The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band Heads Between the Ditches
Onstage the Reverend Peyton (aka Josh Peyton) is a raging bear of a man, prowling around the stage and roaring his way through his take on Charley Patton-derived country blues and raw rock ‘n’ roll.
His gruff persona throughout the set is directly opposite to his thoughtful, quiet manner during a recent conversation that discusses the Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band’s latest release, Between the Ditches, the influence of 20th century’s earliest blues artists and how the combination of him on vocals and slide guitar, his wife Breezy on washboard and backup vocals and Aaron Persinger on drums has been embraced equally by country crowds and young punk rock audiences.
The trio act as one massive energetic force the response to the Big Damn Band is immediate. That’s what occurred during my introduction to them four years ago at the All Good Festival.
“At All Good we had like 15 minutes,” said Peyton, recalling that day. “So, what do you do in 15 minutes to show people who you are? I remember that set, thinking, “Man, let’s just come out, kick people in the face and be done with it. Some of these short sets, it’s so tough to figure out what to play. I spend a lot of time thinking about what the set is gonna be from night to night. A lot of people, maybe, they don’t realize it. I like my set to have a start, a middle and a finish so I write it out that way. It’s like a wave that starts and has a finish.”
Subsequent performances at Bonnaroo and Bunbury festivals showed that not much has changed in the group’s live show since that All Good appearance.
With “Between the Ditches” Peyton aims for that same consistency in the recording studio. After six previous releases that left him unsatisfied he focused on putting down on tape a better representation of the songs rather than what he feels were rushed efforts in the past. With that approach he’s quite proud of the results and views it as the direction for his Big Damn Future.
JPG: A light went on when I saw you last July at Bunbury Music Festival. Pennywise’s “Bro Hymn” played just before you walked onstage Pennywise’s “Bro Hymn” played just before you walked onstage. Is that something the soundman did or do you play that before every gig?
RP: Yeah, a lot of ‘em. It’s one of those things where we have certain songs we sometimes play and that’s one of the ones that we do, the pre-show music. We actually got to hang with those guys on the Warped Tour and had a blast with ‘em. I got to play “Bro Hymn” a few times with ‘em and it was pretty fun, man.
JPG: Your music is steeped in American roots, country blues and Delta blues but there’s intensity to it. Watching the crowd react to it, it also makes sense that you played with a punk rock band.
RP: (laughs) It’s kinda funny. We can hang with punk rock bands, I guess. I never really listened to much punk rock when I was growing up. I listened to old blues and old roots music and old rock ‘n’ roll, mainly country blues, so I was kinda late to the party. But we found out when we started playing that we could play with punk rock bands and, really, just about anybody. It’s been amazing to find out. We’ll play a country festival one weekend – straight-up traditional country fest – and the next weekend we’re at a folk fest and the next weekend we’re at the Warped Tour. We can live in a lot of those different worlds.
It’s been something that we’ve been pretty lucky. A lot of bands say they can but if you look out at our crowd at a show there’ll be old guys that are 78 record collectors, fans of Charley Patton, and they’re standing right next to, maybe, a kid that’s got blue hair and a Ramones t-shirt on.
JPG: I see that your debut came out in 2004 but when did the band actually start?
RP: Probably around then. We’ve been full-time on the road for six-and-a-half years. I forget exactly when but we’ve been playing as the Big Damn Band somewhere close to around then.
JPG: The reason I ask that is when you said that you can play to different audiences, how long did it take you to realize that?
RP: It was some of our earliest shows. We were asked to play at some venues that were easily punk rock venues and it went over well. We played a couple showcases on some bills with some rock ‘n’ roll bands and it went over really big. In my mind it flipped the switch, “We might have something here. It seems to appeal to a lot of people.”
I wasn’t sure. I thought maybe there’d be a few traditional blues fans that understood what we were doing, people who knew who Charley Patton or Bukka White was. I figured that some of them would understand where I was coming from. But I had a feeling that some of those blues people wouldn’t even know who they were or get us at all and, maybe, we’d just be playing for ourselves. That would have been fine, too, but after just a few shows we were going, “Man, we might have something here. Maybe, there are people out there that would want to hear this.” It didn’t take long before we had built up a pretty good following in places.
We had to, basically, make a decision. Are we gonna do this and live in a van or are we gonna give up doing this because we can’t do it all? And we chose to get in the van.
JPG: Your tour schedule, I see a lot of festival dates…
RP: Yeah, a lot of festivals. I enjoy festivals. We have a lot of fun there. I love playing outside, and it’s with music fans. It’s definitely something that we do really well at and we do a lot of ‘em in the summer from Austin City Limits to Bonnaroo to Sturgis to Warped Tour. We’ve done a lot of really cool festivals, and I really love them.