Still feeling the Heat

Ever since The Reverend Horton Heat debuted a decade ago with the CD "Smoke 'em If You Got 'em," the band has been known for its revved-up rockabilly style.

But to hear the group's front man, Jim "The Reverend Heat" Heath tell it, a three-CD stint on major label Interscope Records in the mid-'90s almost spelled the end of the band's signature style.

"While we were on Interscope they never liked any of my rockabilly/swing stuff very much," Heath says. "We had to fight tooth and nail to get that on there, and bluesy stuff. They never liked anything like that."

Since the band broke with Interscope in 1999, however, fans have been getting the 100-proof version of the band's music.

First out was the 2000 CD, "Spend a Night in the Box," which swung hard on rockabilly raveups like the title song, as well as the cut "I'll Make Love" and countrified track "The Bedroom Again." The disc also delivered a dose of juiced-up boogie on "King" and "Sleeper Coach Driver."

"Lucky 7," the latest CD by the trio -- guitarist/singer Heath, bassist Jimbo Wallace and drummer Scott Churilla -- continues the tradition with a lean and mean collection of the group's mixture of rockabilly, punk, country and psycho-blues.

On "What's Reminding Me of You," the boys put another jolt into rockabilly, couching backing vocals modeled after Elvis Presley's Jordanaires within the song's manic beat. "Go With Your Friends," on the other hand, is the latest in a long line of the group's prototypical swinging rockabilly tunes.

Overall,"Lucky 7" may be the rawest Reverend Horton Heat CD yet, with none of the studio gloss of the Interscope albums and none of the echo effects of "Spend a Night in the Box" to obscure the power the three musicians generate.

Heath said he's come to prefer capturing the Reverend Horton Heat sound with a minimum of studio enhancement.

"We live in a world where things are really screwed up," Heath says. "And it's not just now, it's been going on for a long time. For instance, like Led Zeppelin is basically a three-piece rock band with a lead singer -- a four-piece band. But when you listen, everybody's favorite Led Zeppelin songs had three guitar parts going on."

The raw and rowdy sound may be one reason why The Reverend Horton Heat, despite its deep roots in classic American rockabilly, country and blues, rarely get characterized as a retro band.

Says Heath, "We always try something different, get crazy Al Jourgensen" -- front man of the industrial band Ministry -- "to produce the record," as on the 1994 CD, "Liquor in the Front," or "do crazy stuff in the studio. We'll try anything."

"I'm definitely coming from the '50s. I'm definitely a rockabilly guy, a '50s-type of influence thing," he adds. "But I don't really have any interest in trying to re-create a nostalgia thing. I've got to go somewhere new."

"Lucky 7" represents the second new start in two albums for The Reverend Horton Heat. After leaving Interscope, the group signed with Time Bomb Records for "Spend a Night in the Box" only to see the label fold about two months after it was released.

"That's what happened with that deal. They were getting funded by Arista `Records`, and then the whole `shake-up` happened where `Arista` fired Clive Davis. It was one of Clive Davis' projects," Heath says.

It wasn't the first time the group had been thrown off track by happenings at their label.

"That's why I say I don't get too bent out of shape about it because it happens to everybody," Heath says. "Like we released 'The Full-Custom Gospel Sounds of'" -- the group's second record -- "back in the early '90s, and two weeks after that album came out the distributor for Sub Pop and them got in this big, legal, lawsuit thing."

For "Lucky 7," The Reverend Horton Heat signed with Artemis Records, an up-and-coming label that's home to diverse acts, including metal band Kittie, bluesman Jimmie Vaughan and songstress Rickie Lee Jones.

Heath is optimistic about what he's seen from Artemis in setting up "Lucky 7." He especially likes the fact that the label is working a deal to use the disc in conjunction with NASCAR's Daytona 500 stock-car race.

"Like saying some of these songs would work great for something like NASCAR ... It seems to me that at this point they're getting inspired."

Opening acts for The Reverend Horton Heat are: Wednesday, The Exit; Thursday, Tornado Bait and Friday, Blue Flame Combo.

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