Poor Bobby Dylan he’s been scratching around in the music business for a lifetime without even coming close to scratching distance of the power and simplistic genius of The Reverend at his worst. Same goes for old Lenny Cohen too and that Nicky Cave dude. Witness, convert and then testify.
Buy us beer!
Gin ‘n Tonic!
There in their glorious entirety are the lyrics to The Reverend Horton Heat ‘Beer:30’, from his magnum opus* The Full Custom Gospel Sounds of The Reverend Horton Heat, probably my favourite ever LP on Sub Pop and certainly my go-to getting ready to go out’ LP since 1993. Now here at 1537 I take my responsibility as the voice of a generation seriously and I don’t advocate throwing furniture but I’m all for the rest of it, especially when it’s wrapped up in such a fabulous driving rockabilly sound.
I bought this in a really cool record shop in Leeds that was tucked away down by the station that I can’t remember the name of for the life of me, it was half a clothes shop too – all very hardcore, all very serious, in essence just the sort of place that makes little liberal vegetarian me want to go and hang out with the Nuge, oppress the proletariat, make my own backyard nuclear reactor and eat raw steak. The Full Custom Gospel Sounds shone out like a big beacon of FUN FUN FUN in the wilderness; add in the quite wonderful cover photograph, the fact they were on Sub Pop, contained a track called ‘Nurture My Pig!’ and (the clincher!) it was on red vinyl and you’ll see I didn’t stand a chance. The Reverend descended into the vale of tears and (distinct lack of) depravity that was my empty life, reached down and saved me with the power of rocka-psycho-billy. Best of all, like all my favourite music, it was funny.
This LP really has got one of the best Side A’s I can think of. It kicks off with ‘Wiggle Stick’ we’re treated to The Reverend’s views on some of religion’s more difficult theological and liturgical questions – why are we here? if there is a God, why does he allow such suffering in His world? and by the way, The Reverend has a wiggle stick mama and apparently, ‘you’ll like it a lot’**. It is of course, pure wonderful filth. So far so good, but then we take a steep upturn with ‘400 Bucks’ a tale of lending a paramour said money to buy a car and her playing you false, set to some of the fastest stomping metallic rockabilly ever laid down. Then we take an atmospheric, downtempo turn for ‘The Devil’s Chasing Me’, which a number of more serious, classic fellas would happily claim as their own. Then it just keeps getting better!
‘Livin’ on the Edge of Houston’ is up next, musically hitting the turbo again it is a real stinging putdown of a dilettante, nailed with some neatly acerbic lyrics.
Yeah, it’s cool everybody knows
That you’re in and out of jail
You’re a tortured artistic soul
But your daddy always pays your bail
When ‘You Can’t get Away From Me’ and it’s clever tale of a name-dropping groupie bangs straight into the aforementioned ‘Beer:30’, I’m just left in rock piggy heaven.
The Reverend Horton Heat, at this stage a three piece featuring Jimbo on upright bass, Taz on drums and The Reverend Horton Heat^ on guitar, were as tight as the proverbial duck’s ass and supposedly an incredible live act. They were equally happy playing straight country-inflected rockabilly such as ‘Loaded Gun’ and ‘Lonesome Blues’ and smash-the-place up ravers such as ‘Big Little Baby’,
Her heart is as big as her feet are long
But she’s not afraid to fight someone who does me wrong
Big little baby, big little baby
I can’t praise it enough, I really can’t. Produced by Gibby Haynes of Butthole Surfers fame, The Full Custom Gospel is a brilliantly well recorded album, everything ringing loud and true. After the narco-fabulous tale of ‘Bales of Cocaine’, possibly the best country song I can think of about a hick farmer being gifted illegal bounty from the sky, comes the woozy FX laden ‘Nurture My Pig’ ^^, which is a step closer to Mr Haynes hometurf, comes the only screw up on the LP, ‘Gin And Tonic Blues’ which is an irritating, melange of more FX and sodding about with the volume. One duff track at the end of the whole album is not a bad return, but it is irritating because the rest of it really is so great.
Unfortunately this was the peak of The Reverend Horton Heat, they continue to release albums and there are some cracking tracks out there, but nothing quite as touched by brilliance as The Full Custom Gospel and after a bit it was very much a case of diminishing returns. Remember them this way and if you ever find yourself needing a shot of sheer joy and exuberance then you know what to treat yourself to.
*not Latin for a workmanlike cover of On A Storyteller’s Night.
**don’t get him started on either his ‘whammy bar’ or his ‘vibrator nob’ (sic) either.
^or plain old Jim Heath to his family, he just dropped the last H in his name to found his alter ego.
^^Hmm – is this really about a pig? I quote,
Hey baby I got a pig
I got a pig and it’s pink and big
Hey baby I got a pig
Yeah come on baby you and my pig