“I have been obsessed with playing guitar since I was a little kid,” says Reverend Peyton, who along with his Big Damn Band, pumps out gritty, unconventional blues. “I’ve been playing for 20 years, and it just never gets old.”
Unconventional because the Big Damn Band includes only one guitar, one washboard and one small, mismatched drum set (including a five-gallon bucket). Gritty because that’s just how the Reverend preaches.
His unique finger-picked guitar style and rumbling growl of a voice recall the blues masters of old, but the band’s loud, aggressive posture places them firmly in the rock-influenced present. Their new album Between the Ditches is out now, and the Reverend called into CMT Edge to discuss his message and growing flock.
CMT Edge: I’m really digging your stripped-down blues sound. But for people who are unfamiliar, how do you guys describe what you do?
Peyton: At its core, really what we play is country blues, but there’s obviously a little bit more going on. I guess I’m maybe a little more aggressive compared to some, but I just want to make music that I think is awesome, you know?
You’re a band out of Southern Indiana. What was the musical scene like there when you were growing up?
In Southern Indiana, it’s definitely a bluegrass scene. There’s lots of great bluegrass bands and roots music happening and lots of great pickers. Some of the best guitar players in the world have come out of Southern Indiana. And it’s a good place to sort of soak up a lot of different styles. In Indianapolis, there’s a lot of blues happening. Especially when I was a kid when Yank Rachell was still alive and doing his thing playing blues mandolin — the only real famous blues mandolin player ever — I would sneak into bars to see him or watch from the windows outside.
I guess I didn’t really know there was a blues scene in Indiana at all.
Yeah, it starts with Scrapper Blackwell and Leroy Carr back in the ‘30s. They’re the ones that really influenced Robert Johnson. You know, the song “Sweet Home Chicago” was really “Sweet Home Kokomo.” Those guys were in Indianapolis, and there was lots of blues and jazz and stuff happening. Stuff like the Hoosier Hot Shots. Not sure if you’re familiar with them or not, but they were a band who influenced a lot of people, especially in terms of ragtime and bands that play with washboards.
I feel a little bit like an Indiana band is kind of an underdog from the start, and Indiana has a tradition of underdogs. In the American Film Institute’s Top 10 greatest sports movies of all time, like four of the 10 are about Indiana. I sort of use that as motivation to be more awesome, to prove what we can do. But I think as far as being the melting pot of music, it’s a really good place to come up. It’s kind of the best of the South and the North.
It sounds like you’re really into music history, and your guitar playing is so unique. Who is that guitar style influenced by?
It’s sort of like the old country blues guys like Charlie Patton, Furry Lewis and John Hurt. Those are the guys who really inspired me when I was young. I just wanted to take it to new places, to do things with finger style guitar that had never been done. And that means building on what Chet Atkins did, as well, but I never wanted to try to pretend that the last 100 years of flatpicking didn’t happen either. So what I do is try to play things that would normally be played by two people, like a lead guitar player and a bass player. Also, slide guitars are kind of a dying art too, so I’ll do things with the slide where I’ll play what would normally be played by the fiddle, but I’m doing it with the bottleneck slide. And then my thumb is keeping the bass time like what the doghouse bass would do.
What do you think having a washboard in the band adds to your texture?
It’s just such a rhythmic instrument. It’s like when Bo Diddley had the maraca player. Bo Diddley would show up with a drummer and a maraca player. And the reason is because that sort of timbre is very important to making people’s feet move. And when you listen to old Rolling Stones records or Creedence Clearwater Revival, they’ve got maracas, shakers, a tambourine maybe, some kind of a percussion instrument that fills that role. They always do it, and it’s always in the recording. And the reason is it just gets people’s feet moving.
Your wife Breezy plays the washboard, and it must be a big advantage to have her in the band and travel with you. How did you two meet?
We met when I had just had hand surgery, and I couldn’t play guitar. She sort of inspired me to get back to playing in front of people, and I sort of taught her about music. So we’ve basically been together doing this from the start. It does make it easier. I wouldn’t have near as much fun if I had to leave her behind. I know I’m lucky that I have her with me.
Do you look at Between the Ditches as kind of a documentary of your life? What were you trying to capture with that?
In the past, I felt almost like there was more of a theme to some of our other records. I think Between the Ditches actually has less of a theme. It’s just a collection of good songs. I tried to make it as diverse as possible and really make it just about each song individually.
Have you always spent a lot of time on your recordings?
No, we’ve never spent hardly any time at all. We’ve played field recordings, man. I mean literally field recordings. Like we go in the studio, they throw out some mics, we do it live and then we split. And you know it’s almost been like, “Ahh, recording is boring,” or maybe it was just ‘cause I was nervous, you know? I knew that we were a good live band. … Making records and playing live shows is different. Our latest record isn’t like it’s a big departure. We just spent some time on it. We spent a couple of weeks instead of a couple hours, you know? And I think it shows. I think it sounds finished, it sounds complete … It sounds like a record.