By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
The morning after playing a party for his high school graduation, Josh "Reverend" Peyton woke up with severe pain in his hands. Doctors thought that Peyton, who had been playing guitar for five years, would never play again.
"For almost two years, I didn't play," Peyton says. "I ended up having surgery, and it was only after a doctor ended up saying, 'I think I know what's wrong, but the only way I'll know for sure is to cut your hand open.' I said, 'Man, let's do it.' I just wanted to get my hands back."
After the surgery, Peyton was able to tackle the fingerstyle blues of one of his chief influences, Charlie Patton, whom many consider the father of Delta blues.
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"It was like a miracle," Peyton says. "I hadn't played for so long, and I'd always wanted to be able to play all the fingerstyle stuff I loved. I never really could do it and I was never really good at it, but after my surgery, it was like something clicked in my mind and in my hands. I could play it all."
While recovering from the operation, Peyton met his future wife, "Washboard" Breezy, who soon joined the Reverend and his younger brother Jayme, who had already been playing together for more than a decade. A year later, the Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band released its debut album, The Pork N' Beans Collection, followed by 2006's Big Damn Nation—which was recorded live to analog tape with no overdubs—and last year's The Gospel Album. A strong country-blues spirit fuels nearly each of those records.
"I'm from the country, so it makes more sense," Peyton points out. "Also, I feel that country blues—as opposed to city blues and urban blues—is a better vehicle for telling stories. It's not just about 12-bars, turnarounds and wanking around on the guitar. It's a great genre for getting a story across. You can convey emotions. You can convey stories. You can do both. I feel like it's a real diverse way to get what you want across."
And Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band rips through backwoods Mississippi Delta blues with the fervor and the fury of the Ramones, getting crowds stomping and hollering all over the United States and in Europe. In 2007, the BDB played about 250 shows, including a tour with Flogging Molly, which helped them secure a deal with the Side One Dummy imprint in 2008 to release The Whole Fam Damnily.
Whether or not the band's latest release, May's The Wages, actually further elevates the Rev. and company to a new level is anyone's guess. Regardless, all the touring they've put in has definitely paid off in terms of helping pump up their fan base. In fact, the band has made such an impression on fans in Oregon that the state honored the band with its own festival, Revstock, in Ashland. While the show itself was a rousing success, the trio encountered a bit of difficulty driving south after the fest.
"We broke down on top of a mountain in between the Klamath River and the Smith River," Peyton recalls. "We were I don't know how many thousands of feet up, and there's nobody. We had just passed a sign that said, 'You have passed the area where we remove snow.' In the winter, they don't even bother cleaning it up—that's how far out of the way we were. We thought we were pretty screwed, but we ended up getting things going again."
Must be something about Oregon: During another jaunt, Peyton recalls, they picked up a hitchhiker who turned out to be an escaped convict with a bag full of guns.
"I had to bluff and make him think that I was carrying a gun so he didn't shoot us," Peyton says. "That was messed up. He ruined it for everybody. We have a no-hitchhiker rule now. All it takes is one bad apple."
Fortunately for them, the Big Damn Band has got to be used to such strange encounters by now: Having performed as the house band on a Jerry Springer pay-per-view special, the outfit played in and out of breaks, during fights, and had the distinct privilege of providing the soundtrack to a scene in which a midget dressed as a pig was dunked by a topless cowgirl in a baby pool of K-Y Jelly.
The miracles, it seems, never cease.