It’s been four years since Jim Heath, the Reverend Horton Heat himself, took the initiative to found his own festival based off of the hayrides made famous in Louisiana, as well as the shows that happen regularly at the Grand Ol’ Oprey.
His basic idea was to have his band be the “house band,” meaning that they would be on stage for approximately three house and play a bunch of their own songs, while guests would rotate on and off the stage.
“I always wanted to do that,” says Heath. “We’d kind of been doing that a little bit with guest artists over the last six years or so, maybe longer. But we ended up throwing together a festival, and here we are.”
This year, the Reverend will be joined onstage by Orange County favorite Mike Ness of Social Distortion, Slim Jim Phantom of The Stray Cats, Robert Gordon of Tuff Darts, and rockabilly singer Gizzelle. Special guests include Face to Face, The Living End, and Thee Commons. It’s a stellar bill that straddles the line between good old rock ’n’ roll and punk rock beautifully. Heath says that it wasn’t easy to put it together.
“It’s not a matter of choosing, it’s a matter of who can do it, who can’t do it, and then my partner in this is our manager and it’s all down to him,” he says. “We’ll have a giant list of people that we’d like to have, and then as we go down the list it gets a little bit harder and harder. Finally we put together something. I’m lucky this year that Mike is doing it. Mike Ness is a pretty big fish, especially in Orange County. To have him come and sit in with us on this thing, it’s really cool. I reached out to him personally, so in some ways I helped the process. In other ways, it’s a lot more difficult getting talent for festivals than I ever imagined it would be.”
The “hayride” element of this event means that it isn’t your average festival. The members of the Reverend Horton Heat have to learn songs by the various guests, and they have to be ready. On the flip-side, they have far more time to set up and get ready.
“We’re on stage for three hours, including our set,” Heath says. “It’s a lot of work for me and my guys to chart out all these songs for these other people, and be pretty much ready to play their songs note-for-note. But my guys are very good at it now. We’ve been doing this kind of thing for a very long time. It should go off without a hitch. Having my own festival, we get a lot more time to do a soundcheck and set our stuff up. A lot of festivals, what people don’t realize is, there’s no soundcheck. You set up off to the side, and then they just throw you up there. You’ve got 15 minutes then you’re playing. This will be a little less hectic than that.”
Mike Ness will be performing at Horton’s Hayride for the first time this year, though he and Heath have known each other for a few years, having met in Memphis when their tours coincided.
“We just hit it off, became friends,” Ness says. “It turns out we have a lot of mutual friends from the Dallas area. When he asked me to sit in with him on a few songs, I was happy to do it.”
The admiration is mutual, with Ness calling Heath a “Great guitar player who has kept traditional music alive with his tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, and observation.” The set with Reverend Horton Heat will see Ness take a break from his work with Social Distortion, which has been taking up all of his time and attention at present. He’s going to be touring, and then he has a Social D album planned. At Hayride, Ness will be performing both solo and Social Distortion tunes. Besides his own onstage stint, he doesn’t know if he’ll be checking anyone else out.
“I don’t know who’s on the bill,” Ness says. “Right now, I’m in work mode. For listening to bands, I need to be in recreation mode.”
But Heath is excited, and there’s more going on than music. Burlesque performer Sabina Kelley is MCing, while the low-brow theme will carry through to a display of hot-rods and muscle cars.
“We’ve got a car show, and that’s shaping up to be a really good one,” Heath says. “We’ll have tons of vendors and tons of food. Hopefully, we’ll have a really good way to connect with our fans on a one-to-one level. Get out there and talk to them, and mingle.”
As for the Rev set, Heath says that we can expect a lot of good old Reverend Horton Heat stuff, and not a lot if anything at all that’s brand new. There will be a piano player, Matt Jordan, on stage with them, a musician that Heath holds i the highest regard.
“He’s young but very energetic and a phenomenal piano player,” he says. “He’s been helping us out a lot on the arrangements for everybody on the lineup. We’ve got Mike, and Slim Jim Phantom. We have Gizzelle – she’s a really great singer and we’re having fun working on her songs. Then Robert Gordon, the famous rockabilly singer from the ‘70s who really paved the way for The Stray Cats and the Blasters. He’s gonna be joining us.”
Meanwhile, it’s been about three years since the last Reverend Horton Heat album, REV. The band is back in the studio, and most of the tracks are recorded.
“I’ve just got to go back and listen, and check it,” Heath says. “See if any or all are keepers. It got done really quick. It’s so hard for us, because we had to take time off to do an album, writing, rehearsing, arranging, all that other stuff. Then you record it, then go back out on tour. I think it’s going to be a real good one. But it’s been an interesting time for us. Our drummer Scott quit right in the middle of the whole process. Instead of recording a new album, we spent quite a bit of time getting a new drummer. Life happens.”
It sure does, and it happens to the best of us. But on Saturday, we can put it all on hold. Soak up the punkabilly vibe, mellow in some car fumes, show off (or stare at) the tatts, and eat some expensive grease. The music will be phenomenal. With the bill that Heath has put together, how could it not be.
The 4th Annual Horton’s Hayride takes place at 2 p.m. on Saturday, September 16 at the Port of Los Angeles, 3600 Miner St., San Pedro; hortonshayride.com.