There was a time in my youth where I would’ve told you I listen to everything but country. Then as I got older I realized that was a lie. Deep inside this big city fox beats a little honky tonk heart that fell in love with rockabilly music in all its different forms, even when it has that trademark country twang to it. While bands like The Nekromantix and The Horrorpops are what enticed me into this genre around the same time I was discovering roller derby, I realized my new found appreciation was rooted in the 1950’s rock and roll scene that my mom loved and exposed me to at a very young age.
After a friend introduced me to The Nekromantix a few years back I realized I love bands with a standing bass. It wasn’t long after that I was introduced to music of The Reverend Horton Heat. I was lucky enough to see him live at The Trocadero about 2 years ago at a concert that was in January and almost snowed out. The Rev wasn’t a headliner at this particular show however he played with Deke Dickerson and put on a hell of a show. It was my first exposure to a rockabilly mosh pit and I loved it! A few beers in and me and some of the derby peeps were getting in on the hard hitting swing type action that emerged in front of us and I was hooked.
Unfortunately, bands like that tend to tour the south and the west coast, places where the rockabilly scene is BIG. Over the past couple of years there was a few times I considered traveling below the Mason Dixon line just to go and check him out, I’m actually considering a March trip to Nashville to see him play with one of my favorite politically incorrect, banjo playing, female duo, Birdcloud. That trip aside, I was excited to get the chance to check them out here in Philly at the TLA. Unfortunately due to some miscommunication I wound up going by myself and wasn’t prepared to take pictures so you will just have to read about how awesome it was.
First of all, I have to tell you I have a problem. I’m late for almost everything in life, some would say I have poor time management skills, but I say its cause I’m a free spirit and you can’t rush the kind of awesome I bring! Either way, I was late and missed the opening band, Lucky Tubb and The Modern Day Troubadours. I regretted this later when Lucky Tubb and his bassist Casey Gill returned to the stage to play some songs with The Reverend Horton. So sadly, I can’t say much about this group except that Lucky is a descendant of the legendary Ernest Tubb and that they hail from Austin making me doubly sad that I missed them since I consider the ATX to be my home away from home.
I biked to the TLA on an extremely cold night and walked in just as Nashville Pussy took the stage and immediately felt the warmth of southern rock beaming from the stage. I’m admittedly not very familiar with the band but have heard of them through the Texas Roller Derby community so it was cool to finally get to see them play in action. Even cooler was that both their guitarists were females who kicked some serious ass on the guitars that night. I wasn’t really familiar with their songs but it sounded great and they did a few old school covers like “Free Bird”. In true rock star fashion, the band passed around a bottle of Jack during their set and eventually, after they finished, front man Blaine Cartwright grabbed himself a beer and joined the crowd to enjoy the main event.
Around 10:30, The Reverend Horton heat took the stage for two hours of psychobilly fueled fun. Playing some of his classics like “400 Bucks,” “Beer Holder,” and “Go With Your Friends,” the crowd immediately felt the energy and started moving and swinging with those sweet honky tonk beats. Shifting the focus on his long time bassist and good friend by doing the crowd favorite “JIMBO,” you just couldn’t help but stomp your feet in time and get wrapped up in the southern fried atmosphere that was being created by such an iconic band. Jim Heath, aka The Rev, is known for being a huge music lover who has always loved the blues and rock and roll in general and almost always has a great special guest at his shoes. Usually an artist or an act that he respects and this time was no different as he was joined by Unknown Hinson.
For those of you who don’t know, Unknown Hinson is a longtime comedic musician and voice actor, well known for voicing the main character, Earl Cuyler, on Adult Swim’s show Squidbillies. He is known for an over the top stage presence that can sometimes overshadow just how talented the man is on a guitar, a fact noted by The Rev himself while introducing him to the crowd. They played some Unknown Hinson songs and of course, everybody’s favorite hillbilly anthem, “I Ain’t Afraid of Your Husband.” The crowd loved it and sung along during the brief but entertaining break from The Reverend’s regular set.
Of course once that was over it was back to the musical mayhem and time to get serious as they dove into the rockabilly mosh pit anthem, “Psychobilly Freakout.” By the time he moved on to “Galaxie 500,” I couldn’t help myself and had to jump in a bit. After catching a solid fist to the jaw I took my butt right back over to the edge of this glorious country style pit reserving myself to just pushing back on the half drunken bodies that stumble into you as they try to maintain balance after a hard hit on a beer soaked surface. To keep the energy in the pit moving, Cartwright joined the band for crowd rousing cover of the Motorhead staple, “Ace of Spades.” The hits kept coming and coming as they performed “Loco Gringo Likes to Party,” “Callin’ In Twisted,” and “Just Let Me Hold My Paycheck.”
He slowed it down for a bit with “In Your Wildest Dreams” and then took another quick break before coming back and being joined again by Unknown Hinson and Lucky Tubb to do a cover of an Ernest Tubb song. At this point we had passed the midnight hour and it was time for this trio, consisting of members all in their late 50s that still rock out just as hard if not more than many of their youthful counterparts, to start wrapping things up. They did this with some hits form their most recent album, The Rev. “Smell of Gasoline,” “Hardscrabble Woman,” and “Zombie Dumb” were a great way to wrap up and evening that ended with one of my all-time favorite songs, “Let Me Teach You How To Eat.”
It had been a while since I had the opportunity to take in a good rockabilly show and there was no better way to get my feet wet than with the Godfather of American Psychobilly, Reverend Horton Heat. The show was just what I needed and provided the perfect chance to hop into a less frantic, more rhythmic, but still aggressive, mosh pit and release some pent up energy myself. It’s awesome to watch couples and strangers just start dancing and swaying while others are pushing and shoving and still others are just keeping time with the music, the common factor being that everybody is feeling the music and having a great time. This was the first time I went to a show by myself and I really couldn’t have picked a better one to do it with. Rockabilly and psychobilly may be very sub cultural type scenes but The Reverend draws an eclectic mix of people and whether you’re a punk, a greaser, or a metal dude, you’re welcome in a community that’s all about kick ass music and a rebel attitude.