Midgets, Convicts and the Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band
The morning after playing a party for his high-school graduation, Josh "Reverend" Peyton woke up with severe pain in his hands. Doctors thought that Peyton, who had been playing guitar for five years, would never play again.
"For almost two years, I didn't play," Peyton notes. "I ended up having surgery, and it was only after a doctor ended up saying, 'I think I know what's wrong, but the only way I'll know for sure is to cut your hand open.' I said, 'Man, let's do it.' I just wanted to get my hands back."
After the surgery, Peyton was able to tackle the fingerpicking blues of one of his chief influences, Charley Patton, whom many consider the father of Delta blues. "It was like a miracle," says Peyton. "I hadn't played for so long, and I'd always wanted to be able to play all the fingerstyle stuff I loved. I never really could do it and I was never really good at it, but after my surgery, it was like something clicked in my mind and in my hands. I could play it all."
While recovering from the operation, Peyton met his future wife, "Washboard" Breezy, who soon joined the Reverend and his younger brother Jayme, who had already been playing together for more than a decade. A year later, the Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band released its debut album, The Pork N' Beans Collection, followed by 2006's Big Damn Nation — which was recorded live to analog tape with no overdubs — and '07's The Gospel Album. A strong country-blues spirit fuels nearly each of those records. Having grown up in rural Indiana, Peyton has a natural affinity for country blues.
"I'm from the country, so it makes more sense," Peyton points out. "Also, I feel that country blues — as opposed to city blues and urban blues — is a better vehicle for telling stories. It's not just about 12-bars, turnarounds and wanking around on the guitar. It's a great genre for getting a story across. You can convey emotions. You can convey stories. You can do both. I feel like it's a real diverse way to get what you want across."
Indeed. With his big, booming voice, Peyton certainly knows how to tell a story. His group's latest album, The Whole Fam Damnily, released last fall on Side One Dummy Records, features such tunes as "Your Cousin's on Cops,'" which is about Breezy's cousin being on the show Cops; "Wal-Mart Killed the Country Store," about Wal-Mart swallowing up small-town businesses; and "Can't Pay the Bills," which takes on a subject that plenty of folks can relate to: paying for health care.
Besides the fact that the new record has a bit more harmonica and more background vocals, lyrically the themes aren't that big of a departure from previous efforts, which included songs like "Old Man Boogie," a tale about Peyton's father getting drunk at a show.
"My dad, he taught me how to play guitar," Peyton explains. "It makes sense to write songs about my family. I feel like people like Mom and Dad are regular folks who work real hard. Those are the people who deserve songs written about them."
When he's not writing about his family, Payton is writing about being on the road with his family, something he feels fortunate to be able to do. "Playing with them," he enthuses, referring to his wife and brother, "I feel like I've won the lottery, being able to play with my family."
Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band rips through backwoods Mississippi Delta blues with the fervor and the fury of the Ramones, getting crowds stomping and hollering all over the States and in Europe. Last year, the group played about 250 shows, including a tour with Flogging Molly that helped it secure its Side One Dummy deal. In addition to the Irish punks, the label is home to Gogol Bordello and Mighty Mighty Bosstones, among others. Peyton believes the band's Side One debut is its best effort to date.
"Everyone always says that about their latest project," Peyton acknowledges, "but this is serious. This is light-years beyond our other recordings. It's songs about our family, life and things that have happened to us, that we see. It's a pretty dense recording."
Whether or not Fam Damnily elevates the Rev and company to a new level is anyone's guess. Regardless, all the road work they've put in has definitely paid off in terms of helping pump up their fan base. They made such an impression on fans in the Pacific Northwest, in fact, that they were recently honored with Revstock, a festival dedicated to the group in Ashland, Oregon. While the show itself was a rousing success, the trio encountered a bit of difficulty driving south after the fest.
"We broke down on top of a mountain in between the Klamath River and the Smith River," Peyton recalls. "We were I don't know how many thousands of feet up, and there's nobody. We had just passed a sign that said, 'You have passed the area where we remove snow.' In the winter, they don't even bother cleaning it up — that's how far out of the way we were. We thought we were pretty screwed, but we ended up getting things going again."
Must be something about Oregon. During another jaunt, Peyton recalls, they picked up a hitchhiker who turned out to be an escaped convict with a bag full of guns. "I had to bluff and make him think that I was carrying a gun so he didn't shoot us," he says. "That was messed up. He ruined it for everybody. We have a no-hitchhiker rule now. All it takes is one bad apple."
The Big Damn Band has got to be used to strange encounters by now. Having been the house band on a Jerry Springer pay-per-view special, the outfit played in and out of breaks, during fights and had the distinct privilege of providing the soundtrack to a scene in which a midget dressed as a pig was being dunked by a topless cowgirl in a baby pool of K-Y Jelly.
Now that's some fine handiwork.
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