Gigging: The Reverend Horton Heat on Achieving Nirvana

June 1, 2004

The Reverend Horton Heat on Achieving Nirvana

“It’s like a little bit of nirvana,” says the Lone Star State’s rockingest man of the cloth, the Reverend Horton Heat, about those gigs when everything goes inexplicably right. We’re talking about enchanted nights when, from the very first note, your rig sounds heavenly, the licks flow effortlessly, and with Zen-like clarity, the world around you seems to lapse into slow motion, leaving you in perfect control of every note. For Heat, those divine performances usually involve a Gretsch 6120, two overdriven Fender amps, a touch of echo, and a wild set of the bawdy, high-revving thrash-a-billy originals that are his trademark. But guess what: If Heat is having a nightmare gig, you probably won’t be able to tell. “A big part of showmanship is having a smile on your face and performing your best—even when the P.A. is crackling, and you’re in some tiny club where you can’t turn up above a dinky little clean sound, and you’re blowing licks left and right,” observes Heat. “Rising above those situations takes experience, but once you get through enough of them, you’ll learn how to put on a great show no matter what the circumstances. That’ll put confidence in you, so when you’re in a club that does have great gear, you can stay loose and find that nirvana thing once again.”

For most guitarists, basking in the glories of an enchanted evening often starts with a kick-ass guitar tone—and that’s something fate tends not to provide each and every gig. “A lot of young guitarists want their tone to be great every night, but they don’t understand that every room sounds different,” says Heat. “There are countless external factors involved, and dealing with them is part of being a professional musician. Even altitude can have an effect on your guitar tone. You can sit there and mess with the controls all you want, but when you’re playing a ski town way up in the Rocky Mountains, you may find that your amps produce a much harsher sound. That said, the more gigs you play, the more you’ll discover how to evolve your sound closer to your ‘dream tone.’ For instance, I’ve recently discovered how helpful baffles are. I put them in front of my amps in smaller venues, which allows me to crank up my Super Reverbs and get that sweet grind without blowing the heads off the people in the front row.”


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