“I’ve always worked really hard to not just regurgitate the stuff that the masters did because you ain’t gonna do it better then them. You know what I mean? You don’t outlive these songs. So you’ve gotta kind of do it your own way. Sometimes like people are purists and it sorta rubs them the wrong way and I think they sorta don’t understand where we are coming from. This has to be a living breathing art form or it belongs in a museum and I don’t believe it belongs in a museum.”
“I’m trying to make music that sounds fresh now, not trying to chase a fad. But, in a way that, my hope is, that has never been born before. Trying to birth new sounds and new songs that are new.”
Reverend Peyton is a clergyman of the Blues. A dyed in the wool believer in the enduring fresh spirit of the Country Blues. With his longtime Big Damn Band anchored by his wife Washboard Breezy, the Rev has created a truly unique sound that he has consistently pushed forward for over 15 years.
“Yep that’s it, three musicians only one melodic instrument on stage, sometimes I’m playing harmonica there’s two. But, that’s it.”
This formula and Rev’s obsessive commitment to his art and the act of playing guitar has brought the Peytons to far flung parts of the globe and built them a loyal and widespread fanbase. With a new #1 Billboard Blues charts (and Blues Blast Award nominated) record, Dance Songs for Hard Times an artistic surge forward, a successful online Patreon following that keeps growing.
An upcoming tour supporting fellow iconoclasts ZZ Top, the Big Damn Band has emerged from the long dark night of the pandemic lock down reaping the rewards of years grinding it out on the road. A gregarious natural storyteller with a penchant for flights of entertaining digression, the Rev is intense and engaging when talking about his art, his music, his life and especially the guitar.
I try to take fingerstyle guitar, fingerstyle Country Blues, to new places, you know. I’m always trying to do that, trying to push the boundaries. Say hey, can this be done? Well, I don’t know, it’s never been done before, let’s try it. There are certain songs on this new record Dance Songs for Hard Times, we have this song, it’s very weird for us, it’s called ‘Too Cool to Dance.’ It’s a very very unique sort of song because it almost feels like a 1950’s track. It kind of sounds like a lost Chuck Berry song or even Little Richard or something. So when I’m composing this song, I want to see if I can take this song and play this in such a way where I can play both the rhythm and lead at the same time. The Country Blues style but instead of sort of a traditional way of doing it, can I play Chuck Berry licks and a more traditional you know (chuckles) 50’s style bass line with my thumb. Can I do this, is it possible to do? And you know that’s what we did on the record, I just worked it till I could get it.”
How does a solo guitar only accompanied by percussionists make such a big noise? A big enough noise to fill a stadium. Does he use telephone wire gauge bass strings to make that thump? Does he use pedal board trickery? No he uses hillbilly ingenuity and dual analog amp goodness.
“The only thing I do that is weird is I split it, so, I’m using a bass amp and a guitar amp. But there’s no like octave thing happenin’, I don’t have a special pick up. That song right there (‘You Can’t Steal My Shine’ of off 2018’s Poor Until Payday), the funny thing (chuckles) that’s a 1949 Harmony but I didn’t like the pick-up that was on it so I glued a gold foil from a 60’s Silvertone on it. (laughing) There’s not a lot of science there, it was hillbilly glued to it. It makes me laugh because that guitar ended up on the cover of Vintage Guitar Magazine. I bet a lot of people looked at that confused like that pick up wasn’t on that guitar. (haha) And it was me, I literally glued it to it and wired it myself, really hillbilly.”
“So I split it (the guitar signal) usually it’s a Silvertone 1484 that I run and then I split it to a bass amp,. The (Ampeg) SVT is my favorite but the tubes are $300 in that thing so I ended up selling mine to get a (Ampeg) V-4B which runs the same kind of tubes as like a (Fender) Twin. So any of the low end’s just guitar notes but it’s split to the bass. Sometimes those bass amps they’ll pick up some frequencies guitar amps don’t.”
If you’ve ever seen Reverend Peyton and His Big Damn Band you might notice there are more guitars on stage than musicians. Rev is a guitar hound of the first order. Indulging his love of vintage and bizarre instruments, the Rev finds the art and inspiration in each new tool.
“I play so many different guitars on stage and one of the main reasons is because they’re all tuned different. I love to mess with tunings. It’s just sort of part of the art that I love. Country Blues exists in a lot of different tunings and I love to play in even more of ‘em. I mean I’ve had shows where, I think the most I’ve done is 9 different tunings on stage in one show. I usually travel with 7 to 8 guitars for every tour. And if they’re up on stage, every one is tuned different.”
“I started out with one National guitar and flat-top acoustic and over the years I’ve expanded it to include a lot of different things. From homemade things built by artisans and homemade things built by just, you know (haha) folk artists. A lot of vintage stuff, you know I love the pawn shop stuff: Supro, Harmony, Silvertone, Kay. And I have a lot of interesting things, you know cigar box and cigar box style stuff is very homemade. Certain guys are like I play this one guitar and that’s it. That’s just not me, I get too bored. I like playing different scale lengths, I like changin’ it to different neck widths, I like to do different things. Certain things lend themselves, like if I’m playing Spanish tuning (open G or A) I like a wider neck, if I’m playing Vestapol (open D) I like a thinner neck. And then sometimes certain guitars I test them out I go, okay this guitar sounds really good in this tuning so we should keep it there. Sometimes the guitar just kinda speaks out in a certain way, it likes to be tuned up in a higher pitch or lower pitch or likes an open tuning or a standard tuning or whatever.”
Originally from Eagletown, Indiana, Joshua Peyton, the future Rev, was a curious peculiar kid. Given the gift of a guitar at age 12 from his Dad, the Rev never looked back even when things got tough.
“I’m a rural guy. Being a rural person I was inundated with Country and Bluegrass locally. My dad he’s not a musician, he did concrete construction, but he loved music and music was always a big thing in our house. But, he was more into very Blues influenced Rock n’ Roll, Rock n’ Roll that’s really almost Blues. Stuff like Johnny Winter, Ten Years After, Rolling Stones, Fogerty stuff like that. When I was 12 years old he says: ‘hey, we’re gonna go get a guitar.’ And I was like a smart ass and I go ‘well you can’t afford a guitar and you don’t know how to play’ (ha) And he goes: ‘look I can afford one and I do know how to play.’”
“So we go to the shop and got a used old Kay electric guitar the cheapest guitar possible at that time and no amp, so an electric guitar and no amp. We go home and I’m like leaning over him and he starts bangin’ away on these chords, man. And he’s playin’ all these old song from like the 60’s. Then he starts playing like little Blues runs he knew how to do, just different things like that. And I’m like oh my, wha? I couldn’t believe it. How did this guy know how to do this and I never seen it before? When I was born I guess he got hard up for money and he sold, he had a couple guitars, he sold ‘em. And so for 12 years I had no idea. So I take this thing, I just, I became obsessed with it. He says: ‘hey, if you get good we’ll get an amp.’ So I just never put it down.”
“By the time I was 13 I was givin’ guitar lessons, playin’ in all kinds of bands. I always say back then it was like the animals circuit, right, you could go and play like Moose Lodges and stuff and sit in with bands and get paid. Had my students, I was doin’ it, it was one of those things where it was kind of a miracle cause I was a weird little kid, I was a lot like I am now.”
“I’m kind of a weird guy anyway, when you’re 10 years old and you’re like this you’re really weird. So I always felt I didn’t really belong anywhere. I always say it like this: You take a fish and you catch a fish and you throw it on the land and look at it, it’s bouncin’ around stupid and it’s mouth moves dumb and you’re like look at that silly lookin’ thing. And then you put it back in the water and it’s like magic, it’s DaVinci, it’s an art form that transcendence and goes beyond art to something that’s beyond that, to touch the cosmos. You watch a fish move, that’s how I feel about it, so inspired by it, it’s almost magic. That’s how I felt like when someone put a guitar in my hand for the first time.”
“My dad brought that home I was like okay, so this is it, I been out of the water my whole life and been put back in. It changed everything for me, everything. It changed my confidence level, my self, it changed me as a person, my relationship with my dad. It changed everything. It was like I was born again when I was handed that guitar and I have not been able to stop obsessing about it still to this day. I’m constantly trying to improve the sound I’m constantly trying to get better at it, I’m constantly trying to do different things, constantly tryin’ to learn. It has just been one of those things, one of those life altering things.”
“When I was 18 I actually kinda lost the use of my hands to a certain extent. And I couldn’t play for a year and half, I had to have surgery. It was a real nightmare. Here I was, I found out who I was and then well you’re not that anymore. So that was hard and I went through some dark days then. But, I met Breezy the week I had my surgery, I still had my bandages on my hands. So when I met her, we got together and I was relearning how to do everything, you know, right at the beginning of our relationship so she kinda helped me believe in myself again and believe I could do it. Cause a year and half of not doin’ somethin’, you’re not completely startin’ from scratch but it just about felt like it. But I never gave up believein’ I was gonna play again. So now to this day, man, I don’t take it for granted.”
After rebuilding his musical mojo with the help of an equally talented partner, the Rev and Breezy embarked on a musical journey together, a unique situation. We all hear the stories of very famous couples who struggle to create together and stay in love: Sonny and Cher, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, but Rev and Breezy are a strong musical partnership.
“It makes life a lot easier and that’s part of it. I’ll say a couple things.The first part is probably gonna make you laugh, it’s kinda lame but um. At the beginning of this pandemic we got a cat. And I love this cat. I’ve always been able to leave everything behind in like 30 seconds. Just grab my backpack and guitars and go, see yah next Fall. You know what I mean? Now we have friends and family who love this cat and want to watch him while we’re on tour and we get him when we come back home. But, I’m sad to leave this cat behind, right. And it’s given me so much more empathy for people who have to leave their significant other behind. (chuckles) I was always like: ahh we’re musicians by God you know, get in the van.”
“But, now I realize how lucky I am, how lucky I’ve been that Breezy is there, always, and that she is so good. We did this session with Dom Flemons and Steve “the Colonel” Cropper at Sun Studios right before the pandemic started. After the session, Steve come up to me and he goes: ‘hey I want to talk to yah.’ And I’m thinkin’ oh man what’s this gonna be about, this is exciting. Maybe he wants to talk about how great the slide guitar was, maybe he liked the singing, what was it, what’s he gonna talk about? He comes up and he goes: ‘Your washboard player is the best washboard player I’ve ever heard in my life.’ And I’m like yah? (haha) I’m like I know she’s really good. And he goes ‘no, no, no, no you don’t understand. Her feel is perfect.’ And it’s true, her feel is good. That’s one thing that people don’t understand about me is that I’m too Type A about my music, right, that if Breezy wasn’t any good like she wouldn’t be playing in this band. She’s only in this band because she’s the best and she just happens to be married to me. I’m just lucky in that way, so I think it is, it’s a magical thing. I’m lucky.”
Dance Songs for Hard Times is the newest step in Rev’s development. Starting with the down home funk of 2015’s So Delicious and surging through the rural charm and gothic swagger of 2018’s Poor Until Payday, the Big Damn Band has been on a roll of expanding their horizons while staying true to their original 3 musical voice conceit.
“This record we went in with a producer named Vance Powell and he has Grammys with Jack White, Beyonce, he’s worked with Chris Stapleton, Seasick Steve, a bunch of incredible artists. He and I talked on the phone and turns out he had seen us live a handful of times. And it was like he just really understood where we were coming from. And you know we’ve done a lot of different kinds of recording over the years. When we first started playing it was more like field recordings that were put on record. And then over the years we’ve tried to become better at recording. I’ve produced a few of ‘em. Some have been done with different producers. I wanted to go with a producer (on this one), I wanted to go with someone different. I didn’t want to produce this one cause I wanted to just go in and say: ‘Okay, we’re going to go in and I want to pony up to the microphone and I want to sing and play my heart out.’ I don’t want to have to worry about being the producer, I want to have someone I trust to get those microphones placed right and get the sounds right and I can just be myself, I can just go perform.”
“When it’s all said and done what Vance wanted to do he’s like: ‘I want you to come in and do this live to 8 track analog tape.’ So that’s what we did and man I just, I just (chuckles) I just think the sound, I was just really impressed. He understood where we were coming from in such a way that it made me feel very comfortable. And you know him wantin’ to do this to 8 tracks, once you’ve done that, like if somethin’s wrong there’s not much you can do. But he had faith and his sort of confidence in us you know gave us a certain amount of confidence. It was like alright then let’s do this, let’s do this. It was just really positive experience, man, I hope that we can go back there and do more records with Vance again at some point cause it was just a fun time.”
This new record, recorded in an old time way live to tape, is also one of the most daring of the Big Damn catalog. The push to expand the technique in songs like “Too Cool to Dance” is taken to exhilarating heights of music theory madness in stand out track “Dirty Hustlin’”
“The chord structure for that is kinda bonkers for anything regardless of genre. It was, you know, one of those things where I was just trying to push the boundaries. You know I’m starting with an almost Ragtime type thing, you know there’s a little bit of a circle of 5ths things happening there. But, I’m trying to push it past Ragtime into like R&B territory. I wanted that song to live somewhere between like 60’s Rhythm and Blues and the Ragtime of like Blind Blake, you know. So if you hear that probably you go like ‘what?’ But, when you listen to it, makes sense once you hear it. And the chord progression is definitely, I mean (chuckles) it’s one of the things I’m most proud of on this record because it almost shouldn’t work but it does. In music that’s one of those things, there’s rules, you know, you follow these rules and it almost always works but if you can find those times where you break the rules and it still works usually magic happens.”
COVID hit the Rev and the band hard at first. “The first few months were really scary. They were really hard. Then like wings, our fans came in and felt like they saved us from a crash and burn.” An early adapter to the subscription based Patreon platform, the Big Damn Band started producing high quality multi-camera live performances from their log cabin living room. So thankful he didn’t have to go back to “dirty hustlin’” the Rev, Breezy and drummer Max Senteney were able to survive. “This has been our full time job for 15 years, I’ve been a professional musician one way or another since I was 13, I am not qualified to do anything else. (haha)”
The future is bright for the Rev especially when you are friendly with Billy F. Gibbons.
“He called us up, he literally called us up personally and he said ‘hey, I want to talk to you about doin’ some shows with ZZ Top, this tour.’ I was like absolutely, what’ve we got to do, what mountain we got to move, we’ll move it? So exciting. We were scared to death they might call it after Dusty died but Billy Gibbons says: ‘no sir, get ready, get suited and booted and get ready to do it.’ So that’s what we’re doin’. I’m sad that Dusty’s gone but I’m also happy for their guitar tech Elwood (Francis). You know I’ve had 2 guitar techs replace drummers of mine over the years so I know what that means for someone who’s on the road and is road crew and has been road crew their whole life. To get the opportunity to be in the band and be playin’, cause almost everybody whose road crew plays. That’s the kinda thing that as a crew you hope for, you hope you get your chance to get up there and do it. (Elwood’s) been with them 20 years, he put in 20 years of his life as the tech for that band. He’s definitely earned it.”
Rev and Billy Gibbons drummed up a friendship a while back. Rev reports to us that Billy Gibbons is just as cool as we all hope he is.
“We’ve known Billy for a while. He and I’ll text about amps or somethin’, you know, like hey check this out. He called me, he got my phone number from somebody, actually from a mutual friend who makes hot sauce. So one morning at 8am he calls me, which you know (laugh) I’m a musician man, 8am is the middle of the night for me. So I answer the phone , he’s like: ‘This is Billy F. Gibbons.’ And he said he just wanted to hang out when we were playin’ the Telluride Blues and Brews together. (ha) I’ll tell you what, getting to hang out with Billy F. Gibbons off stage and seeing what he’s like and interacting with him. I mean he’s as cool as you’d ever imagine him to be. Like he’s so cool you think no one is this cool and you’re like: God this SOB’s that cool. He just has a passion for music.”
The Reverend Peyton is a true artist. Uncomfortable in complacency, unwilling to compromise and endlessly creative, his passion and his humanity come bursting out of his fingers, out of his chest. Creating a family of musicians around him, the Rev proselytizes the living Blues for all to be saved by.
That’s one of the things that drives me. It’s like, man, can we keep coming up with stuff that’s never been done before? You know, someone may go: ‘Well now, that don’t sound like Charlie Patton.’ Well no it doesn’t. But, the thing is in my life I’ve tried to not pretend like the last 100 years of music didn’t happen either. I think that’s disingenuous, you know. As an artist, as a musician I think you have to be pushing those boundaries to say okay, where can we take this? How far can we take it? Where can it go?”
Check out the Rev’s Big Damn Website: https://www.bigdamnband.com/ and his Patreon site: https://www.patreon.com/bigdamnband