By Steve Newton
Jim Heath, aka the Reverend Horton Heat, has had some pretty impressive folks produce his records over the years. Back in ’93, Gibby Haynes of the Butthole Surfers put his stamp on The Full Custom Gospel of the Reverend Horton Heat, then a year later Ministry leader Al Jourgensen helmed Liquor in the Front. For his new CD, Spend a Night in the Box, the 45-year-old rocker called upon a second Butthole, this time guitarist Paul Leary, to man the controls. So what’s so great about those old Surfer dudes, anyway?
“Well, you know, they’re Texas guys,” says Heath, over the phone from his Dallas hometown. “When we worked with Gibby way back when, Paul helped us on that project some too. And since then Paul has really kinda become a producer of note. He produced the Meat Puppets, and the Toadies, Sublime. We’d been talking to him about working on another project, so it was finally time.”
With Leary in tow, the good Reverend—along with bassist Jimbo Wallace and drummer Scott Churilla—holed up outside of Austin in Willie Nelson’s Pedernales Studios. Heath says that he was mighty impressed with Leary’s knowledge of new digital equipment—“all that Pro-Tools stuff”—but that it was the latter’s ear for music that really won him over.
“He’s got a good ear for rhythm and a good ear for pitch,” notes Heath, “and that’s what we need. That’s the main thing, because when you’re in there pounding out a song a buncha times, trying to get it better and better, it’s very easy to lose track of what you’re doing. So any time I have somebody there saying, ‘Well, you’re a little flat when you sing this word,’ that just speeds up the process and makes it a lot easier.”
Judging by the winning sound of Spend a Night in the Box, the choice of Leary was a good one. It’s one smashing disc, displaying to fine effect Heath’s raging mix of rockabilly, country, swamp, surf, blues, and swing. My personal fave track is the rowdy drinkin’ tune “Sue Jack Daniels”, in which Heath illustrates a few hangover highlights resulting from run-ins with the golden throat-charmer.
“I’m gonna sue Jack Daniels for hittin’ me,” croons the Rev, “with the trunk of a big old live oak tree./He hurt me this mornin’ with the bright sunlight./I’m gonna sue Jack Daniels for what he did to my face last night.” And when Heath sings about getting out of control with the JD, he’s not just making up stories. “I used to drink a lot of Jack Daniel’s,” he claims, “but I’m not quite into it anymore. I’ve drank myself into some pretty serious health problems in the past, so I have to be real careful with that stuff.”
Heath’s former fondness for Keith Richards Kool-Aid is in keeping with his image as a hard-living, hard-partying individual. But the greasy-haired guitar slinger points out that not everything you’ve heard about him is true. For one thing, regardless of what it says in his current Time Bomb Recordings bio, he has never spent time in the East Texas Juvenile Correction Facility.
“Well, lemme tell ya,” drawls Heath, “there’s a bunch of stuff in our bio that is still held over from the Sub Pop days, when Sub Pop used to make stuff up all the time. That was one thing that was kinda cool about them, you know: they didn’t care, they’d just make stuff up. What they did is they had some secretary call me up and ask me all these really boring questions, like ‘Whaddaya like to do in your spare time?’ and I’d say, ‘Well, you know, I like to go play pool and stuff.’ And so that became that I was a pool shark. Needless to say, they expanded a little bit on the truth. I wasn’t an orphan, and I never had to spend any time in a Texas correctional facility. I’m lucky that I didn‘t, though. I almost had to.”
Heath’s lack of a criminal record should serve him well when he greets those testy guards at the Canadian border, en route to a gig here on Friday (July 7). When I inform him that he’s booked to play the Commodore, Heath—who thought the venerable Granville Street venue was still shuttered—sounds delighted. He has fond memories of playing there in the late ’80s, opening for the Cramps during Lux Interior’s let’s-get-naked-for-the-encore stage.
This time around the Reverend Horton Heat will be headlining, with tourmate Hank Williams III warming up. Williams is, of course, the son of Hank Williams Jr. and, more importantly, the grandson of Hank Williams.
“He can sing his grandfather’s songs just like his grandfather,” claims Heath. “It’s amazing! But he’s kind of [musically] schizophrenic like I am, so he does all sorts of different stuff. He’s a young guy, and he’s got a lot of these more punk-rock songs, but I think they throw in some of the country and rockabilly stuff too. And they’ve got some good pickers. The guitar player used to be in a band called the Jesus Lizard. So it’s gonna be a fun, all-out, beer-drinkin’, have-a-good-time tour.”