by Jeff Niesel
While the Reverend Horton Heat has just released 25 to Life, a DVD of a live show that celebrated 25 years of raising rockabilly hell, that’s not the impetus behind the band’s current tour, which comes to the Beachland Ballroom at 8:30 p.m. Sunday. (Goddam Gallows and Lords of the Highway open and tickets are $20).
“We tour for the sake of touring,” says frontman Jim Heath, who adopted the name Reverend Horton Heat years ago. “We tour regardless of any album release. That’s my art form is playing music as opposed to some technology thing where I’m in a studio doing stuff. I like to do the studio stuff. I’m working toward building my place. Music is about the crowd and the moment. That’s what we do. We play a lot of shows.”
The Reverend actually began as a solo act after he made his debut singing a Johnny Cash tune in a small Texas bar. Inspired by blues guys like Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Buddy Guy, he realized then that it was “cooler to be someone like B.B. King or Willie Nelson who played music and had great careers without having giant hit records.” He started playing bigger shows in front of bigger audiences and quickly put together a trio that issued its debut on Sub Pop Records in 1990.
The band has regularly played Cleveland (Heath fondly recalled past shows at the Symposium and Agora) and has consistently issued a new studio album every couple of years. Heath says he’s currently trying to put together some songs for a new studio album (it’s been three years since Laughin’ & Cryin’ with the Reverend Horton Heat).
“I wish I had more time. I have several different ideas and concepts going on and I do have a lot of songs built up,” he says. “If I had the time to whittle them down, I will. I have a song idea and then I’ll write the lyrics and have a chord change in mind, but the hard work is that each one has to be whittled and refined to make it a real song. Songwriting is a funny thing. It scares you. I will start plunking along on my guitar and realize I’m just playing the same lick I always play. If I stay with it, it’s like magic and something comes out. It almost scares me. It’s like it comes from outer space. That’s the real beauty of musical composition. One moment you’re fearful and the next minute you just found something that is really special and cool.”