If Jim Heath, leader of rockabilly-championing Reverend Horton Heat, ever needs a reminder that he has made it, he thinks about the fans he has in high places.
Like Drew Carey.
“He’s a big fan of ours,” Heath said recently. “We did his HBO special and then we did an episode (of Carey’s hit ABC series). We were a bar band called The Underprivileged, or something like that. There was a battle of the bands, and he got his old high school band back together, the Horndogs. All they did was one song, ‘A Taste of Honey.’
“It was a lot of fun. I didn’t realize how much work goes into it. It was like a four- or five-day thing. We each got a trailer with our own names on them, so we felt like stars for a day. We went out and got drunk with him after the show. He told us he was going to try to have us back on sometime this year as a recurring theme.”
Appearing on “The Drew Carey Show” two seasons ago was a big milestone in the Dallas trio’s decadelong wild righteous ride.
“It’s one of those things where I have to call my mom and say, ‘Look, I didn’t go astray. I’m really doing something,’ ” Heath said, with a laugh. “When you tell your parents you want to do this for a living, they want you to have something to fall back on. Of course, I have absolutely nothing to fall back on because I’ve forgotten everything I learned in school.
“They weren’t pushing me to be anything. I did a couple years of college, and several beers and Yeagermeisters later, nothing sank in, so I guess I have to stick with this thing for a while.”
Good thing, otherwise the world would have been deprived of the fun antics of Heath, a first-class guitarist, bassist Jimbo Wallace and drummer Scott Churilla. Since the early 1990s, they have combined the campiness of the Cramps, the daring of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and the downbeat madness of the Stray Cats in concocting a respectful tribute to rockabilly.
They don’t stray far from their mission on their latest album, “Spend a Night in the Box,” due March 21. Produced by Paul Leary of the equally shocking Butthole Surfers, the album is the trio’s first with Time Bomb Recordings after six years with Interscope.
“Once we got the record company boot off our heads, and now we’re with Time Bomb, it’s as close to an indie label as you can imagine with the finances to get your product out there and actually do some promotion for it,” Heath said. “They just go about it a different way than the major labels do. It’s really refreshing. It’s like going back to our Sub Pop days.
“We’ve been playing these songs on the road the past few weeks. Fans come up to us and say, ‘Finally, you’re back to the wild Horton Heat, and you’re not trying to please the record company.’ They’re in love with the new songs. I feel that way too.”
Even though technically they are a boy band, Heath and company aren’t likely to get played alongside Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync on mainstream radio. That’s radio’s loss.
“Major labels will give you that initial push,” Heath said. “They’ll send your record out to the radio stations and try to convince them to put it in rotation. But if you sound anything different than the station’s normal format, your chances are pretty nil. They send it out anyway, then when you get turned down, the record label goes, ‘Oh, this must be a crummy album. We can’t do anything with it. On with the next thing.’ They drop it like a hot potato.
“It’s frustrating because you put all this effort into it and you know it’s good music. Yet, they use us in movies and commercials and soundtracks. Somebody out there likes it. It’s commercially viable for those situations, just not for radio.
“I stopped trying to understand this business a long time ago. We keep doing what we do and things are looking good, in spite of all those obstacles.”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: “It was down the street at a garage sale where I lived. I guess I was about 10; it was CCR’s ‘Green River.’ I think I paid a dollar for it.”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “There were concert tickets on the Christmas tree; my dad took me to go see Bob Seger at an old arena in Houston. I remember sitting there, and that was back when you could pretty much get away with smoking a joint at whatever arena you were in. So I’m sitting watching Bob Seger, and I think Starz was the opening act, somebody held out a joint towards me and I looked at my dad and his evil eye and then I looked back at the guy, ‘No, I think I’ll pass on that.’ “
THE LAST CD I BOUGHT: “I think it was a Johnny Thunders bootleg somewhere in New York. It’s hard for me to go into Camelot and find anything I like. I did buy a Led Zeppelin cassette today, ‘Led Zeppelin II.’ I’ve got a ’69 pickup truck and that’s all it’s got in it, a tape player.”
BWF (before we forget): Praise the lord, The Reverend Horton Heat is on the Web @ www.reverendhortonheat.com. … The Reverend Horton Heat album discography – “Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em” (Sub Pop, 1992); “The Full-Custom Gospel Sounds” (1993); “Liquor in the Front” (Interscope, 1994); “It’s Martini Time” (1996); “Space Heater” (1998); “Holy Roller” (Sub Pop, 1999); “Spend a Night in the Box” (Time Bomb, 2000).
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