Music News & Reviews

As Reverend Horton Heat, Jim Heath knows he has a good gig going

Reverend Horton Heat and Banderas

8 p.m. May 3 at The Dame, 367 East Main. $15. (859) 231-7263.

There are few experiences that can match performing in the Bluegrass on the day after the Kentucky Derby. Perhaps playing on New Year's Day as opposed to New Year's Eve would be similar. In both instances, the ballyhooed celebration has ended. In its place is a sort of prolonged statewide hangover.

This weekend, it will fall to the high priest of psychobilly music, Reverend Horton Heat, to whip Lexington back into party mode. Hey, he plays The Dame on Sunday, after all. And when the Rev gets cranking on such time-tested, turbo-charged rockabilly fare as 200 Bucks and Wiggle Stick, you undoubtedly will feel the spirit.

But the Rev — Jim Heath, in everyday life — doesn't live by psychobilly alone. Since the last official Horton Heat album, 2004's Revival, he has cut an ultra-fun holiday record called We Three Kings. Then last year came a seriously cool left turn, a side band by the name of Reverend Organdrum and a recording titled Hi-Fi Stereo. The record put the psychobilly on hold to explore vintage R&B and soul-jazz grooves in an instrumental guitar, organ and drums setting.

"Usually I always try to find something to work on that's a little different after every album," Heath said last weekend by phone from Las Vegas. "Sometimes it's just me trying to learn something new."

"The Reverend Organdrum thing happened as we finished Revival. I was riding around getting into this Hammond organ stuff, listening to guys like Jimmy Smith. I always liked that R&B music with Booker T. and the MGs, too."

The Rev already has his return mapped out, though. A new Horton Heat album with a decidedly more country sway has been recorded. Its working title: Laughin' and Cryin' With the Reverend Horton Heat.

"Actually, I was going to have an alter ego on this album until I realized alter egos are really stupid. I was going to have a country thing where I had a vocal style where the guy kind of cries through half of the verses and laughs through the rest of them. It was really exaggerated. There's a little bit of that in there. But I didn't get too corny."

Of course, it could be argued that Heath already has the ultimate alter ego in the Rev. In the 20 years since Heat's psychobilly music was born in the Dallas warehouse district known as Deep Ellum, Heath admits the Rev's shoes have become pretty comfortable. But when his stage time for the evening is done, he is also pretty happy to deposit them in a closet.

"It's been so long that I've been doing this that maybe now I am more comfortable wearing them," Heath said. "But I don't really think about it too much. It's just what I do, so it's all cool. I actually prefer hanging around just being Jim than trying to be the Reverend all the time — especially when I'm offstage.

"But it's pretty easy to get up for the gig and be happy with what I'm doing. I mean, I've had regular jobs. I know what that's like. This is way better."

Derby Eve with Amos Lee

Amos Lee has managed to find himself in some pretty cool company whenever he heads to Kentucky.

In 2004, when Norah Jones headlined at Rupp Arena, Lee was the show opener. The jazz-folk pop songsmith made a sizeable impression that night even though his Blue Note debut album was months away from being released. Three years later, the Philadelphia-born Lee kicked off a bill at Louisville's Freedom Hall headlined by Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello. At that point, Lee's third album, Last Days at the Lodge, was a year away from release.

Friday, Lee is back as the top-billed artist for Derby Eve festivities at The Dame. Pop stylist and fellow Philadelphian MUTLU will open. (8 p.m. $20. (859) 231-7263.)