“If you listen to the band’s catalog, you might say there are a few recurring themes found in our songs: beer, gin and tonic, whiskey, cocaine, tequila, martinis, marijuana, cigarettes, cars, more beer, pretty women, sermons, cats and dogs, the devil, Texas, and Jimbo. Not to mention steak and dildos. All the good things in life.” – Jim Heath, a.k.a. the Reverend Horton Heat
Subject matter on the Reverend Horton Heat’s forthcoming Lucky 7 – the Texas psychobilly stalwarts’ debut for Artemis Records – doesn’t stray too far from the topical formula the Rev initially established over a decade ago. There are car tunes (“Like A Rocket,” “Reverend Horton Heat’s Big Blue Car,” “Galaxy 500”). Party tunes (“Loco Gringos Like A Party”). Devastating tales of rejection (“Ain’t Gonna Happen”). Inspirational message from the pulpit (“Sermon On The Jimbo”). Instrumentals with titles that may or not be clever innuendo (“Show Pony”). Instrumentals with titles that make you want to hop the next train to Tombstone (“Duel At The Two O’Clock Bell”). Lucky 7 even finds the Rev delivering poignant portraits of loyal friendship (“You’ve Got A Friend In Jimbo”).
Indeed, Lucky 7 neatly captures the most ingratiating sonic elements of this legendary Dallas trio – namely, Scott Churilla’s gracefully ham-fisted drum onslaught, Jimbo Wallace’s perennial bass string-slapping, and most notably, the Rev’s pants-on-fire guitar riffs and leering vocals – in under the better part of an hour. But to appreciate what Lucky 7 encapsulates, one must become re-acquainted with all that preceded….
Late ’80s-1990: The trio sets many a Texas roadhouse aflame with its hellacious, unholy marriage of Dick Dale, Carl Perkins, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, the Cramps, and Gretsch theatrics. Talent scouts across the nation take note of the band’s country-stained punkabilly; Sub Pop’s irrefutable tag-team of Poneman and Pavitt wins the stakes.
1991-93: Sub Pop releases a pair of psychobilly (and non-Nirvana) touchstones: Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em and The Full-Custom Gospel Sounds Of The Reverend Horton Heat introduce the band to a nationwide audience of gutterpunks, skatekids, metalheads, rockabilly scenesters, guitar geeks, and recovering Guns ‘N’ Roses fans. The band’s cult reaches epic proportions in the underground, while it’s cred-level reading rattles the upper reaches of the ever-finicky Indie-Cool Meter.
1994-97: The band hits the big leagues by inking a deal with Interscope Records. Their ensuing debut for the major label – a joint release with Sub Pop semi-subtly titled Liquor In The Front (and not-even-subtly sub-titled Poker In The Rear) – captures the zeitgeist of the increasingly bulging Rockabilly/Swing Nation. The title track of the Rev’s follow-up effort, It’s Martini Time, becomes a minor hit single, and one reviewer likens the band’s bone-jolting live show to “putting on a stainless steel suit and running full bore into an electric fence.” In other news, original drummer Patrick “Taz” Bentley retires from Revdom; the Taz is replaced by Indiana Camaro fetishist Scott “Chernobyl” Churilla shortly thereafter. The Rev himself takes a role in the indie film Love And A .45, while the whole band appears on The Drew Carey Show. These are the steak-and-potato days.
1998-2001: The band releases their final Interscope effort, Space Heater, before succumbing to the inevitable best-of treatment on Sub Pop’s Holy Roller. The retrospective collects many of the band’s finest recorded moments from the previous century, while also tracing a dividing line in the millennial sand of the band’s career. Spend A Night In The Box finds the trio speaking in a country/boogie/swing tongue with remarkable fluency – all without some overwrought horn section, no less. The band’s cred rating, meanwhile, remains remarkably lofty.
Which brings us to 2002 and Lucky 7, a record widely acknowledged by those fortunate enough to have scored advance copies as the Rev’s edgiest effort in years. The proof’s in the round slab of melted plastic: “Like A Rocket,” for instance, picks up where such past flame-throwers as “400 Bucks,” “Baddest Of The Bad” and “Slow” left off, while the trio’s instrumental chemistry reaches new heights on “Duel At The Two O’Clock Bell” and “Show Pony.” And there’s winking humor sprinkled throughout, of course — lots of winking, Corona-sodden humor.
It’s true that the Reverend Horton Heat have been called a great many things over the course of their storied career: Perpetual Carriers Of The Rockabilly Flame, Genre-Shattering Shit-Starters, Filthy Drunks, and The Most Electrifying Live Act In America (150 shows every year can’t be wrong) among them. Add to that list: Respected Elders Who Nevertheless Still Blow The Shorts Off Other Bands On The Scene.
“I think it’s cool we’ve lasted this long. People still come out to see us play after all these years and all the shows and tours. It’s amazing. I’m excited as hell to get out and bring these new songs to life onstage. This is the most energetic batch of songs we’ve had since Liquor In The Front. (Producer) Ed (Stasium) really helped us recapture that manic sound this time around. The guitar sound on the last record was real natural, and while it worked out well, we felt it was time to get back to chainsaw distortion.
“I mean, I get to sing songs about cars I love, drinking and chasing girls. Beats the hell out of the alternative.”
What’s that, the Rev?
“Pool sharking down in Corpus Christi.”
Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em Sub Pop 1991 self-produced
The Full-Custom Gospel Sounds
Of The Reverend Horton Heat Sub Pop 1993 Gibby Haynes
Liquor In The Front Interscope/Sub Pop 1994 Al Jourgensen
It’s Martini Time Interscope 1996 Thom Panunzio
Space Heater Interscope 1998 Ed Stasium
Holy Roller Sub Pop 1999 compilation
Spend A Night In The Box Time Bomb 2000 Paul Leary
Lucky 7 Artemis 2002