Revival preacher

The Reverend Horton Heat’s music has been featured in commercials. His group was the theme band for Cartoon Network’s Johnny Bravo. The surest sign the cult rockabilly, punkabilly, whateveryawannacallitbilly pioneers have secured a spot in American rock consciousness after 25 years? Not only inclusion in the digital rock ‘n’ roll pantheon of Guitar Hero II, but also the 11-million-plus viewers of a YouTube video featuring an eight-year-old blazing through “Psychobilly Freakout” — arguably the band’s most popular song, one that helped revive and eventually helped define a once obscure genre. Frontman Jim “Reverend Horton” Heath found some time during his perpetual touring schedule to talk about Wichita’s least-friendly venue, what it’s like going from revivers to the revived (because of a video game), and the secret to rock ‘n’ roll forever.

What’s the worst show you’ve ever played?

The first time we played `Wichita, KS` it was at this really cool club called The Coyote Club. We set up. And no one came. There was the bartender who didn’t like us and didn’t want to be there and his two, older lady friends and they basically heckled us the whole time. We’re this little band that played only songs we wrote, at the time, and they were shouting “play something we all know!” After every song. So after a while I just started singing “ … something we all know … oh, something we all know … baby, something we all know nowwwwww … something we all know … ” Those ladies hated my guts. They kept coming up to the stage, looking at our drummer Taz `Bentley` and Jimbo `Wallace, upright bass`, and saying, “We like y’all, but we don’t like him.” And I said, “Well you know what, I don’t like y’all either.” When the band is a three-piece and we outnumber the audience, that’s pretty bad.

Have you seen the YouTube video of the kid playing “Psychobilly Freakout” on Guitar Hero II?

Yeah, that’s pretty crazy. He had the whole Guitar Hero world enamored there for a while because nobody could do that like that kid could do it. He could do it just looking around, like he wasn’t even paying attention. I’ve tried to play it, and I can’t do it.

Has it been strange for you to make fans by way of a video game?

It’s been a really great thing for us. It’s like having a hit song. I’ve actually done several video games. We just did a thing for the SIMS video game. I’ve been working a lot with that stuff lately. But what’s really cool about it is that it’s given us a bit of credibility. Like the middle-aged guy I play golf with doesn’t really care about Reverend Horton Heat, but he’ll say, “Oh man, my kids knew who you were.” It’s like, yeah, I’m not some bum guy living off my wife. Well, maybe.

It opens up our music to kids and their parents and people who might not know us but who play Guitar Hero. I think it’s a great thing because so much of music over the last, really, 20 years has been leaning so hard into the computer programming side of things, where you sample a beat and then sample some weird guitar part and turn it around backwards and then add bass, but it’s a computerized thing. It’s gotten to where you’ve got these giant stadiums in Europe filled with people watching a guy play records.

What’s the secret to rock ‘n’ roll?

The secret to rock ‘n’ roll is that you got to have a really good running van. As long as you have that and you’re willing to drive and go play gigs in new places, then you’re going to make it — as long as you’re still working on your music and getting your songs and band better and better. You can be the best damn band in the world, but if you’re not man enough to get out there in a van to Wichita, Kansas, and play the shittiest gig of you’re life, you’re never going to make it. •

Reverend Horton Heat
8pm Fri, Oct 1
The White Rabbit
2410 N St Mary’s