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Reverend Horton Heat Biography


Home > Music > R > Reverend Horton Heat > Biography


Birth Place: Dallas, Texas, USA
Years Active: 1985–present
Genres: Psychobilly, Rockabilly, Country Music


The Reverend Horton Heat is the stage name of American musician Jim Heath (born 1959 in Corpus Christi, Texas) as well as the name of his Dallas, Texas-based psychobilly trio. Heath is a singer, songwriter and guitarist. The group originally formed in 1985, playing its first gigs in Dallas's Deep Ellum neighborhood. Its current members are Jim “Reverend Horton” Heath on guitar and lead vocals, Jimbo Wallace on the upright bass and Paul Simmons on drums. Their sound is self-described as “country-fed punkabilly.” Some of their songs could also be described as psychobilly. Their music is a mixture of country, punk, big band, swing, and rockabilly, all played loud and energetically with lyrics that are often very humorous. The band has achieved success within the genre and even in mainstream America with many of their songs being featured in video games and commercials.

Heath played in a cover band called Southern Comfort with friends from W.B. Ray High School, his high school, before attending the University of Texas at Austin in the fall of 1977. At UT, he often entertained friends and dormmates and was often found playing in the stairwells at Moore-Hill Dormitory late into the night. Heath left school in the spring to join up with a touring cover band by the name of Sweetbriar. Three years later, former dormmate David Livingston, now in his senior year of school and at home visiting family, saw a familiar face on stage and reunited with Heath. David told Jim stories of the punk music scene in Austin and the acts playing at venues like Raul's and Club Foot. Once, while home on another visit, Livingston took Heath to a Dallas rock and roll venue, The Bijou, to see an act called The Cramps. After the show, a brawl between punks and rockers broke out in the parking lot. While Heath and Livingston escaped any involvement in the scuffle, Heath later claimed to have had an epiphany on that evening. Always a fan of blues and honky tonk, Heath returned the favor by taking Livingston and his wife to see The Blasters in Dallas at the Hot Klub, starting his love for roots rock.

Around 1985, Heath was known as “Jim the Sound Guy” by those who frequented two warehouses that by night became music venues, Theater Gallery and The Prophet Bar. Heath used the old Sweetbriar PA system to earn extra money, running sound for bands such as the New Bohemians, End Over End, Shallow Reign and Three On A Hill. One night during a lull, Russell Hobbs, one of the original Deep Ellum visionaries and proprietors of these venues goaded him into getting up to play. He played alone, tearing through a version of “Folsom Prison Blues,” throughout the song, Hobbs hooted and shouted out, “Go Reverend.”

Heath decided then and there to form a band and came up with the name Reverend Horton Heat, as an ode to Johnny Horton, using the shortened version of his last name, Heath. About this time, Livingston moved back from Oklahoma City, where he had lived since graduation. He began to book gigs for Heath and his new band, and they quickly won over the local music scene. They drew crowds to brand new music venues. Livingston continued to work with Reverend Horton Heat until 1989, when his own new family and day job required all of his attention, and Heath needed a real manager who could get him out on the road and into the studio. Jim and David remain close friends today, and a song that they co-wrote together back in the '80s, “Liquor, Beer and Wine,” appeared on 1994's “Liquor In The Front.”

It was in the spring of 1989 that Heath met and befriended Charles F. Reid Jr. (“Charlie Ray”). Initially a roadie for the band full time, his role was expanded to include the job of Booking Agent/Manager in the fall of 1989. Touring constantly throughout the Midwest and the West Coast, Reverend Horton Heat quickly became a sellout act everywhere they played.

In the fall of 1990 a bidding war ensued between Hollywood's XXX Records and Seattle's Sub Pop Records. After moving to Seattle to run The Vogue on 1st Ave, Charlie Ray and attorney Barry Simons secured a two record deal with an option for three more, with Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman from Sub Pop. While present at the Reciprocal Sound Sessions, which made up the majority of the debut album “Smoke'Em If You Got Em” and coordinating the photo shoot for the cover of the “The Full-Custom Gospel Sounds of the Reverend Horton Heat” with James Bland and routing the band to New York City for the “Psychobilly Freakout” video shoot, Reid's role as manager/booking agent came to an abrupt halt in April 1992. Immediately following Charlie Rays' firing as band manager Jim hired Scott Weiss as his manager/booking agent, and Weiss continues in that capacity.

While attracting a mostly cult audience, and having released almost a dozen studio albums, The Reverend's music has occasionally found its way into the main stream of American culture. “Big Red Rocket of Love” was used in a commercial for the Mazda Miata, and the instrumental which they often use to open their show, “Big Sky,” was the music behind a commercial for Levi's jeans. Heath has a signature guitar from the Gretsch Guitar company, the 6120RHH.