“I guess me and my brother Jayme have been playing 10, 12 years now,” Rev says as he picks up his vintage 1935 National guitar and begins thumbing out a bass line. “It’s always been the blues for us.
“Originally, I played electric, single-string stuff. Flat pick, you know, like everyone else. I always liked the pre-war stuff though. Country blues, finger style, all the old stuff. But I couldn’t play finger style so I felt like that wasn’t the stuff I was supposed to be into.” He continues, “Then I started having problems with both my hands. Especially my fret hand. I didn’t play for a year. I went through all the doctors, the physical therapy, the pain meds and the doctors told me I was gonna have to find something else to do.”
Rev eventually was operated on at the Indiana Hand Center. During the healing process he had to totally rethink his guitar technique. With his left hand almost completely out of commission, he decided that if he wouldn’t be able to fret maybe he could use a slide.
As it was also apparent he wouldn’t be returning to flat pick, single-string blues he started listening to the stuff he really dug like Charley Patton, Son House and Bukka White. The roots blues sound that came out of the Mississippi delta from places like Clarksdale and Holly Ridge. This is where the finger-style blues was born — the technique he uses today.
“There’s this legendary story about Keith Richards playing an old Robert Johnson record for Mick Jagger and Mick was asking who the bass player was. But there was no bass player, it was all Robert Johnson,” Rev recalls.
Picking up his 69-year-old Dobro resonator guitar, he starts plucking out a standard bass line with his right thumb. Then, as if by magic, the bottom fingers of the same hand begin to work independently, fingering out a note for his slide to bend and coax and massage until it comes to life. “It’s all been done before,” he insists. “No one that’s a musician is self-taught. We’re all standing on the shoulders of the guys that came before us.”
Jayme and Rev have been playing together for a decade or better but the band as it exists today has yet to see even its first birthday. It consists of Rev on guitar and vocals, Jayme on the drums and Rev’s wife Breezy on the washboard.
Breezy’s always been into the blues as well, though she came by way of a more contemporary connection. She’d been a fan of the Squirrel Nut Zippers and followed the career of guitarist Jimbo Mathus after the Zippers breakup. Once Rev and Breezy got together it was only a matter of time before Rev was heading to the antique store to find a washboard, which Breezy soon took to with fervor. That first board’s metal rubbing surface has worn through already.
“We don’t want to be a novelty,” Rev says. “The washboard was a real instrument. A regal instrument with a rich history in roots blues. This music was often the only ticket off the sharecropper’s farm. Not everyone could afford a drum kit, but they all had a washboard.”
Jayme’s drum kit is a tight, stripped-down kit called a Jungle Kit, popularized during the bop era and perfectly suited for the fast, raw sound that the band typifies. After Rev writes his songs, it’s up to Jayme and Breezy to work out how the percussion will best compliment his style.
It’s all paying off early for Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band. Though they’ve been together less than a year they’ve just released their first CD. The Pork and Beans Collection contains all original songs with the exception of one cover: Charley Patton’s “The Pony Blues.” Their Indianapolis CD release party is Friday, July 23 at Birdy’s Bar and Grill, but they released it first all the way down Highway 61 in the birthplace of the Delta Blues, Clarksdale, Miss.
So how’d a 23-year-old Indy native book his CD release at Ground Zero (probably the biggest blues club south of the Mason Dixon line)? “We did it just like we booked every show we’ve ever gotten,” Rev says matter-of-factly. “We just sent out our demo and asked.”
They’ve gotten great response from Indy’s rock and roll community but there’s something validating about your sound going over down there. “When an old guy at Ground Zero’s sucking the head off a crawfish and he tells you you’re the real deal, you know you’ve done something special,” Rev explains.
But the real capper to the trip was the next day when they rode over to Holly Ridge and attended a festival in honor of Charley Patton (Holly Ridge’s most famous son). Many of the crowd had seen them perform the night before at Ground Zero and started asking if they had brought their instruments. Soon, they were gigging on stage with blues legends like Eddie Cusik and Breezy’s hero, Jimbo Mathus.
The pilgrimage to the delta and return home to Indy have brought their journey full circle. Now all that’s left is to do like any good reverend and spread the word. Evangelize, and tell the tales of what’s gone before. Let people know there’s more to blues than what John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd taught us. The blues is more than Stevie Ray Vaughn covers, it’s history.
“We’re trying to open peoples’ eyes a little bit,” Rev says. “We play the music that influenced all the people that started Chicago blues. We get a lot of respect from other musicians. They love our stuff and tell us this is the stuff they wish they were playing.” “But Stevie Ray Vaughn covers sell a lot of drinks,” Breezy says.