Reverend Peyton of Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, The TVD Interview

“Born, bred, corn-fed, gonna live in the country ‘til the day I’m dead.

That declaration, from the opening track of the 2010 album The Wages, is like a battle line drawn in the country dirt. Defying any musical standard, any type of Nashville scene, Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band wears the statement like a badge of honor. So much so, that singer/guitarist Josh “Reverend” Peyton has the song title tattooed on his arm, framing an outline of their home state of Indiana.

Since 2004, the Big Damn Band has earned a reputation as road warriors, playing well over 200 shows per year while honing their unique mix of Midwest country and Delta blues. The instruments themselves will make you stare in a combination of wonder and awe. Rev switches between an array of guitars, from antique steel bodied and resonators, to fan-made cigar-box guitars, and about anything else he can attach strings and a pickup to. His wife Breezy plays the washboard like a woman possessed, and drummer Ben “Birddog” Bussell favors a 5-gallon plastic bucket over a rack tom. Their albums are incredible enough on their own, but their live show, resembling an amped-up blues tent revival, has to be seen to be believed.

The Big Damn Band made a stop in D.C. at The Hamilton recently, and TVD had a chance to sit with Reverend Peyton and talk about life on the road, the blues, lucky hog testicles, and, of course, vinyl.

Welcome back to DC! How’s things going for the Big Damn Band?

Man, it is going amazing. This tour has been one of my favorite tours we’ve ever done, if not my favorite. It’s just been…all the shows have been awesome. We’re playing better than we’ve ever played, everybody’s just having fun. That’s the way I want it to be, from this point forward. Everybody wants to be here, and that, to me, is going to be A-1, number 1 important. I just love doing this. For some people, touring is not for them. I understand that, I get it.

Yeah, it’s a hard way of life.

I’ve had jobs before that just weren’t for me. I’ve done a lot of different jobs. I worked at Kinko’s for a while, and I sucked at that job. I was terrible at it. It wasn’t for me. Some people will probably do that job and think “How could you think this job sucks?” It wasn’t for me. Sometimes things just aren’t for you…this is for me. I love it, I love being out here and seeing stuff, like here today in Washington, DC. It’s amazing how close all the stuff is, from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument, the Reflecting Pool, it’s all right there. The White House, right there. It’s kind of amazing.

Take us back to the beginning—what drew a young Josh Peyton to the blues?

Well, I got into this basically through my Dad, really. My Dad was always into lots of old stuff. What really, really got me into stuff was one day I was like 12 years old, and the old man said he’s gonna bring home a guitar. I remember having that conversation, and I said “You can’t afford a guitar!”, and he said “Yes I can.” So we went to get one, and we got a Kay. It was a state-of-the-art electric guitar, with no amp, because he couldn’t swing the amp. He told me if I got good with it, that he’d get me an amp. I don’t even know why he bought it. It’s like, he was buying it for me…kind of…but I think it was for him, sort of. I don’t know why exactly we were even getting it. It wasn’t something I had asked for, necessarily. It almost seemed out of the realm.

When I was twelve, the idea of even being able to play an instrument like that was…I didn’t even know my Dad played, but we get it home, and he could play guitar! He sold it when I was real young, I guess just to pay for bills and stuff, but he could play lots of songs and chords, little leads he’d memorized and stuff. That blew my mind. The fact that he could do that just blew my mind. I haven’t put it down since. I obsessively played it, like an insane person.

Who are some of your early influences?

The first stuff I was into was just stuff through my Dad. He was into like, Johnny Winter, the Rolling Stones…

The old man’s record collection, right?

Yeah, yeah. Electric blues like that. So, I started going “What did those guys listen to? Well, what did Muddy Waters listen to? What was Howlin’ Wolf into?”

Sort of taking it deeper into the roots of the music.

Yeah, and the further back it went, that was the stuff I was more into. Especially guitar playing-wise. It just seemed like it was way more melodic. To me it was way more complex. I was thirteen years old, and playing lead guitar in an electric blues band, but what I wanted to be able to do was play finger-style like Charley Patton, Robert Johnson, Son House, and John Hurt. That was real guitar playing to me at the time. It seemed like what the electric single-string gunslingers did, at that point, seemed easy to me. I was like, “Well, that’s simple.” What blew my mind was playing two things at once. When I first heard someone do that, it almost seemed impossible. I was like “How does that happen? How do they do that?”

Who are some of the more contemporary artists that you’re into?

Contemporary artists…hmmm…Robert Belfour. In terms of that style, the finger style, I like Robert Belfour. I like some of the guys we’ve had on tour, like on this tour, or the Revolution tour. Alvin Youngblood Hart, Jimbo Mathus, Dom Flemons, who was on part of this tour. Those are some of my favorites. Love that stuff.

Is there someone who we’d be completely surprised that you’re into?

I don’t know. Not necessarily. I guess the stuff I listen to now is way more expanded than when I was younger. When I was younger, if it wasn’t roots/blues, then I wasn’t into it.

Really?

Yeah.

You sort of immersed yourself into it?

Yeah, I did. Now, I just like good songs. I listen to all kinds of stuff. I think CCR [Creedence Clearwater Revival] was the greatest rock and roll band, ever. If you don’t count Chuck Berry, who I almost count as blues instead of rock and roll.

Back in that day, blues was morphing into rock and roll, the lines were getting crossed so much.

Yeah, oh yeah. It’s funny because what Chuck Berry did sometimes, like “Maybellene” sounds more country than what’s on country radio.

Yeah it does.

It’s weird what music, and the labels of music, and what it’s become. It’s strange. It was a strange time musically in term of genres of music.

Yeah, back then, they were very quick, because it was so different to say, “Well, that’s rock and roll.” In reality, it was 95% blues.

Yeah, I mean, most of Chuck Berry’s stuff is twelve bars, with turnarounds and stuff. It’s definitely more melodic, and he was definitely writing songs, a lot more so than your standard blues hammer or electric blues bands do now. It was pretty bluesy, that’s for sure.

Tell us about the Peyton on Patton record. 1 man, 1 guitar, 1 mic—you don’t see that much nowadays.

It’s a pretty weird thing to do, but I just love Charley Patton. At the time, I really wanted for our fans, and maybe even more people, especially in the blues world, in that blues hammer, electric, single string, 12 bars and turnarounds, every song sounds the same blues world, I wanted them to know about Charley Patton. So, I did that, and I tried to stay really true to Charley Patton’s arrangements of it all, too.

For the most part I gave myself just a little bit of leeway, there was a few things that I wanted to do, but I wanted people to hear Charley Patton the way I heard Charley Patton. Most people listen to it, and it just sounds like hiss, mostly. They don’t hear past that. It just changed my life hearing that. His slide, and especially like the first time I heard “Mississippi Boll Weevil,” or his gospel stuff, but his slide stuff especially. It blew my mind. Songs like “Some of These Days,” I just love that song. You think about, like, in the current American blues situation, there’s not many people writing songs like that, you know? I think that’s something that is a little bit lost. If you go back to Charley and John Hurt, Fred McDowell, they had songs. It wasn’t just about being a gunslinger, it was about writing songs.

A lot of times, it was exactly what was happening to them, even that day. Real world stuff. I always found it amazing on the really old roots stuff, how they seemed to pull this passion from so deep, and you don’t see that too often anymore.

No, and it was all so true. It was true tales, it was true to life, and it told stories. So often now, what you hear in your standard blues club, they’re not telling a lot of stories, necessarily. It’s a lot of covers and stuff. There’s certain songs too that I think are just uncoverable. You know, like, a guy lived it. That was his tale.

Yeah.

Part of the beauty of it, is that it was his tale, and his life. Son House has a few of them, where I think, that it’s not just a song, it’s the way he did it.

When I first heard “Death Letter Blues” [by Son House], it about ripped my heart out.

“Death Letter” is definitely one. I mean, he lived “Death Letter”. That was the story of his life. I don’t know if you know the story behind that, but he basically had been run out of town. He was a minister, he had been run out of town for this woman. They don’t know the exact story. She was someone’s girl, someone’s daughter, something…he goes to New Orleans or outside of New Orleans to live, and in two months she’s dead. He thought it was God’s punishment, so he comes back and writes “Death Letter.” You know what I mean? And you’re gonna cover that song? It’s like, come on.

You could have no idea, the level he was at

… when he wrote that. Exactly. The early recordings of it, when he was fresh and on top of his game were just unbelievable.

Let’s change gear a little bit…tell us about the day you met Breezy Peyton.

The day I met Breezy Peyton…yeah…

[Breezy is sitting across from Rev.]

She laughed! Why is she laughing?

I can tell you about our first date, how about that? [laughs] We went to the Indiana State Fair, but beforehand I had met her at her place. We were talking about Charley Patton, and she said, “You like Charley Patton? Listen to this.” She had the Jimbo Mathus record Songs for Rosetta. I had never heard that before, and it just blew my mind.

Was this pre- or post-Squirrel Nut Zippers?

It was right after Squirrel Nut Zippers. His first record right after, and it was brand new. It had come out that year. I had never really listened to Squirrel Nut Zippers that much. I knew who they were, but when I heard that record, it absolutely blew my mind. I just loved it. Then, we went to the Indiana State Fair, and I liked to rub the giant testicles of the world’s largest hog for luck. [All laughing] I won a giant bear.

Breezy: The Big Damn Bear!

That’s right, we named the band after the giant bear. That’s a longer story, but we named the band after the Big Damn Bear. I was yelling “Big damn bear!” We just had a great time. I had never met anybody before, my own age that knew who Charley Patton was.

That’s definitely something special. So, you guys obviously keep a rigorous touring schedule throughout the year. With the touring and recording, do you find it easier or harder to maintain the work/life balance having your wife next to you on the road?

It’s easier. I wouldn’t want to be by myself. I don’t like being by myself at all. Breezy and I have never really been apart more than a night. And that’s only like two or three times since we’ve been together. We’ve been married for almost eleven years now, and together for thirteen, I guess, almost fourteen years.

It’s such a refreshing change, when you have your typical married couple, and your 9 to 5, your kids and job and soccer. You can’t wait to get a little time away from each other. To hear that you want to be close to each other all the time is not the norm.

Yeah, I think people mess up when they don’t marry their best friend.

I can relate. [Laughter]

You know? I think that’s the big mistake people make. I have someone really close to me that got married to someone just because they were lonely. It seemed like the thing to do. That’s just not the right way to go about it. I was lucky that we met real early. I’ve got buddies that are like, “Man, let’s just leave the old ladies behind and go do this.” I’m like “Why? Why do you want to leave your old lady behind? Do you not get along with your wife? Do you not want your wife around? Does she not share any interests?” That’s how I feel about it.

[Drummer Ben Bussell is about four feet away, tapping his sticks and warming up.]

I don’t know if this is awkward because he’s in the room, but how has the dynamic within the band changed with the addition of Ben Bussell?

[Ben smiles as he taps his sticks.]

It’s been awesome. It’s great. Ben has really deep pockets as a drummer, and he’s singing harmonies. We just have more fun. Doing stuff like this [shows me a picture on his phone of the band at the Reflecting Pool on the Mall]. It’s been great.

You all seem so genuinely happy, as a group. I’ve seen a lot of bands come, and a lot of bands go. Sometimes they even stand to be around each other. They take separate buses to the venue, and you all are just so perfectly content hanging with each other all the time. It’s really a breath of fresh air.

Breezy: If you don’t love doing it, and you don’t love doing it with the people you’re doing it with…

Ben: Then why do it?

Breezy: I never understood that.

Money? Fame?

Breezy: It’s not about that.

When you are talking about the entertainment industry, some go to the bottom line, money and fame, as opposed to the love of the music with someone like you.

You know, we’ve met a lot of bands on the road that it’s just a job now, they don’t think they could do anything else.

Breezy: I could make a lot more money doing other things in life.

Ben: The band and the crew feels like a second family.

Rev: It is, and that’s the way we’ve always treated it, man. I know Ben’s family. We stay with Ben’s family

Ben: We stayed at my grandma’s house.

Ben, are you from Indiana as well?

Ben: Yep.

Rev: that’s the way it is, and that’s the way we want it to be. To me, if it’s not gonna ever feel like that, then I don’t want to do it. Or I want to change it and make it to where it is, because that’s the way I’ve always wanted it to be. It’s part of the deal. The names of the records, that’s how it is. Our crew, too. We want our crew to feel that way too, like they’re a part of the band. I like it when they say, “We,” and they have ownership in it. I want it to feel like they’re a part of it.

If there’s any kind of cool thing to do, I want everybody to take part in it, if they can. If Max, our tech, has got to set the stage, or if Shelby, our tour manager has got to do something, then she’s got to do something. But if there’s any kind of thing, like when we’re getting to hang out with rock stars, or famous sports stars, or whatever, whenever there’s something cool to do. We’re gonna be staying on a boat, or going to see the Washington Monument, whatever it’s gonna be, I want everybody to be able to do it. That, to me, is cooler than the opposite. It always has felt like that to me.

I feel like you need to have a musician’s seminar, or something, and pass on some of this wisdom to others that just don’t quite feel the same way.

[He laughs.]

You talked about Indiana. Did coming up in Indiana help or hurt? Most musicians from Indiana have left the state to establish their career. It seems like you’re one of the few, besides the Mellencamp guy, to embrace your home state.

Yeah, well, I think that John and I have the similar feeling. In the book, I don’t know if you’ve ever read the book A River Runs Through It, they say it in the movie too, but in the book it says “The world is full of assholes, the further away you get…” I feel that way about Indiana. I just love living there. Thanks to the internet, you can live wherever you want. I’ve never been like a “music insider” anyway, like I’m gonna go to Nashville and try to hustle the songs I write, or move to LA and try to get a reality TV show about what we do or something, it’s like piss on all that. I like living my own way and doing this.

We travel around, we take the shows to the people, one song at a time, and that’s the way I want to do it forever. That’s what I like. We’ve never had, we’ve only opened up for somebody three or four times really. It’s all just been word of mouth. There’s not been some big famous benefactor tweeting about it. We’re not buddies with anybody that’s huge, it’s all been our fans. Our fans came out, and are like “We back this, we believe in it.” I have a career, and have been doing this for the better part of a decade thanks to our fans. A lot of times, I think that some music insiders are just confused. They’re confused by the style of guitar. We’re too country for the blues people, or we’re too blues for the country people.

Was it a conscious decision to take blues…your music starts in the Delta blues. Did you consciously morph that into something a little edgier, a little bit different, or did your sound evolve to where it is now naturally?

I guess by nature, I never designed it to be “edgy” or whatever. I never designed it to be “Oh, we’re gonna play on Warped Tour.” [They were a part of 2010’s annual Warped Tour] I never listened to any of that stuff.

Don’t get me wrong, by “edgy,” I mean that other bands aren’t lighting their washboards on fire, or

You know, if you read stories about Charley Patton, he played behind his head, he’d throw his guitar up in the air. Those guys back then were putting on a show, you know? The songs that got recorded by Robert Johnson and stuff, those were picked by the record label. If you go back through the history, and you listen to what songs, ‘cause we know a lot of the repertoire of what they recorded, it was dance songs. A few of them got recorded. A few of them got recorded, and more of them with Charley, because he was older, it was before the record label kind of screwed things up. It’s like R.L. Burnside said, “Blues ain’t nothin’ but dance music.” And I believe that.

How would you describe the evolution of the Big Damn Band, from Pork n Beans [Collection] up through Between the Ditches?

Um, well, Pork n Beans was just a demo, it wasn’t even a real record. From there, it’s way different. I can tell you this much: when we made Big Damn Nation, I didn’t know if anyone would care. I didn’t know if it was someone was going to even…um…

Sort of “damn the torpedoes, let’s do what we do”?

Yeah, we were just doing something because we thought it was cool. At that time we were doing 300 shows a year. We started doing 300 shows a year in 2006, and we’ve done over 200 shows a year for all that time. We’ve honed it down, we’re so much better now, it’s unbelievable. The road is not like practicing at home. It’s not like playing in your local bar. You either basically get good, and when we started doing this, it was either play the kind of show that will leave people remembering and want to take home with them, or don’t eat that day. So it’s get good or die trying. Luckily we got good. [Laughs]

I’m going to make you pick your favorite child now. What’s your favorite Big Damn Band song?

Hmmm, favorite Big Damn Band song? On record? I probably should pick one on record, right?

That’d probably be good. Ones that we’d know of.

Yeah, yeah….we’re gonna play some new ones tonight, by the way.

I can’t wait to hear ‘em!

Man, I don’t know. “Devils Look Like Angels,” maybe. In retrospect, that song is pretty awesome. I’m pretty proud of that one. I’m pretty proud of the music video, too.

That little girl with your voice was kinda creepy.

Yeah, yep. I love that one.

Ok, so that’s your favorite. What’s one song you just wish you hadn’t done?

Wish we hadn’t done?

Yeah.

Hmm…

Breezy: “You’re Cousin’s On Cops.”

What? That’s a great song!

Rev: Yeah, maybe. I see what she’s saying, though. That definitely defined us in a way for a while that was sort of weird, that we didn’t expect.

Breezy: I think people missed the point of the song.

Rev: The label, too. They wanted that song to be the single off that record, and I refused. I said, “No, it’s going to be “Mama’s Fried Potatoes.” That’s more of what we stand for, it’s more what we’re all about.

It’s all about what song represents you best.

The album’s called The Whole Fam Damnily, and that song is more of what we’re about. I know there’s a lot I’d like to go back and redo, that we do so much better now. The ones we’ve played live a million times. We do, like, “My Soul to Keep” better. I love the way Ben plays “That Train Song.” He gets sort of the breadth of it, you know.

Feeling the wheels of the train turning

Yeah! I like the way “My Soul to Keep” now, I like the way it feels. Off The Gospel Album, “Glory Glory Hallelujah,” we do that so good now.

That one’s a barnburner live.

Yeah. I don’t know, that’s an interesting question. I don’t know that there’s any that we wish we hadn’t recorded, necessarily. None that I hate or am ashamed of. There’s definitely a lot of songs that I leave on the records, that I don’t take on the road. I think there’s songs for the records, and I think there’s songs for the road. The older I get, the more that I am even convinced of that. Some songs work really good when you’re at home, listening on your stereo, or in your headphones or whatever. Then there’s some songs that just work really well live. Sometimes they’re the same, sometimes they’re not. Sometimes songs that are live just don’t lend themselves to the record. Sometimes they’re recorded, and they sound really good on the record, but just don’t lend themselves live.

Some may even take on a second life and become something else on stage.

Yeah, that happens too. That’s definitely the case with some songs I’d like to rerecord.

Is there anything that you haven’t done yet musically, that you’re just dying to try, or maybe willing to give a shot someday?

We’re going to be doing a bunch of collaborations this year, and I’m curious, I’d like to do more of that. I’ve been doing more of it over the last few years, doing more stuff like that, especially with the Revolution tour.

Anyone coming up that you can tell us about?

Well, you know, we’re hoping to do something with Dom Flemons, we’ve talked about that maybe. We’ve gotten to be such good friends with the McCourys, another musical family that is awesome, they’re great people. There’s been some rumors about something like that. Maybe that’ll happen, maybe it won’t, but I really hope it does, because I just really love them.

That’d be really interesting.

Playing with people like that, you learn something. You learn more about music, you learn more about new ways to do things, and you learn more about yourself, too, sometimes, just where you fit in.

I think too many people don’t have the attitude of, “I’m open to learning more.” If you’re a national act, you’re out on the road, well then you’ve made it. There you go.

Yeah, I think a lot of people are that way, but it’s one of the reasons why we’re better now than we were six months ago. It’s ‘cause I am always learning stuff. I’m always trying to take finger style guitar to new places. I feel like my best record hasn’t been made yet. I hope to always feel that way.

The new songs are our best yet. I’m always working on it. I obsess over it. I obsess over getting better. If I hear something that somebody’s done, on the guitar, it’s like I must learn it. I must figure out how to improve upon it, and I’m always trying to think of things to do, especially with finger style guitar, that have never been done before. There’s a song tonight…we’re gonna be doing two songs tonight that are kind of, in a way that I don’t know that I’ve ever heard anybody play quite like that.

Really?

One is just the style of slide guitar that I’ve come up with. It’s just, for me, it’s as much a part of me as breathing. I can’t help but do it. Another one is a finger style song that I had never heard anyone do before. It’s kind of funny, because Dom Flemons was on tour with us, and he said “I’ve never heard anyone do that before.” I’m always chasing that. I told him “Thanks for noticing.” He’s such a wizard, musically, it doesn’t surprise me that he noticed it.

That’s pretty cool. We talked about your old man’s record collection. All of the Big Damn Band albums have seen vinyl releases. Where does vinyl fit in with you? I know it’s not exactly conducive to road life, but does vinyl mean a lot to you personally?

Oh yeah! Ben has turned me on to vinyl more than anybody else. I’ve got a 78 record collection, but Ben, he’s got such a cool setup in his house, you can really hear the difference. It’s night and day. My record player at home is crude in comparison. It’s hard to really hear the difference. It’s a simple setup, I live in a small place. Ben’s got an awesome setup. We’re talkin’ high fidelity. You can plug an iPod in, then you put on the record, and it’s like you’ve never heard the song before, like you’re hearing it for the first time.

I love that.

It’s amazing. It’s made me even, maybe on our next record, master the record different for the vinyl and for digital. A lot of bands are doing it.

I’m all for it!

I think I’d like to do that.

Think through your 78 collection. What’s one special record from your collection that stands out to you?

Oh, my Yank Rachell record.

Who?

Yank Rachell, he’s a famous blues mandolin player from Indiana. He played with Sleepy John Estes. Just because Yank means so much back home. It’s funny, not a lot of people know who he is. He wrote the song “She Caught the Katy.”

I’ve heard that.

He wrote “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl.” Other people made them famous, but he wrote them.

What era is he from?

Oh man, he was playing stuff back in the late ‘30s, or ‘40s.

I’m trying to remember who did “She Caught the Katy.

Taj Mahal did it, then the Blues Brothers covered it. They covered Taj’s cover of it.

What’s next for the Big Damn Band?

As soon as we get off this tour, we’re gonna be going in and working on our record, one way or another. It’s gonna be the festival season after this tour. Then a month in Europe. The thing I’m most excited for is getting back in the studio. I’ve never been more excited about that until the last record. Between the Ditches I had so much fun making, that it changed my mind about making records.

Always great when something like that happens.

It is cool.

Are you playing in some of the American festivals, like Muddy Roots or DelFest?

We have played Muddy Roots. I don’t think we’re playing it this year though.

Breezy: We are not. It’s the same weekend as DelFest.

Rev: Well, there you go. I guess not. I love those kind of festivals, though. I’m looking forward to it.

You can read the our review of Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band at Jammin Java from 2012 here.

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  • JudoCruize

    Great review! 
    Thanks for writing about the Rev!
    If you’re into the Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, check out this new interview with Washboard Breezy: http://chrisbrakeshow.com/2014/04/02/31-washboard-breezy-rev-peytons-big-damn-band/
    Breezy Peyton talks about weight loss, being homeless, how to be a successful band, a big announcement about what Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band has up their sleeve for the future, and a bunch more stuff. It’s a great interview, check it out!
    Thanks for keeping Indiana music alive!

  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


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