if you go
What: Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band — An Evening of Original Country Blues
When: Concert is at 8 p.m. on Thursday, March 29. Check the venue’s website for details.
Where: World Café Live, 3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia
For venue information: www.worldcafelive.com
For band information: www.bigdamnband.com
Reverend Peyton is a larger than life figure who delivers boot stompin’ backwoods country blues music on just about any stringed instrument, and that includes customizing shotguns and axes into playable instruments, while keeping them functional.
With his cutoff shirts, blue overalls, and brawny physique, you might mistake him as a lumberjack; he sings with the passion of an adventurer wandering through the woods.
“Some people think it’s a persona, but it’s no character,” he says with a laugh, calling from his phone in Indiana. “Even my mother calls me ‘Rev.’ You can’t pick your nicknames. That one started early for me and it stuck. For better or for worse I’m an intense person and I can be loud. But I know that as I go down into the mine of who I am, the better the music is.”
He’s toured the world with his Big Damn Band which includes his wife, Breezy, on the washboard and backing vocals and Max Senteney on a drum kit that includes a five-gallon plastic bucket and an old suitcase for a kick-drum. On their latest release, “Front Porch Sessions” the band delivers a collection of songs meant to capture the intimacy of the band playing on the front porch of their cabin in Brown Country, IN.
“I wanted it to feel like you’re sitting on the porch with me on a summer day,” he said. “The album has a stripped down feel to it and I learned a lot about how I want my guitar to sound.”
“Front Porch Sessions” is the band’s 10th studio release. They release their music independently and have gather an international following largely through their relentless touring schedule, playing well over 250 dates a year.
“It’s how we’ve gotten our fans,” Peyton said. “We have to cover a lot of ground, but you can’t download what we do live.”
The band has also relied on the internet and has made an array of music videos using friends and neighbors as cast members. A short video of Peyton playing a shotgun that his friend turned into a guitar went viral, generating millions of views.
“I knew that one was going to be popular, but I wasn’t prepared for how big it got,” he said. “We got several million hits on our sites, but we estimate that it has had anywhere between 40-45 million views across different platforms.”
Peyton’s music reflects his influences (he’s a huge fan of the Delta blues player Charlie Patton). He recorded an album of Patton covers, 2011’s “Peyton on Patton.” But his music is as much a reflection of his roots and his community.
He hails from Beanblossom, IN and lives in a community of “hillbillies, performance artists, and adventurers.” He’s a proud Hoosier who made home in a rural part of the state less touched by modernization than many parts of the country.
“Southern Indiana is a unique place,” Peyton said. “Brown County was considered trash land by farmers because it was too hilly, so it was founded by people who didn’t want to live with the rest of society. It’s really an artist’s community. We’ve toured 37 countries and I always love coming home.”
Peyton said that his community reflects the Indiana of his youth, a simpler place less influenced by commercialization. Peyton’s love of the guitar started early on when his father taught him how to play and had him listening to Johnny Winter’s records. From that starting point he kept going back further into the roots of blues music. Eventually his interest brought him to Clarksdale, MS, an integral part of the Mississippi Blues Trail. He met his wife when he was 19 and they journeyed there together in a van with all of their possessions.
“I live a weird life,” he said. “I’m away from home most of the year. When we first set out on the road I sold most of my possessions and we were homeless. My parents always believed in me and my mother encourage me to just go out there and do it.”
Peyton’s career almost ended early on for him. He is prone to developing painful cysts on the tendons in his hands and he underwent surgery while in his teens and was told by a doctor that he might not be able to play again.
“I’m on the hyper flexibility spectrum,” Peyton said. “Some of the things that I can do on the guitar are a result of it, but it can also be very debilitating and the cysts are a result of it. I can play the first fret with my ring finger and stretch my pinky finger to the eighth fret.”
He said that his condition is milder than some, but he tries to keep the effects at bay through diet and exercise.
Whether he’s finger-picking a 1930s steel-bodied National guitar or a cigar-box guitar, Peyton wants to keep playing “timeless, handmade American music” for a long time and he makes it one day at a time.