Written by Eric Sperrazza
When you think of raw, uncorrupted, and underrated legendary musicians, plenty of bands can come to mind. In my mental pantheon of greats, one was just recently added, Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band.
If you are wondering who it is I am referring to and why they could have such a highly regarded status with me, then allow me to ask the question, “How would you describe a band with supreme mastery of the guitar, to the point of not even needing a bassist? A band that taps into the very vein of vintage Muddy Waters-style Blues Rockabilly in all its uplifting spirit & complex chord progressions. One of the last few bands still live and thrive in the heart of Roots Music? A band that stays on the road to win you over show by show and without hype until you find them and ultimately fall in love? Most importantly, a band who lights a washboard on fire and smashes it on a stage at the end of every high-energy tumbling roller coaster of a fun-filled rock and roll show?” If that is not defined with a greatness status, I can no longer recognize it. But I know that is not the case, as Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band is just as good as I described, if not better.
So, allow me to herald the arrival of your new favorite band.
I reviewed The Dead South at The Fillmore in Philadelphia earlier this year. As I waited for the opening act, I walked to the bar to get a drink. From across the room, I espied this mountainous man in overalls taking the stage, fronting a band of only three people. One of those people was playing on a washboard. The sound of what came off that stage bounced me right off my barstool and directly into the front row. There, I was standing before Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band! This trio from Indiana, Max Senteney on drums, Breezy Peyton on the washboard & Reverend Peyton himself on guitar and lead vocals, combined to create this unadulterated and thick fusion amongst the audience.
Even though every molecule was vibrating in hyper speed amidst the palpable air like a punk rock show, the sound was more of an early day of rock & roll vibe out of Nashville. I was left amazed. Moreover, I was also left feeling bad that The Dead South had to follow that performance!
When talking to Reverend Peyton about that sheer cloud of electricity they create, he opened up about his early days of touring. “It’s kind of weird; we first started at Side One Dummy Records, a punk rock label. I didn’t grow up listening to punk music, ever. But that whole crew took us in. We ended up on The Vans Warped Tour for two years, and then they were making a Rancid tribute album, you know? So, they came to us and asked, ‘Hey, do you wanna be a part of this?’ so we did a song (“Olympa, WA”) for the album. I never really thought of ourselves as punk in any way. It’s strange how this all happens, right?”
It is the force they play with and the environment they create where the similarities to their former punk rock label family do, in fact, end. There are no simplistic “3 chords on the downstroke” songs in their repertoire!
Reverend Peyton, who had been a guitar-playing wunderkind so long he was giving lessons at only 13 years old, had suffered a considerable blow coming into adulthood -developing pain and mobility of his hand. Working a life without his guitar was not in the cards. Peyton found a doctor willing to perform surgery on his hand and made the appointment. One week before the operation, he met his future wife, Breezy. Saying this about the serendipity of it all, “So now I had both my hands and stuff. But, you know, I had to scrape the rust off when you haven’t played for a long time. It takes a while to sort of get back going again. Once I started doing that, we got Breezy playing on her washboard, and it was like we grew up together doing this. And the hand surgery changed my style of playing for the better! I thought my hand problem was the worst thing that ever happened to me, but it ended up making me a better player, and it put me in a position in my life where I don’t know if I would’ve met Breezy if all that had gone that way, you know?”
Breezy is no ornament on stage, either! She got so skilled in playing the washboard that Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Alumni and R & B Guitar staple Steve Cropper once stopped a whole recording with Peyton and his Big Damn Band to acknowledge that she was the best washboard player he ever heard. With her retro rockabilly stage ensemble and her crescendo at the end of every show, the smashing of a flaming washboard on the stage, Breezy is every bit of the entertainment we are blessed. On top of it all, Breezy handles the business dealings. “The music business has not always been super kind to us in many ways, but we just have done it together in spite of it all. Do you know what I mean? Luckily, she’s incredibly smart and has a much better business mind than me. So, you know, that’s also been a tremendous asset to this little operation?” Rev elaborated.
What is the band doing now? After their latest and best LP debuted at #1 on the Billboard and iTunes Charts in 2021, they have stayed on the road, touring and building that granular fan base. Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band is making a second trip to Philadelphia this week. On August 18th, headlining World Cafe Live on Walnut Street. They will also be stopping at The Mercury Lounge on August 19th in New York City.
I asked Reverend Peyton to give me the elevator pitch on why he thinks people should come to the show. With sincerity and humility, he said to me, “It’s tough out there, Man. I mean, there’s so much you gotta cut through in life. There’s so much stuff, you know? There’s this constant noise in this world, and everyone wants entertainment in like 30 seconds of TikTok, you know? I’m an artist that has worked a lifetime developing this sound and this band and trying to take country, blues, and rock guitar to new places. We want to make music to the soundtrack of people’s lives. When they’re working out, when they’re hanging out, when they’re feeling good, when they’re feeling bad, whatever, you know? Each show, I try to be better. If it was the same show we did, even four years ago, I don’t think people would continue to come back, you know? And, and that’s just kind of what I’m doing, Man.”
I can proudly say that a band from southern Indiana put wind in the sales of a Punk & Metal fan with a Yankees tattoo on his leg. Phenomenal musicians with expert-level talent in their crafts are out there. Not everyone is on auto-tune trying to get TikTok likes. As musicophiles, we owe it to ourselves to keep our ears open and support these rare artists in this day and age when we find them. The ones still hitting the road, living out of suitcases & laundromats with a burning desire to be the soundtrack of your life. Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band is just that exceeding kind of band.