Call the Rev. Peyton a “throwback,” and he’ll likely take it as a compliment. Looking like he stepped out of a 1930s kinescope about rural mountain people (or a “Popeye” cartoon), the singer/guitarist/songwriter gets both inspiration from and is a practitioner of the kind of acoustic fingerpicking country blues that was popular in the 1920s and 30s.
But that doesn’t mean he’s unaware of modern technologies. While surfing the internet, he noticed that a lot of videos of people playing weird instruments were going viral and garnering huge viewing numbers. And he knew he could do better. He was going to play a guitar that was also…a working shotgun.
“I thought I could do that!” Peyton laughs throatily from his home in the rural hills of southern Indiana. “So I called up my buddy and said this is getting out of hand, we have to put a stop to this and do something no one can top! Build me a shotgun guitar!”
When the first plans came in, though, there was one glitch. Rev. Peyton’s friend had plans for a guitar made from a shotgun, but it wouldn’t actually fire bullets. That wasn’t good enough, so it was back to the drawing board – difficulty in building or playing the end result be damned.
When the final Frankenstein object was delivered and the cameras set up—along with a 200-foot cord that linked the Rev. Peyton and the “gun-tar” from the amp for safety’s sake—he put one bullet in the ground to test. And then he played a song, which ended in his successful firing of the gun.
“We put it up on our Facebook, and got a thousand shares in ten minutes! And by that night, it was in the top 10 videos on YouTube!” Rev. Peyton enthuses. “Then the people who post viral videos got a hold of it, and it’s been reposted six million times just from our site, and has had 50-60 million views altogether!” And it can be seen anew right here. “In the end, it was way more shotgun that guitar.”
Fortunately, the Rev. Peyton is leaving his musical weapon at home for his upcoming tour in support of his brand new CD, Poor Until Payday. But he is bringing the rest of the unaptly named Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band: washboard player/backing vocalist (and Peyton’s real-life wife) Breezy Peyton, and drummer Max Senteney.
Poor Until Payday is his tenth full-length record since his debut, and again mixes originals with covers of material from the heyday of country blues. And it's imbued with the Rev. Peyton's distinct, deep, and shouty voice. Though for this record, he found inspiration in the 45 rpm era of music.
“That time comes off as so exciting, and I wanted to capture that for my record, the immediacy,” he says. “I wanted it to be more uplifting and positive. Like the corner guy in the ring that inspires the boxer to get back up.” Staying true to his authenticity, though, the record was recorded all live, using no instruments or equipment more recent than 1959.
The 37-year-old Josh Peyton’s musical journey began with his father, who would play records by artist like the Rolling Stones and Johnny Winter. It’s a common occurrence for musicians to search back to the source material there – mostly electric blues artists from the ‘50s and ‘60s like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. But for the insatiable Peyton, he wanted to go back even further to discover who influenced the guys who influenced the guys. “Reverend” was a nickname that just stuck.
“I wanted to chase the history of the music. I can’t say why I wanted to go even further back, but when I heard that country blues finger picking style, I was moved by it, by the raw, primal nature of the music and the storytelling and songwriting,” he says. And while the most obvious comparison to his own music and vocal style is Charley Patton, the Rev. Peyton also studied performers like Robert Johnson, Furry Lewis, Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, Bukka White, and Blind Willie Johnson
Most of them were heavy practitioners of the finger picking style, which Peyton loved because it sounded like two guitars playing at once. “I started with a flat pick like most people, but the finger picking sounded like black magic to me—some unholy sound!” he laughs. “And I thought it was something I could do and then I became obsessed with it and see what I could do with it. It’s one of the most unique American styles of guitar playing, and it’s a dying art.”
To further his quest to sound like someone out of the past, the Rev. Peyton regularly plays only actual vintage guitars like a 1949 Harmony Archtop, a 1954 Supro Dual Tone, and a 1955 Kay Speed Demon. Or the occasional reproduction, like custom-made National Steel Resonator. At home and for recordings, he’ll play them through a 1949 Supro amp, which has seen some repairs. He’s very cognizant that if a vintage instrument is broken or damaged, he can’t just order another one on Amazon.
“I am horribly, ridiculously addicted to guitars. There is nothing like that vintage sound, particularly in pickups,” he says. “I love pawn shop guitars, but the big department stores like Montgomery Ward and Sears that would stock Harmony and Supro and National guitars…they’re amazing. All hand made in the United States. They sound like you’ve gone back in time.”
And when that 1949 Supro amp did need to be fixed, his usual team from Weber speakers were able to do the job and recone it. “If you’re going to play vintage instruments, you’ve got to have people around you who can help keep you working!”
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The Rev. Peyton was born and raised in Indiana, and he has a tattoo of the state’s outline on his right arm. He’s proud of the region and the work ethic of the people who come from there, as well as their somewhat unique take on familiar terms. “Here, we call green peppers mangoes, like the fruit,” he offers by comparison. “And we don't have pot luck dinners, they’re called pitch-in dinners.”
But even he says his love for his state pales in comparison to those who live in a certain Lone Star State. “No one in the United States of America loves their state more than people in Texas do,” he says. “There are some beautiful places in this country, but no one loves to the level that Texans do about Texas. The people and the culture are incredible. We have a lot of friends there, and we love coming back.”
The Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band plays 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, October 13, at McGonigels Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk. Call 713-528-5999 or visit Mcgonigels.com. $25
For more on Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band, visit BigDamnBand.com