Contemporary rockabilly doesn't retain much in the way of true institutions these days — at least as far as stalwart artists go. It's a seductive world, chock-full of interesting aesthetics and implied authenticity, but one that many are just passing through on their way out of whatever other musical subculture with which they've grown jaded. But for true believers, rockabilly often blossoms from an art form into a lifestyle. It lures in seekers of authenticity and some tangible connection to or slice of an American past that, while often exaggerated or twisted into something else entirely, is still essential, charming, and aesthetically pleasing. More important, rockabilly was born out of the same honest rebellion that any real rock fan seeks from his tunes and heroes.
Everyone, from Los Angeles' punk originals X to the increasingly popular proto-rock revivalist J.D. McPherson, carries some thread of rockabilly's DNA in their sound and look, and we could certainly could go on and on about the genre's real influence and impact. We could also get really philosophical about the realities and ramifications of donning a greaser costume and shoving a hearty dollop of Layrite on your coif before hitting the town in some derelict classic car you undoubtedly couldn't afford to insure in Florida unless you're living on Top Ramen. But this isn't about that; it's about an institution of the form by the name of Jim Heath, known to most as the Reverend Horton Heat, and why it's really your duty to check out his gig at least once in your life.
The Rev has been faithfully strangling the strings of a Gretsch and protecting the rockabilly flame since right around the time Brian Setzer began toying with the idea of a swing band (and the Stray Cats started slowing a bit) in the early '90s. Heath has put out 11 full-length records of banging, unfucked-with contemporary rockabilly radness over the course of a career that has also seen him develop into one of the most exciting and underrated live acts working today. Of course, the rockabilly world is a small one, and if you already know, you know. But for the uninitiated, the man's guitar skills are worth the price of admission alone.
If you care to bask in the light of someone who truly embodies what rockabilly culture is about, a proper student of the form that's gone far beyond the surface aesthetics and watered-down Elvis covers that plague bars lining Himmarshee Street, do yourself a favor and check out the good Reverend's gig at the Culture Room. Get there early too, because the man's opening support is a trio of legendary groups in their own right, including the Red Elvises, Nashville Pussy, and Unknown Hinson — whom you might know from his work on Squidbillies or possibly as a member of Billy Bob Thornton's group, the Boxmasters. That's a pretty stacked bill for $22.
Reverend Horton Heat
7:30 p.m. Friday, January 15, at Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $22 plus fees. Call 954-564-1074, or visit ticketmaster.com.