Horton's Holiday Hayride: Reverend Horton's Heat, Junior Brown, The Blasers and Big Sandy | Cat's Cradle | Clubs & Concerts | Indy Week
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Horton's Holiday Hayride: Reverend Horton's Heat, Junior Brown, The Blasers and Big Sandy 

When: Sun., Dec. 17, 7:30 p.m. 2017
Price: $25-$28

Be careful what you say about Jim Heath's music. As the Reverend Horton Heat, Heath has been releasing red-hot rockabilly for over three decades. But Heath's Heat signature gets smothered with a lot of prefixes he doesn't care for. Even though he recorded a tune called "Psychobilly Freakout" (on Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em in 1990,) he insists that psycho- is not an acceptable prefix for his -billy, nor is shocka- or punka-. Rockabilly is his go-to genre, his first love and musical mainstay throughout the years.

Heath will be the first to tell you he's not a purist, as he happily integrates other styles, including country, jazz, and punk into his sound. But his bedrock is the sound Elvis started out with. Heath is a big early-Elvis fan, listing Presley guitarists Scotty Moore and James Burton as favorites, as well as Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps' guitarist Cliff Gallup. He's also a big fan of the Sun Records sound that Elvis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis made famous in the fifties.

But rather than doing covers of songs or styles, Heat would rather write his own tunes. He might adapt a technique from one of his favorite string pullers, like Gallup's use of echo and whammy bar, but he has his own style, utilizing a technique he calls the "Nashville Claw," wherein he fingerpicks the guitar's higher notes while creating an alternating bass part with an actual pick.

Heath's playing is loud, fast, and raucous, yet he's a meticulous guitarist comfortable in a variety of styles. He's also got a wicked sense of humor, as he demonstrated on 1993's Full Custom Gospel Sounds of Reverend Horton Heat. Bereft of gospel, that record was loaded with goofy rockabilly numbers like "Big Little Baby," which starts with a belch and part of the drummer's kit falling off before the band tears through the tune like a pack of speed-crazed dare-demons. In the video for "Wiggle Stick," Heat, with a large snake draped around his neck, satirizes snake-handling worshippers by praising his wiggle stick, whammy bar, and vibrator bar as instruments of healing.

Heath's most recent record, 2014's Rev, is fast and furious. "Zombie Dumb" sounds like a Los Straitjackets surf offering, "Schizoid" comes off like an unreleased Ramones track. Elsewhere, "My Hat" is classic rockabilly, something Elvis might have played proudly in the fifties.

Heath might not always keep his -billy dead center in the ring of fire, but as long as he has a guitar in his hands, the Heat will always be on. —Grant Britt

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