CL Feature: Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band, a trio that plays Crowbar on Friday night (with video)

He waxes on polluted water to jaunty, tramping beats in “The Creek’s Are All Bad” (“There’s PCBs in the catfish and mercury in the bass / Can’t eat the fish, ‘cause the fish are all bad”), and mourns the decline of mom and pop shops against the slideguitar-driven dirt road melody of “Walmart Killed The Country Store.” “What’s really lost is the sense of community, the sense of looking after each other,” he tells me. “To me it’s sad, and that’s what that song is about as much as anything.”

Peyton was brought up in rural Indiana by a blue-collar dad and a church-going mom. Music was a favorite family pastime, his dad a self-taught guitarist who showed Peyton the strings at an early age. “He was never a professional musician, he was just a hard worker. I think that shapes my music as much as anything else. I wanted to write songs about people like him. You know, just regular people trying to survive.”

He always dreamed of being a musician and at 13, playing guitar and listening to music in his room, he came to realization he could. “I thought, man, none of these guys on this recording here are any different than me. They ain’t got nothing I ain’t got. Maybe I can do it, too.”

He got serious and took lessons, developed his skills, played out with his drummer brother Jayme. By 18, he was a working musician who took the odd job in between gigging and teaching guitar. Everything seemed to be going as planned.

But shortly after he turned 19, Peyton developed inexplicable pain in both of his hands. “All I know is that I woke up one day and I couldn’t play,” he explained. The doctors didn’t have answers or even a diagnosis. Peyton was devastated.

“I’d been playing guitar since I was a little kid and it was a defining part of my being,” he told me. “So I was pretty lost for a long time, trying to find my way without being a musician, without playing music.” He existed in a sort of half-state for nearly two years, the pain growing so severe he could barely grasp a doorknob. He finally saw a specialist, who pinpointed the issue and performed surgery to remove masses of scar tissue from his hands. When he came to several hours later, “The first thing I asked him [the doctor] was how long ‘til I could play guitar again. He said, ‘Two weeks.’ And honest to God, I was playing again in two weeks.”

Not only was he playing, but he’d gained a new flexibility that enabled him to perform fingerstyle, a difficult picking technique he couldn’t pull off in the past. “I was never any good at it — I was always a flat-picker. But after my surgery, it just changed the way I played it, it changed the way I heard it, it changed the way I felt it.” He met future wife Breezy shortly after leaving the hospital a changed man who’d found his dream attainable again after spending two miserable years talking himself out of it. “In the end, I was better for it. Sometimes things happen like that. I don’t know if it was an accident or what. It sure didn’t feel like an accident, you know? It felt like it was just something I had to go through.”

After spending some downtime practicing and re-building his confidence, he returned to the stage with his wife and brother as the newly formed Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band. Their raucous performances caught on quick and they started playing regularly, sold several thousand demos, and got too busy for their day jobs. Problem was, the music wasn’t making them enough money to live.

So in 2006, they hawked all their stuff in a big ol’ yard sale, packed up the van, and hit the road, making their way back and forth across the country, living off the kindness of friends and out of their van when necessary, picking up fans along the way, and recording two albums in the midst of it all — 2006’s Big Damn Nation with producer/engineer Paul Mahern (Zero Boys, John Mellencamp), and 2007’s The Gospel Album, another Mahern-produced record featuring renditions of gospel classics like “Amazing Grace” and “Let Your Light Shine.”

The Big Damn Band had their biggest break (and a damn great time) touring with Flogging Molly in 2007 and 2008.

“It was huge for us. The audiences were awesome, we were selling so many CDs every night, we were making so many friends and new fans.” To top things off, the Peytons discovered kindred spirits in the Celtic punk rockers. “We just hit it off with Flogging Molly so well it was unbelievable. They’re like family to us now.”

Plus, the tour exposed them to Flogging Molly’s record label, Side One Dummy, which sent reps to Las Vegas to check the Big Damn Band out. “They saw the one show, and they were like, ‘Are we gonna make a record or what?’ That night. I said ‘I’ve got one recorded, I’ll send it to you on Monday.’ And I sent them The Whole Fam Damnily, in the same order the songs are in now, and they said, ‘This is it, we want to release this.’”

The Whole Fam Damnily debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard Blues Charts when it dropped last September. “It’s not like being No. 4 on the pop charts, but they can never take it away from us, know what I mean?” he chuckles. “So we were pretty happy about it. We take these songs we wrote about our family and our friends and people we know and things that happened to us, and we play them the way we want to play them, and hope people are into it. And the people are and it seems like a miracle to me.”

At present, he and his fam damnily live in a house in Brown County, Ind. “It feels good to have a home to come to, but it also feels good to be on the road.”

Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band

w/Nervous Turkey/Poetry n’ Lotion, Fri., Oct. 9, 9 p.m., Crowbar, Ybor City, $10.

Here they are performing "Mama's Fried Potatoes"

He’s a hefty backwoodsman type with dark, merry eyes, a thick black beard, working man’s suspenders, worn pork-pie hat, and a booming Hoosier-country drawl that howls to the heavens or digs deep into the earth.

Josh “The Reverend” Peyton is the driving force of Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, a family trio featuring vocalist/fingerstyle guitarist Peyton, his washboard playing wife, Breezy, and his younger brother/drummer Jayme. Peyton’s music is straightforward, rough-hewn country blues with a punk rock stomp and a folk heart. He writes about what he knows — the people, the places, the problems, the potatoes — and says exactly what he means, coloring his simple truths with humor to keep things light.

“I find that when I’m the most honest and the most truthful, it seems like people respond the best to it,” Peyton told me in a recent interview from his Indiana home. “And for me, it makes it that much easier to play the songs, when I don’t hold anything back.”

The wild romping “Mama’s Fried Potatoes” was penned while Peyton was on tour and pining for a favorite comfort food [quality video below]. “Your Cousin’s on Cops” relates the amusing but too-true tale of seeing his wife’s cousin get busted on TV. Peyton says the song has taken on a life of its own at the band’s live shows. “I had no idea that people’d be so into that song. It’s kind of a silly song but at the same time, you know, it’s a true song — her cousin was on Cops.”


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