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Jeff Moehlis: Musical Mayhem in Ventura with Reverend Horton Heat

Acclaimed band with be joined for a few songs by Dead Kennedys vocalist Jello Biafra

From left, Jimbo Wallace, Jim Heath and Scott Churilla, aka Reverend Horton Heat, will perform Saturday at the Majestic Ventura Theater, with special guest Jello Biafra joining in for a few songs.

From left, Jimbo Wallace, Jim Heath and Scott Churilla, aka Reverend Horton Heat, will perform Saturday at the Majestic Ventura Theater, with special guest Jello Biafra joining in for a few songs.  (Reverend Horton Heat photo)

By Jeff Moehlis, Noozhawk Contributing Writer |

Jim Heath is the singer, songwriter and guitarist for Reverend Horton Heat, a band that updated the sound and energy of rockabilly for the alt-rock era and beyond.

Reverend Horton Heat hit the ground running with their first album, 1992’s Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em, which has gems like “Bad Reputation,” “Marijuana” and “Psychobilly Freakout.” They’re still going strong 10 albums and countless live shows into their career, with Heath’s twisted humor taking a front seat on songs such as “Please Don’t Take the Baby to the Liquor Store” and “Death Metal Guys” from their latest album, 2009’s Laughin’ and Crying.

Reverend Horton Heat will be performing Sunday at the Majestic Ventura Theater, with special guest Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys, Lard, Guantanamo School of Medicine) joining in for a few songs. If you’re drawn to musical mayhem, this concert is for you. Click here to purchase tickets online.

Click here for Jeff Moehlis’ complete interview with Jim Heath.

Jeff Moehlis: I saw you open for Jerry Lee Lewis about two years ago for his 75th birthday concert. What was that gig like for you?

Jim Heath: Oh, man, that was a great gig. That was just all around a beautiful day. I got to meet Jerry Lee briefly. That was great. And getting to hang around Lemmy (Kilmister, whose band The Head Cat also
opened that night) and Slim Jim (Phantom) all evening, and having them freak out over Jerry Lee Lewis, too. It was kind of neat.

It’s a little bittersweet to think about right now, because Jerry Lee’s bass player, his name is B.B. Cunningham, and he came and tracked me down and said “Where’s the Reverend? I’ve got to talk to the Reverend.” And I was just thrilled that I got to talk to B.B. He had a hit back in the 1960s called “Let It All Hang Out.” That was a song that he wrote. But, anyway, B.B. Cunningham got shot and killed a couple months ago.

That was a really cool deal, because Jerry Lee Lewis is one of my big musical influences and heroes.

JM: What can we look forward to for your upcoming show in Ventura?

JH: That’s one of the shows with Jello Biafra. That should be something very ... (laughs) We don’t really know what that’s gonna be. We have been working on the songs for it.

What’s going to happen is, right toward the end of our set, we’re gonna stop, and Jello Biafra, the lead singer from the Dead Kennedys, will come out and sing five songs. Mayhem should ensue.

(Heath wanted to keep the songs a surprise, so let’s just say that there will be a couple of Dead Kennedys songs and some covers.)

JM: One thing I like about your music is that a lot of your songs crack me up, “Death Metal Guys” and stuff like that. Could you comment on the role of humor in your songs?

JH: Well, I don’t think I’m going to do that on our next record. I’ll always have funny songs, but I don’t think I’m going to try to do it as exclusively as I did lately. You know, it’s entertainment. People like it when they can laugh and relate to a song. I’ve got a lot of songs that are serious, that I think are pretty good songs. But overall people usually really like the funny stuff.

JM: I think it’s all good. But it’s nice that you’re not taking yourself too seriously.

JH: Right, and that’s kind of part of my style. My lyrical style is that I’ll start out with a song, and by the end you’ll realize that this guy cannot be serious. At the beginning you might think that I’m
actually serious about it, and by the end ...  It’s like, I have the song “Eat Steak,” where it starts out like it could be the theme song from the American Beef Council, but as the song progresses it gets a little bit stranger, and by the end of the song it’s all about how much fun it actually is to kill a cow. Which is pretty morbid. Probably by the end of the song you might even be encouraging vegetarianism (laughs).

JM: Do you want to set the straight on anything about Reverend Horton Heat? Are there any misconceptions floating around that always annoy you?

JH: I gotta tell you, the funny thing is at Sub Pop — our first label was Sub Pop Records — their whole deal was releasing press releases or bios on bands that were completely made up (laughs). So from the very get-go of my career I’ve been having to battle misconceptions.

What happened is this girl from Sub Pop called me up to interview me. And it wasn’t like an interview like I do with a person like you where it’s funny, and you ask some cool questions. It was like really mundane. She was gonna write a bio, and so she was like, “So, what do you like to do?” I go, “Well, I like to play pool.” “Oh, OK. Do you smoke cigarettes?” “Uh, yeah.” “What kind of cigarettes do you smoke?” “Uh, Marlboro Lights.” “OK. And where were you born?” (laughs) The most boring interview ever. Through it all she was asking like, “where were you born?” I was adopted. I told stuff. I told her I was adopted, I play pool. I smoke Marlboro Lights. Anyway, so Sub Pop releases this bio saying that I was an orphan, and spent my formative years in and out of juvenile detention facilities, hustling pool and smoking Lucky Strikes (laughs). So I’ve been battling those types of misconceptions for a long time. You know, guys come up going, “Yeah, dude, I spent a lot of time in juvie, too.” (laughs)

Admittedly, bios are pretty hard to write. Because, let’s face it, to write a bunch of really great music and to learn to play guitar, you’ve gotta be a little bit of a nerd. You know, what are you gonna write? “Mark Blah-Blah-Blah is a singer/songwriter who lives with his parents. He only tried alcohol once or twice. He really likes macaroni and cheese and his bread without the crust.” (laughs) Not very rock ‘n’ roll.

Noozhawk contributing writer Jeff Moehlis is a professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.




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