Rev. Peyton: big damn country blues
Aspen Times Weekly
The Rev. Peyton confesses that he doesn’t have much of an imagination. Even his name, he can’t claim to have come up with it himself: “That’s what everybody calls me,” said the Rev. Peyton.
“Some people make up a story ” and it can be a good story, pulled out of the air,” he continued. “But all my stories are true, really true ” people I’ve met, things that have happened to me. I only write stuff I see.”
That same what-you-see ethos applies as well to his persona, and that of his group, Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band. The image can seem like a put-on. The Band’s publicity photos, in black and white, depict an almost impossibly rustic patch of America: a wooden front porch, old clothes and even older instruments. But the Rev. Peyton vows the whole picture is dead honest. He and his younger brother Jayme, who plays a kick drum and snare in the Big Damn Band, grew up in rural Eagletown, Ind., in a home heated only by wood stove. When suburban creep began edging toward Eagletown, the Rev. Peyton fled for Nashville ” not the music capital in Tennessee, but a tiny spot in the Blue Hills of Brown County, the least populated county in Indiana. The only other name the Rev. Peyton goes by is Colonel; it is not an affectation, but a reference to the fact that he was, in fact, named a Kentucky Colonel by the governor of Kentucky.
And when the Rev. Peyton swears to the veracity of a bit of information, it pulls some weight. He is, as his publicity materials note, an ordained minister.
“All the bio stuff is true,” said the Rev. Peyton by phone from Nashville, where he was loading his van for a tour that would bring the Big Damn Band to Aspen’s Belly Up on Sunday, Jan. 6. “I don’t know they expect it wouldn’t be. What are people doing in their bios?”
Part of the sense of disbelief comes from the larger-than-life shadow that the Rev. Peyton casts. He’s a burly guy with a thick beard, and he has a reputation for being a wild performer. And there is the name of the band. The “Big Damn Band” is actually just three people: the two Peyton brothers, and “Washboard” Breezy, the Rev. Peyton’s wife these past several years.
Though his upbringing took place in the backwoods, Peyton, who is 26, was not exactly kept ignorant of pop culture. He saw TV and listened to the radio, and was aware enough of hair metal and boy bands. But his father, a concrete layer who sang and played guitar at home, revered such musicians as Neil Young and Bob Dylan and the ancient Delta bluesmen, and spoke of them in a way that made an impact on Peyton.
“When my dad would say someone’s a genius, it wasn’t Albert Einstein. It was always a musician,” he said.
What registered most was the old country-blues players. The way Peyton sees it, it was a subconscious thing. As a kid, he liked the rock ‘n’ roll players; he had a particular thing for punk rock. When, at the age of 12, he picked up guitar and began getting together with a school friend; the two would play anything they could learn. But the friend noticed that, no matter what the song, there was a particular feel to Peyton’s playing.
“He said, ‘Everything you play sounds like blues,'” recalled Peyton, whose primary instrument is a National Reso-Phonic Guitar, a staple of the early Southern blues pickers, and renowned for its power even without amplification. “I said, ‘Really?’ OK, I’m going to delve deeper into that. It was always there, I just had to find it.”
What he found, once he began digging, sounded like home. He felt a kinship with Charlie Patton and Bukka White, two Mississippians who were part of the first wave of country-blues players. For Peyton, the link was living in the country.
“That’s a reason I play what I play,” he said. “There’s city blues and there’s country blues. Country blues always made the most sense to me, I guess from growing up where I did.”
His affection for the style has grown deeper. “I remember playing once and someone asked, ‘You think anyone cares about this, this country-blues stuff? But I knew I cared. There’s so much in this world that’s plastic, electronic, not real. People are looking for something they can touch.”
“Big Damn Nation,” the band’s second album, released in mid-2006, is as honest as can be. It was recorded entirely live, direct to analog tape. The songs are easily traced to their original inspirations: “Left Hand George” is a true-life ballad about a man killing his best friend in a barroom brawl. Three songs are inspired by a close-up source ” their father. “Old Man” is about their hardworking daddy; “Mud” refers to the concrete work that he did; and “My Old Man Boogie” stems from the night the elder Peyton got drunk at a show.
Onstage, the Big Damn Band plays such songs with an exuberance that suggests theatricality. But the Rev. Peyton says there is nothing but true grit behind his energy.
“The way I look at it, people have spent hard-earned money,” he said. “They could be home, watching a movie or playing a video game. Or throwing rocks at a tree. But they came to see you.
“I don’t do anything that’s not passionate. If there’s energy in the show, it’s coming from what’s in us. We love to play. I’ve been playing longer than I haven’t been playing.”
One chapter from Peyton’s history offers further explanation of why he has become such a dynamic performer. At 19, after he had started playing in Indiana dives and churches and the local festival, something went wrong with his hand. A cyst had formed on his tendons, and surgery to remove it caused scar tissue. For a year and a half, he couldn’t play guitar, and he tried to contemplate another line of work.
“I had to start thinking about other things to do,” said Peyton, adding that he didn’t come up with anything. “I was a little bit lost. I didn’t think I would ever play again.” After the layoff, Peyton learned a whole different way of picking, and came to music with an even more fervent desire. “So being where I am now, coming from then, is like a miracle.”
It’s a story that seems tailor-made to be turned into a true-life song. But Peyton hasn’t written “My Po’ Dead Hand Blues” yet, or anything else inspired by the experience.
“It’s almost too heartbreaking for a song,” he said. “When they said I would never play again ” that was rough.”
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