Religion and pop music have a long, tangled history, stretching from Wayne Cochran’s tragic teen tale “Last Kiss” to the irreverent imagery in Madonna’s “Like A Prayer” video to the deep theological issues hidden between the lines of Willow Smith’s current chart hit, “Whip My Hair.”
Dig deeper into the underground, and you’ll find rock bands that have been mining religious motifs and metaphors for decades, such as Monks, Judas Priest, Jesus and Mary Chain and Smoking Popes.
And then there’s the Great State of Texas’ most esteemed psychobilly missionary, the Reverend Horton Heat, who’ll arrive in Bend on Wednesday for a show at Midtown Ballroom (see “If you go”). The Rev — secular name: Jim Heath — has fused the worlds of rock and religion for a quarter-century, playing a hell-bent brand of punk, twang, rockabilly and swing with the fervor of a sweaty televangelist who makes the lame walk and the blind see. Except Heath (and his namesake trio) can make even the most detached-cool rockabilly cat shake his pompadour.
The Reverend Horton Heat is one of the most surprising success stories of American underground music in recent years. The band surfaced in the early 1990s with two excellent albums — 1990’s “Smoke ‘em If You Got ‘em” and 1993’s “The Full Custom Gospel Sounds of ...” — released on Subpop Records, at the time the quaking epicenter of grunge. They rose to greater prominence (and major-label help) with 1994’s “Liquor in the Front,” an album that best encapsulates the trio’s signature blend: Heath’s blazing guitar, bassist Jimbo Wallace’s manic slap-bass lines, and thunderous drumbeats (provided over the years by a “Spinal Tap”-ian parade of timekeepers).
Since, Heath and company have dabbled in swing, surf, Christmas music, big band and whatever else tickles their fancy. They’ve had their songs placed in advertisements and video games. They’ve toured the world at a workaholic’s pace and risen to the point where they can pack a place like Bend’s cavernous Midtown.
On Wednesday, they’ll roll into town on a tour supporting their most recent long-player, 2009’s “Laughin’ & Cryin’.” It’s a bit of a return to the band’s older sound (as opposed to the heavy punkabilly on 2004’s “Revival”), where good humor was as prevalent as references to liquor, beer, wine and smokes. Here’s how www.reverendhortonheat.com describes it: “A record full of country-heavy tunes about bad habits, well-meaning but clueless husbands, ever-expanding beer-guts and, well, Texas.”
Well, of course. The Lone Star State. After all, the Reverend Horton Heat is, as they say, rock ’n’ roll by birth, Texan by the grace of God.