Between the ditches

Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band dirties up the blues

By Gary Spencer

Photo: Breezy Peyton and Ben “Bird Dog” Bussell of The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band; photo: Birch Miller

The blues has existed as a form of musical expression for well over a century. It’s a sound and style that once you hear it, you never forget it – its notes, chord structures, guitar tones and primal simplicity are instantly recognizable, even to the less-than-privy music listener. The blues is a musical genre you can feel as much as you hear. 

Over the decades, the blues has evolved and deviated from its earliest forms and given way to multiple genres inspired by or based on blues in its simplest form – R&B and rock ‘n’ roll being the most instantly recognizable. But there have always been musicians who have preferred their music to more closely reflect the roots and origins of early traditional blues – stripped down and simple. One such purist is Indiana’s Josh “The Reverend” Peyton. His trio, known as Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, is one of the most acclaimed, traveled and successful modern practitioners of country blues. 

“We have played in something like 25 countries and all the lower 48 states,” Peyton said. “Our last four records have made it [onto] the Billboard Blues Chart top ten. This [newest] one [Between the Ditches] made it onto the Billboard Top 200 chart and it debuted at No. 1 on the iTunes album chart.”

Between the Ditches, the latest from Peyton, came out in 2012. This 14-song full-length disc displays Reverend Peyton and company’s penchant for rootsy blues, peppered by accents of country, bluegrass and even a little bit of old-time rock ‘n’ roll. The band’s somewhat unique take on country blues isn’t much of a surprise, if you ask him about it.

“I want to write songs and go my own way,” Peyton said. “I never wanted to just be an imitator. I am as influenced by songwriters such as John Prine, John Fogerty and Greg Brown in my writing.”

Upon listening to Between the Ditches, it’s obvious the Reverend prefers his blues on the rootsy side – his old school fingerpicking guitar technique is augmented by oodles of glass slide going up and down the fretboard, often recalling the blues guitar heroes he listened to growing up.

“I have been a lover of the music of country blues greats like Charley Patton, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Bukka White, John Hurt and Furry Lewis since I was a young kid,” Peyton said.

His nimble fingers and guitar wizardry are astounding to listen to, but there was a time when he thought he would never play guitar, after performing at a party one night over a decade ago and awoke the next day to hand pain he’d never experienced before. A few doctors’ visits later, Peyton was soon advised he would never be able to play guitar again. But Peyton was determined to getting back to making music.

“I had to stop when I had my hand problems,” Peyton explained. “They originally told me I would never be able to play again. I met Breezy [Peyton, his wife and member of the Big Damn Band] right after my surgery. We started playing together soon after that.”

“Washboard” Breezy Peyton does exactly that – play washboard in Reverend Peyton’s band – and her aggressive and, literally, abrasive style of washboard playing gives many of the Reverend’s tunes a chugging rhythm not unlike that of a train strutting down a rusty old track in some remote backwoods southern town. Oh, and we can’t forget about Reverend Peyton’s drummer, Ben “Bird Dog” Bussell, who keeps the beats simple and effective – much like his stripped-down drum set, which is only as fancy as the five-gallon bucket he bangs on every now and then for good measure. The Big Damn Band has managed to channel this same smokestack lightning-type of vibrancy in its live performances, playing their songs with a manic, feisty energy that might seem more appropriate for a punk band. Indeed, Peyton and his band have built a reputation as a must-see live act, and the trio’s upcoming appearance at Oddbody’s in Dayton promises to pack the same punch longtime fans have known and enjoyed for roughly a decade.

“We believe in putting on a show – no gimmicks, just a real killer live show,” Peyton said. “That is what live music should be. Otherwise people should just stay home and listen to the records. We make our shows worth it.”

The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band will perform Friday, Aug. 22 at Oddbody’s Music Room, 5418 Burkhardt Rd. The Eric Jerardi Band and Cherry Lee & the Hot Rod Hounds are also on the bill. Tickets are $12 in advance, and the show is open to patrons 18 and older. Doors open at 7 p.m. For more information, please visit bigdamnband.com.

Reach DCP freelance writer Gary Spencer at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com

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