With songs such as “Shakey Shirley,” “One Bad Shoe” and “Clap Your Hands” and a live approach that has the intensity of a dragster going from zero to 300 mph in seconds and unites punk rockers, country fans and blues enthusiasts, the serious side of the Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band’s material and attention to artistry may not be recognized. But, it’s there.
Frontman and main songwriter Reverend (Josh) Peyton derived major inspiration from blues icons such as Muddy Waters, Son House, Charley Patton and Bukka White among others and even made pilgrimages to Clarksdale, Mississippi to be introduced firsthand to the playing of T-Model Ford and Honeyboy Edwards. He may sing about favorite meals — “Mama’s Fried Potatoes,” “Pot Roast and Kisses” — but it’s one aspect of him chronicling the lives of his Brown County, Indiana hometown. The locale also provides content for social commentary of lives just getting by – “One More Thing,” “Walmart Killed the Country Store,” “We Deserve a Happy Ending” and “We’ll Get Through.”
Talking on the telephone as he sits on his back porch, we discuss his intentions with the Big Damn Band and protecting his music from losing its soul due to any music industry meddling. It’s an (almost) perfect setting since his 10th release with the Big Damn Band, The Front Porch Sessions, came out earlier this year.
JPG: I’ve been listening to you for years and The Front Porch Sessions could be viewed as a stripped-down affair.
RP: You know what’s funny, so many people…there was a review recently that said, “This felt like a Reverend Peyton solo record not a Big Damn Band record.” I don’t think that’s necessarily fair. There’s a lot of background vocals and things on this record that I think really helped fill it. The vocals that Breezy [Peyton] lends to it on the songs, which is a good handful, that really makes ‘em. Llike “Shakey Shirley,” if Breezy wasn’t singing on that, I think that song would be half the song that it is. There are certain things like that. Also, if the person had really paid attention and followed our records, there’s at least one song on every record is just me and a guitar. I’ve always done it.
JPG: “Pickin Pawpaws” off the So Delicious album is that way.
RP: Yeah. There’s a handful on a lot of them. Then, Peyton on Patton. It’s a one microphone recording. It’s real stripped-down. I think the Big Damn Band is only on about two songs. It’s one of those things where if you were to take a lot of our records and turn down the percussion, you wouldn’t be that far off from this record in a lot of ways.
This record was sort of the way we went into the studio; what I envisioned anyway. I go into the studio and every single song, I want to start with me and a guitar and we’re going to build it up from there and decide what it absolutely needs. And then, only bring in the minimal amount of what the song needs. You have to be very careful. Pull back as much as we can. I wanted it to have like a real stripped-down, organic front porch kind of feel.
JPG: I read that you were a little concerned about this album and you sent off some of the recordings to friends to see what they thought of them, if you were going in the right direction. That’s why I thought, it’s still a Reverend Peyton album, minus the full loud band the whole time.
RP: Yeah, exactly. When I first did this, I wasn’t sure if it was going to be an EP or if we were going to pull a song or two off of it, at least a single. I didn’t know. I didn’t have a plan at the time. There was no label that was gonna be putting it out. We didn’t know what was going to happen. I just had these songs. I wanted to go into the studio and I wanna do it this way. Sometimes, as an artist, you have this itch that you gotta scratch. You know what I mean? And nothing will do ya until you get it. That’s the way it was for this record for me.
Breezy always gets mad at me for saying this ‘cause she says it sounds like we didn’t care but I didn’t have a definitive plan when I booked the studio time other than I wanted to finish up some of these songs I’d been messing with and I wanted to go in real organic and stripped-down. And a beautiful thing happened. I listened to it and was like, “Man, I think we’ve got a record here.” I sent it out to some people, see what they thought. I had some buddies go, “Man, don’t mess this up. Don’t put anything else on it. Don’t do anything. Actually leave it like it is.”
Some people, I think, wanted So Delicious again maybe it bums ‘em out maybe it doesn’t, I don’t know. It’s not So Delicious. So Delicious is probably our most finished sounding record. And if you only got wise to what we are and what we’re all about through that record, this might seem like a shock. But if you are a fan of ours, you’ve been with us since our first record, Big Damn Nation I don’t think this record is a surprise at all.
I don’t know if it’s our best record. That’s for other people to decide but I know it’s our most beautiful sounding record. I wanted it to be that. I wanted the guitar and everything to be very beautiful whereas So Delicious, there were times that I wanted the guitar to sting, to kind of hurt. I don’t want the guitar in this to ever hurt. I want it to always sound beautiful.
JPG: Speaking of recording methods, I know that you used a minimum amount of microphones with distinct placements to record this album. Have you considered doing a session at Jack White’s Third Man Records where you record directly to vinyl?
RP: Man, they had us down there and we did. They invited us down there a few years back and we recorded something in their vinyl booth. One part of it ended up on a Record Store Day release. Half of it was that and half of it was a studio version of “Can’t Judge a Book By Its Cover,” the Willie Dixon song. One side was a Charlie Patton song recorded at Third Man. The other song was that. Only a thousand or something like that were made and they sold out that day, Record Store Day, and that was it. I thought about maybe trying to do something else with it because you can’t get it on iTunes or anything. So, if you don’t have that little 45, it doesn’t exist.
Actually, there’s a couple more songs floating around that were done at that same Third Man session that might be released at some point. I think I did a version of “Pickin Pawpaws” I’m not sure exactly what we did. They actually reached out to us. It’s pretty cool.
JPG: Yes, it is. Now, I was going through your latest and earlier releases and noticed titles such as “Cornbread and Butterbeans,” “Pot Roast and Kisses,” “Born Bred Corn Fed” “Mama’s Fried Potatoes” “Pork Chop Biscuit.” I was thinking how you could put out a food themed compilation album some day.
RP: (laughs) It could be like a greatest hits food album. We did The Gospel Album, which was an EP. Originally, my plan was to do a bunch of those. I wanted to do a Gospel album, train songs…maybe murder ballads but we only did the one. (laughs)
Max (Senteney, drums), he thinks we should do a train record. He’s pushing me. “Man, let’s do that train record. It’ll be awesome!” There’s so many good songs about trains and I’ve written a few myself.
JPG: Now, how did you discover these older blues artists like Charlie Patton and Bukka White and Furry Lewis?
RP: What it was, my dad listens to a lot of Rolling Stones, blues-influenced rock and blues like Johnny Winter, and I wanted to know who influenced them. Get Muddy Waters. Well, who did Muddy Waters listen to? You get to Charlie Patton pretty quick. That is how I did it. “This Rolling Stones song is a cover of an old blues song. What’s the original like?” I was always chasing that stuff. I was always real fired up by the originals and the history of it. Even Robert Johnson, you go to him, and this song’s a cover of Charley Patton. This song covers Skip James. This song is him doing his best Son House impression. I was always into that; how these people got their influences.
JPG: How did you go about finding this history? I’m guessing this took place during the early days of the internet, no high speed Wi-Fi to assist you.
RP: Man, for me at the time it was always saving up and chasing CDs down. I’m a child of the ‘80s. So, by the time I got into music, it was CDs. I got into vinyl later. I didn’t have a nostalgia thing when I was a kid for vinyl. Vinyl was in boxes in people’s attics. But, I love vinyl. I love that experience now but I came to it later, just through analog recording techniques that I’m into.
So, for me it was CDs, researching it. Now, all that stuff is up on the internet. It’s real easy. Later, it started to be. We didn’t have a computer with the internet on it when I was in school. It wasn’t until I graduated high school that I really had real good access to the internet. At that point, everybody did.
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