My Love Letter to the Reverend Horton Heat
I like a lot of bands, but there are a core few that I can listen to consistently and enjoy it. Even fewer that never fail to get me pumped up. The Reverend Horton Heat is one of those very few bands.
I picked up guitar in middle school and moved from musical genre to genre looking for what I really liked to play (and found along the way that what you like to hear and what you like to play are not always the same thing) and I settled into a very comfortable rut of metal and punk. Eventually the fire for the guitar died out. Then the fire for music in general died out. I was tired of all these bands making music that sounded too similar to each other and honestly didn't feel the need to look further for something that was inspirational.
But music is very important and I found out that without it, I'm not the best person to be around. I was overly negative, sarcastic, often just plain mean.
Then I went to college and I had pretty much stopped listening to music and playing guitar about three months previously. At work my boss put on Holy Roller by the Rev and the fires were ablaze again. The Rev joined music that I liked (like punk) and mixed it with music that I had forgotten I liked - classic genres like rockabilly - that my mom would listen to in the car when I was just a wee Pappy.
And guitar work, ah jeez, the Rev is something else. Jim Heath, the face of the Reverend Horton Heat (often called such), is a player that sounds completely unique. His scales seem just off-kilter enough to make your ears perk up but not so much that you immediately don't like it because it's too foreign. The physical playing is something else as well! He's a master of hybrid picking and has recorded track after track that shows off the skill.
A show-off guitar player is nothing special though. Heath is a songwriter and puts the licks and riffs around the song. The song does not exist merely to leap-frog him to the next solo where he can cut your head yet again, so these tracks of musical showmanship are special because there's not a whole album featuring more of the same.
This isn't to say that his playing on most songs is simple for the song's sake. Often he's playing bass and melody at the same time with intricacies that a dedicated guitarist would find tough, yet he does it while singing too.
A lot of people point to truly amazing guitar players and say that they inspire conflicting feelings, one saying that they need to practice more, the other asking what the point of practicing is as you'll never get that good. The Rev certainly falls into the latter, but with a catalog of real music - real SONGS - in addition to mind-blowing playing makes you not only want to give up/practice more, but to listen to more of his music. To compare it to food, the entrée isn't face-melting guitar playing - that's the songs. The show-stopping guitar playing is merely a side dish.
And speaking of guitar, Heath also does most of his fretboard acrobatics using a signature Gretsch 6120RHH. Signature models are always interesting to me, and this one is no different. Gretsch has a habit of looking to the historical accuracy of models (perhaps too much so), but with signature models they're free to get a little more nuts, and the Rev was a fan of the Gretsch FilterTron as his time with single-coil pickups was wrought with frustration because of neon signs, lights, interference, etc. He said half the gig he would be focusing on where he can stand to limit the hum and buzz as much as possible and when he found the FilterTron he liked what he heard a lot, but he also liked what he DIDN'T hear, which was the hum and buzz.
The story goes that Gretsch sent him what they thought he would like: a trestle-braced, FilterTron equipped, western-themed 6120, but the Rev rejected it because of the trestle bracing. Supposedly used to combat feedback (or, more specifically to make the top and back vibrate at the same frequency), I can certainly see why Gretsch would send that as their first guess. Heath though, wanted more openness to the guitar, and chose just about the exact same model sans trestles (and a swap from gold to chrome hardware). He also opted for a clear pickguard which is fairly unique in Gretsch's lineup but something you can see examples of in history like with Eddie Cochran's famous 6120.
The original 5120 had a clear pickguard and not many people liked it, but I think it's pretty sweet. If your pickguard isn't custom made for you, it's just there blocking the good looks of the 6120's f-holes, so why not make it clear and get the best of both worlds: protection and the good looks?
If you try to nail the Rev down to a specific genre, most opt for psychobilly, but that doesn't feel right. The Rev isn't really comparable to, say, the Quakes or Batmobile. But he's not a rockabilly purist either. He's not even really in line with bands like the Stray Cats. He's really more of an art-school punker with a great knowledge of musical history. He gets unique tones out of his gear and is too-often overlooked by guitarists and music fans, probably because of the inability to nail down a specific genre. It didn't help that he was signed to Sub Pop, a label that was mainly known for their grunge acts.
I love the Reverend Horton Heat. I'm excited to check out Heath's other band the Reverend Organdrum. It's only my distaste for the organ that keeps putting me off. I'm positive that my fanboy feelings for the Rev will trump that soon enough, though.
I've talked about the Reverend Horton Heat here (and elsewhere) before, and each time I do, a couple people ask what would be the best exposure to him. A good place to start. The Rev's albums all sound a little different from each other, but I think the best place to start is Holy Roller. It's a greatest hits of sorts from his time at Sub Pop and it covers a LOT of his styles. After that, check out the album Spend A Night In The Box for more of a classic kind of vibe. If you're looking for faster toe-tapping goodness, check out Lucky 7. From there go crazy and pick up whatever you can.
But start with Holy Roller.
Also, his live DVD Live and in Color is pretty amazing as well. I love live DVDs in general and this one is my favorite.
He's also recently released a retrospective and live album/DVD titled 25 to Life. It features a live DVD, a live CD, and a "best of" that spans his entire career. I'm looking forward to picking this up in the near future. Like I said, I love live DVDs, and the Rev puts on quite the show!
By all means, if you haven't heard of the Rev, put your preconceptions aside and just listen to him play. Search him out on YouTube to see what I mean. He's one of the greatest guitar players in the history of the instrument (and CERTAINLY one of the greatest of our generation) and it would be a shame to go through your whole life without indulging in his music.
I've been a fan of the Pick Punch since I saw an ad for it, and then when I was able to do a review of it, I was sold! It belongs in every guitarist's gig-bag or guitar case. You'll never be without a pick again. You just keep a gift card (or better yet, buy some pick material from Pick Punch for an average of $3.00) in your wallet or with the Pick Punch and when that inevitable gig happens where you reach into your pocket to pull out a pick and instead come out with lint, you'll know your covered because your Pick Punch is in the bag. There are a lot of tools pitched to guitarists, but nothing more useful/valuable than the Pick Punch. AND they're low-cost at $25.00 each, available in both standard and jazz size!