(What in the) Guitarnation!? The Reverend Horton Heat brings cowpunk back to Cowtown

Monday 18th, May 2015 / 14:39
By Christine Leonard
“The godfather of modern rockabilly” returns to Calgary for two nights this weekend.  Photo: Gene Ambo

“The godfather of modern rockabilly” returns to Calgary for two nights this weekend.
Photo: Gene Ambo

CALGARY — A master showman, rock and roll daredevil and dapper county gentleman all rolled into one, The Reverend Horton Heat (a.k.a. Jim Heath) is a living legend with a voice of pure tobacco-rolled gold. An equally accomplished songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist the Dallas-based trailblazer has been spreading his signature cowpunk style across the land for the past 30 years.

“It’s been a pretty good run since we signed on with Victory Records,” he begins. “We’ve been busy touring and involved with playing a lot of festivals. Just yesterday we played Coachella, which is one of the biggest festivals in North America. The musical selections were all over the map; soul bands, hip hop artists, folk acts all kinds of stuff. We do okay. Frankly, I don’t think about how we’re going to fit into these shows too much. Evidently, all of these bands are bigger than us, even though I’ve never heard of them.”

Dubbed the “godfather of modern rockabilly,” Heat has seen a lot of cultural fads come and go. His position of elder statesmen of country-fed punk certain lends weight to his observations regarding the current climate surrounding popular music and the influence of emergent technologies on the choices young audiences are making.

“Maybe certain parts of the country are starting to have a renaissance for the more traditional music forms with some nouveau bluegrass, roots, and blues rock coming back, but the DJ-thing is still pretty big. It’s hard, you know? It’s tough for me to understand the appeal, especially when you’ve got great people like JD McPherson, Alabama Shakes, Nick Waterhouse, Charles Bradley, and all those cool bands being put out by Daptone Records right now.”

Exercising his God-given freedom of choice, Heat has taken charge of his destiny by constructing his own private recording studio. Resultantly, only two of the tracks that he, upright bassist Jimbo Wallace and drummer Scott Churilla laid-down for their 2014 LP, REV, were produced in a rented studio space.

Hallelujah! Amen! After a decade of entrusting his music to the tastes and whims others, the Reverend Heat and his creed have arrived at the realization that the “DIY” dogma embodies the true path punk-rock righteousness.

“Recording the rest of the REV record ourselves was so fun that it rekindled my desire to keep on recording,” he confesses. “Engineers get very set in their ways and, even if you have really good guys in the studio with you, there are always issues that you have to deal with. When you’re under the gun, and paying thousands of dollars a day to do your work, it’s frustrating when they can’t bring themselves to do something specifically different for you. It has resulted in some tragic mistakes. Now, if I make a mistake it’s all on me.”

Watch Reverend Horton Heat performing with Nekromantix and The Brains at Dickens in Calgary on May 23rd and 24th.

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