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VENTURA COUNTY WEEKEND | ROCKTALK

Reverend Horton Heat Is No Band of Angels

The Texas trio, playing Saturday in Ventura, tends to raise hell with its loud rockabilly-psychobilly sound.

September 05, 1996|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The 12 Steps, the two-step and a step in the right direction are all about the same to the Reverend Horton Heat. They're varying distances to the bar.

With a new album, aptly named "It's Martini Time," recently released, the band--the Reverend (Jim Heath) on guitar, Jimbo Wallace on upright bass and Scott Churilla on drums--will play their self-described "fast drinking music" Saturday night at the Ventura Theatre. Opening will be the Luna Chicks.

The Reverend's songs generally expound upon his adventures in that rut involving bad women, namely Ms. Take and her twin sister, Ms. Understood, fueled by bad booze during endless wild road trips. The previous album is entitled "Liquor in the Front."

MADD fund-raisers seem unlikely. But there's a reason for that, according to Wallace, who spoke recently about all this.

"I guess there's a true story behind about 90% of the songs, and the other 10% are Texas tall tales. And, you know, it's always martini time. I'm just sittin' on my front porch here in Texas, and you know, it beats a day job," Wallace said. "We've never been politically correct, so I guess we'll just live our lives like we always have, or until our livers give out."

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Texas is known for big hats, big mouths, tall tales and, lately, a bunch of good musicians. Wallace describes the Lone Star State for non-Texans: "Man, you know, it's really funny that people think that everybody here drives a Cadillac and has a ranch. Actually, we strive for that."

The band began in 1987, playing rockabilly. Now it's psychobilly, hell-billy or something beyond even that. Imagine a Gene Vincent 45 played at 78 in a burning building during a tornado in west Texas. Although most of the songs are faster than Jim Kirk's Enterprise, the band has taken a turn (well, sort of) toward the mellow.

"Actually, there's some slow songs on the new record, and some jazzy stuff we just had to get out," Wallace said. "We've always had the rockabilly influence--the upright bass pretty much clinches that. We were doing rockabilly songs when we first started, but they were all the Reverend's original songs, and he had a lot of them when I joined. I had played in some punk bands, and we sort of rubbed off on each other and melded together. Basically, we're three guys making a lot of noise."

Noise, chaos and elbow sandwiches in the pit have been the recipe for disaster in the past, Watson said.

"When we first started, swing dancers were getting knocked over by punk-rock guys, but everyone's getting along these days. The swing dancers know not to hang out in the front with the punk-rock kids, and now they find their space in the back."

The band has released four albums thus far, doesn't get much mainstream airplay and survives by touring relentlessly. They are, however, threatening to make a video, perhaps to be produced by Bobcat Goldthwaite, and they are now on a major label, Interscope, after three albums with Subpop.

"Small labels don't have a roster that's too big, so any money they invest, they want to recoup that," the bassist said. "So, I guess, they try a little harder, but they don't have the connections with the big radio stations; although, we've always done well on college radio. But you don't find much stuff like us on the airwaves.

"I haven't talked to the record company, so I really don't know how it's doing. We just get out there and play, but I do know we're getting more and more people at our shows."

So the band, it appears, is easy to locate. They're either on stage, on the road or bending their elbows toward the gutter--or are they?

"I guess a lot of people think that we don't do anything but drink 24 hours a day," Watson said. "We're slowing down a little bit. I actually play some gigs sober and maybe have a few beers afterwards.

"We've just had a month off and we're about to go on the road for two months. We've been learning how to be domestic and pick up our socks, and stuff like that. I got a wife, you know, and two dogs and no kids--although the dogs are sort of like our kids."

*

Just in case the Reverend gets demoted to civilian, the martinis are too watered down, or if it all just gets too weird, the band has a Plan B, Watson said.

"On this tour, we've got a 25-foot gold lame curtain that kind of gets you in the mood for martini time. And if this Reverend Horton Heat thing don't work, we can always cut it up and make gold lame suits and sell them."

The Ventura Theater is at 26 Chestnut St. Call the theater at 648-1888 to find out more about this $15 show. Bring earplugs. The Reverend can make your liver quiver even if you're lurking in the back.

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