The Reverend Horton Heat
With their hot-rodded fusion of dazzling high-speed guitar runs, thundering rhythms, high-profile swagger, and lyrical smirk, the Reverend Horton Heat are perhaps the most popular psychobilly artists of all time, their recognition rivaled only by the esteem generated by the genre’s founders, The Cramps. The Reverend (as both the band and its guitar-playing frontman are known) built a strong cult following during the ’90s through constant touring, manic showmanship, and a barbed sense of humor. The latter was nothing new in the world of psychobilly, of course, and Heat’s music certainly maintained the trashy aesthetic of his spiritual forebears. The Reverend’s true innovation was updating the psychobilly sound for the alternative rock era. In their hands, it had roaring distorted guitars, rocked as hard as any punk band, and didn’t look exclusively to the pop culture of the past for its style or subject matter. Most of the Reverend’s lyrics were gonzo celebrations of sex, drugs, booze, and cars, and true to his name, his early concerts often featured mock sermons in the style of a rural revivalist preacher. On their 1992 debut Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em, the group established the template of their no-frills, high-intensity approach to rockabilly, and though celebrity producers helped beef up the sound of their next two albums — Gibby Haynes of The Buttole Surfers on 1993’s The Full Custom Gospel Sounds and Ministry’s Al Jourgensen on 1994’s Liquor in the Front — the Reverend’s essential style changed little with time. They would explore a more introspective side on 2004’s Revival, embrace their country influences on 2009’s Laughin’ & Cryin’ with the Reverend Horton Heat, and add a pianist to the mix on 2018’s Whole New Life, but on-stage and in the studio, Jim Heath and his bandmates could always be depended upon to deliver some of the twangy fire that their fans loved.