.Reverend Horton Heat at The Ritz

Reverend Horton Heat, Dale Watson and Jason D. Williams rock The Ritz

One wouldn’t think so based on his music, but: “I also worked in the corporate world for a while,” says James “Jim” Heath. “A lot of that depends on who you’re working for, and the particular one I did—I won’t tell who but you have heard of them, I’m sure—that was just terrible. I mean awful.” 

Corporate life might be for some people but it’s hard to picture Heath in a cubicle. Especially for anyone who knows him by his alter ego, the smoke-em-if-you-got-’em, martini-time-loving, country-fried-rockabilly-preacher, the Reverend Horton Heat. 

“They used to laugh at me because I cut my hair like the ‘50s,” he remembers about the job. “They would say, ‘Hey Elvis!’ and I look nothing like Elvis.” 

However, that corporate world seems a lifetime ago to the musician as his band—which goes by the same name—celebrates 38 years of high octane fun over a whopping 5,500 shows according to Heath. 

To kick off their 120 gigs in 2024 is the Stars Align Tour with the Reverend Horton Heat (featuring long-time bassist, Jimbo Wallace and drummer Jonathan Jeter), Austin country artist Dale Watson, and “piano demon” Jason D. Williams. The stacked tour tolls through The Ritz on March 15. 

“I had no idea it would last this long!” he says. “It’s kinda crazy. I don’t know how to wrap my brain around being in the same band for that long but I’m very grateful and happy.” 

In fact, he enjoys playing music more now than in the early days. He explains new musicians and bands have a lot of pressure not only to nail every gig, but also make sure there’s a large enough draw to be invited back. 

“Every gig is a pass or fail test on your whole career,” he laughs. “And that’s something I don’t have to worry about now-a-days.” 

That being said, Heath doesn’t like to wade in nostalgic waters for too long. 

“I’m glad Reverend Horton Heat is still vital but I don’t like to talk a lot about how long the band’s been going,” he admits. “Because it gets me talking about the past and I’m always looking to the future.” 

Which–on the surface–might seem a bit ironic. 

Afterall, Reverend Horton Heat plays country influenced 1950’s style rock ‘n roll a la Sun Records (with some modern elements mixed in). Case in point, their latest studio album—2023’s Roots of the Rev. Vol. 1—is a collection of a dozen cover songs by artists who influenced the band’s sound like Willie Nelson, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran and, yes, Elvis. 

They even used analog equipment, old microphones and both Jims played together live in the studio to replicate that classic sound. It’s also the first in their 13 album discography to not feature original compositions.

“I love vintage sound recordings and we’re going to continue to do that,” he says. “Maybe not as lo-fi as on Roots but it will change a lot of how I work in the future.” 

A future based in the present with the Stars Align, two-song single featuring Watson and Williams, released on Feb. 10. It basks in the glory of honky tonk with Williams ripping it up on the piano like he’s summoning “rock ‘n roll’s first great wild man,” Jerry Lee Lewis. Which makes sense since the second song, “Last Man Standing” is an ode to The Killer himself. 

So what was the catalyst in forming the rockabilly supergroup?

“Well, we did a show at [2023’s] South by Southwest and it generated some interest with people,” says Heath. “So we said ‘let’s do a tour.’” 

The tracks were recorded at Watson’s Memphis basement studio, aka Wat-Sun Studio, on the same type of mixer used by Sam Phillips at his Memphis Recording Service for Sun Records. They also made sure to utilize the “slapback echo” effect—also created by Phillips—to capture that true boogie-woogie, honky tonk essence. 

The two songs were recorded at the suggestion of Jennifer Williams, an Atomic Music Group agent and Jason’s wife, to honor the tour. So, for now at least, there’s no plans for a full album. But when it comes to the Rev there are only two things that are certain: they’re going to keep recording new music and they’re going to keep rocking town to town. 

“Even when I’m sick, I might be feeling terrible,” Heath says. “But when I get up on stage and we’re one or two songs in, I’m feeling great again.”


The Reverend Horton Heat, Dale Watson, Jason D. Williams

The Ritz

400 S. 1st St., San Jose

Fri, March 15, 8pm 

$30adv/$35door

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