WHO: Reverend Horton Heat
WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesday
WHERE: Tralf, 622 Main St.
Rockabilly is the original "punk" music. Two decades before the genre known as punk exploded from New York in the '70s with the likes of Patti Smith and the Ramones, there was a band of Memphis rebels, including Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins, making edgy, up-tempo music with pounding rhythms and wild vocals. They looked, acted and sounded different than their contemporaries and thus were generally regarded as punks.
So no surprise, then, that the new-school rockabilly sound evolving since the '70s has absorbed the even more aggressive rhythms and mayhem-over-melody mantras of punk. From the work of psychobilly pioneers the Cramps to today's torchbearers, Reverend Horton Heat, which makes its annual visit to Buffalo this Wednesday in the Tralf, rockabilly and punk, though hardly a heavenly sound, have proven to be a match made at least somewhere in purgatory.
"The (rockabilly) music of that era, in the '50s and '60s, was all made on indie labels, was high-energy music, and it was somewhat misunderstood," said Jim Heath, a k a "the Rev," by phone as the veteran road warrior hit the highway once again from his hometown of Dallas. "So it was, in a lot of ways, very similar to punk. What Jerry Lee Lewis was doing was a lot crazier than anything goin' on today."
While pomade and custom-made zoot suits may make Heath look like a throwback, he is by all means one of the greatest guitar innovators of our time. His signature dexterity-defying licks, most notably "the Hurricane," in which he plays lead and rhythm guitar simultaneously, are the stuff of legend.
" 'The Hurricane' is my big one, but I'm tryin' to develop some new licks," he said. "I got another lick called the 'Top Secret Lick,' it's really not a secret, though. It enables the flat-pickin' guitar player to play as fast as a banjo. So when you're playin' up high it sounds like a banjo, but when you get down to the lower strings it's a whole 'nother animal."
While the road-runnin' monster that is RHH, complete with slap-happy upright bassist Jimbo Wallace and madman drummer Scott Churilla, has cut its teeth as a wild 'n' wooly stage-dweller, the band's latest studio efforts in its eighth album, "Revival" (Yep Roc), and an upcoming Christmas album (that's right), show a growing balance between revelry and redemption. On "Revival," along with the band's trademark topics of cars, bars and women, Heath gives an introspective state of the Rev address in the title track, and grieves the loss of his mother with a stirring step back in "Someone in Heaven." But neither the studio nor the ballad have ever been this band's bag -- for Heath, the live show still sits shotgun.
"My thing is that being a musician is more of a valid art form than being a recording artist," he said. "There's so much technology now, but playin' live is the real deal -- that's where it's at."
And the Tralf will be where it's at Wednesday, as the Heat will undoubtedly burn the joint, with help from longtime billmates the Supersuckers and fellow hooligans Murphy's Law.
This show is almost sold out -- get your ticket now before some punk beats you to the last one.