Rev. Horton Heat burns up the Spanish Ballroom

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Story & photos by Bill Bungard

The McMenamins Spanish Ball Room was the venue on Feb. 7 for what I believe was singer/songwriter/guitarist Jim Heath’s, a.k.a. Reverend Horton Heat’s, first visit to Tacoma with his high energy psychobilly trio. The Reverend, touted as the godfather of modern rockabilly and psychobilly, started out in the mid 80’s in the Dallas club scene and developed a following with his first three albums in the early 90’s with the Northwest’s SubPop records, with 12 studio albums released and the latest in 2018 with Victory Records, “Whole New Life.”

Rockabilly is one of the earliest styles of 50’s rock music, fused with a little country and then fused again with punk creating “psychobilly” with added flavors of surf, big band and swing. The subculture of the genre, and sustainability over decades, has created a solid fan base. 

Credit: Bill Bungard / http://www.BillBungard.com

Here in the Northwest, the pyschobilly trio did a fling with seven shows in eight days: Feb. 2 in Portland, three shows in Seattle Feb. 4-6, Tacoma on Feb. 7 and Olympia on Feb. 8, and Grants Pass, Ore. on Feb 9 – a hard working band that seems like they are making every stop across the continent. 

The Reverend Horton Heat trio includes Jimbo Wallace slapping the stand up bass for 31 years and, since 2017, drummer Arjuna “RJ” Contreras who in recent years has toured nationally with Grammy Award-winners Brave Combo, Donna Summer and Howard Scott (original lead singer and guitarist for WAR). 

Credit: Bill Bungard / http://www.BillBungard.com

Here is a partial set list of the show absent the half dozen songs when Canadian rockabilly artist Bloodshot Bill joined the band as a special guest: “Ride Before the Fall,” “Psychobilly Freakout,” “Big Little Baby,” “Five-O Ford,” “Big Red Rocket of Love,” “Jimbo Song,” “Spend a Night in the Box,” “Like a Rocket,” “Let Me Teach You How to Eat,” “Whole New Life,” “Don’t Let Go of Me,” “Ace of Spades” (Motörhead cover), “400 Bucks,” “Galaxy 500” and “Viva Las Vegas” (Elvis Presley cover).

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