“My band is kicking booty right now, and it’s really weird. There’s something going on. I think we’re bringing back rock ’n’ roll.”
That’s Reverend Horton Heat founder, vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter Jim Heath speaking on his long-running Dallas band’s present state. It’s not a boast but reality. A man who’s been in the biz for, oh, maybe four decades knows which way the wind blows. “It’s a real positive time for my band right now,” he confirms.
The Reverend’s latest album, the super-fun, positive, and expertly-crafted Whole New Life, came out at the very end of November on Victory Records, and during its creation, the band underwent a transition. The frontman says he normally doesn’t title an album after a song, but in this case, it was warranted. “We have a new drummer, [Arjuna ‘RJ’ Contreras], and we have a keyboard player, [Matt Jordan]. Things are really different now,” he admits, adding that he and longtime upright bassist Jimbo Wallace are at a new stage with the band and having a load of fun. “I feel like we’re a whole new band. I felt like it’d be an appropriate title for the album,” he rightly concludes, affirming that this “is the most positive album I’ve ever done.”
Heath proves that even a great band who have been established for so many years can always strive to improve—even though, in his estimation, he’s “old as hell.” To wit, he elaborates, “The other crazy thing, I was gonna try to keep it a secret, but I got me a new vocal coach. So, a lot of this album, I’m singing at a little higher register.” He says that this approach gave Whole New Life a different sound and led Wallace to posit, “‘You got a vocal coach, and now you’re doing all these crazy noises,’” he laughs. But a lot of Heath’s “zany” vocal bits were learned from the best, including the legendary Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, with whom he played guitar at one point. At this juncture, as a vocalist and guitar player, he’s getting more into the “zany, kinda psycho kind of stuff too,” he says, which is leading him in new, fun directions.
It’s worth noting that though the album is super positive, there are a couple of numbers that tug at the heartstrings, namely the heavy-hitting, gorgeous “Don’t Let Go of Me” and “Hate To See You Cry.” The latter, the frontman explains, is about his family. The Reverend Horton Heat are on the road like crazy every year—more so than many bands, it seems—and he obviously misses his family a lot. “What hurts is not that I miss them but that they need their daddy,” he says. “But our family is pretty used to being like that.”
Hard as it is, being on the road is a huge part of Heath’s band and his own rock ’n’ roll identity. Just being able to do this for a living means more to him nowadays than ever before. “I’ve realized that I actually enjoy playing music more now than when I was younger,” he expounds. “When I was younger, there was so much pressure—you’re untested, you’re untried.” He adds with a laugh that his sentiment now is “I’m just gonna get up there and have fun and play some crazy guitar licks,” but the downside is that the incessant traveling is growing harder and less enjoyable. Being on the road for days on end “used to be fun,” he reminisces, “a lot of crazy fun.”
Still, the man and his band have a massive amount of touring in the works for the new year, including some shows that will see Heath playing solo at smaller, more intimate spaces. “I don’t do acoustic, because I like zany almost rock ’n’ roll, so I have my electric,” he explains of those events, “but it’s more a singsong type of thing. I tell a bunch of stories, and I play completely different types of venues.” Heath says this leads to “a whole different vibe,” but no matter where you see or hear The Rev, you can be assured it’ll be an authentic, straight-from-the-heart great time.