Dec 23, 2008

Guitar Hero #2 - The Reverend Horton Heat

In terms of guitar Legendre, this story is as good as it gets. One of my biggest influences has always been rockabilly madman Jim Heath, or known to his legions of followers simply as "The Rev".

Jim Heath was born in Corpus Christi, Texas, and attended Corpus Christi Ray high school, where throughout those years he played for a lot of bands. Jim studied the great guitarists
of the legendary Sun records days. Guitarists like Cliff Gallop and all of the other iconoclasts who played for Elvis Presley, were Heath's own daily dosage of guitar heroes.

As is natural for someone who is avid about these kinds of recordings, Jim Heath naturally took a liking to the more rockin' side of blues and country leads. Rockabilly by the way, is a very tricky style of music to play, at least if you are playing The Rev's versions of the songs contained
within the very "yellow-paged" catalog.

By chance, an old friend had come to visit Heath sometime during the mid 70's. This friend was a former college alumni, who decided that Jim needed to get with the times, so he took him to a rowdy venue where some punk band was headlining.

After the show, there was a confrontation in the parking lot between a group of punks and a group of metal heads. Don't you love it? Anyways, I guess things got pretty bad, and Jim survived, really having nothing to do with the little battle that took place. However, the experience had an ever-lasting impression on the man who would one day be called "Rev". It would some time before this impression was carried out in an artistic manner though.

Jim and his wife decided to set music aside, and instead chose to pursue and more normal and steady lifestyle. As a result, Jim took up a side job, running sound for bands at two warehouse/venue locations. You have to understand that Jim was a guitar wizard even during these times, so there is no doubt that people were very familiar with his skills, even after he had called it quits with his former band days.

One of these persons just so happened to be the manager and proprietor of this series of warehouse venues, and on one special night, beckoned for Jim to get up on stage and play. Maybe he was sheepish at first, perhaps he was excited about the opportunity, or maybe it didn't matter to him at all. Regardless, The Rev complied and got up on stage and played his famous version of Folsom Prison Blues, that is still well known as a sort of signature piece to Rev fans everywhere.

The crowd went nuts, and the rest is history. Oh sure, that's just too simple an answer from me - I know. There is no doubt that Heath faced hardships while trying to get his act up and going, that is absolutely typical, but the point is that he very quickly put a band together and starting making a name for himself, shortly after his moment of fame at the warehouse.

The punk aspect of music resurfaced in Jim's playing and he started incorporating Texas Swing, Two-Step, Surf music and other styles of music to coincide with presence of punk, never forgetting his Rockabilly origins. The result was something that is still referred to today as psychobilly.

If you ever get the chance to see the Rev play live, you won't be disappointed. The onstage gimmicks and stunts are nearly as good as the music, and I'll never forget the first time I went to one of their shows. I saw older people, kids, hippies, yuppies, and a cool kind of hybrid group that I can only describe as Punk Swing Kids. They had all the classic 50's clothes on, but the girls
had many piercings, and dyed hair, with half of their heads completely shaved. It seems like an odd combo, but these chicks were hot, and that's all there is to it.

Getting back to the music ;) - The Rev had such an impact on my playing that I decided to give up my pursuits of any other kind of music, and I studied nothing but Rockabilly for a good two years.

The tricks, licks, and kicks that I got from it, are still with me today.
Some of the hardest passages that I've ever learned to play were Rockabilly licks, and I seriously doubt that I can still play them. Check out some of the videos below to see just how awesome a guitar player The Rev is. Actually, many people attend his shows just to study his technique, and yes he sweep picks from time to time ;)

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