Now that the Rev. Josh Peyton has spent so much time on the road, playing country blues on an endless tour with the other two members of his Big Damn Band, his wife Washboard Breezy and brother Jayme, he thinks he can affirm that Indiana - whether Indianapolis or his home in Brown County - is not the cultural wasteland that frustrated cosmopolitans might brand it.
"Growing up, people say, it sucks around here, I can't wait to get out of here, there's no culture in Indiana or whatever," said Peyton in a phone interview conducted last Saturday. "And people say that everywhere. But when you get away from home for a while, when you spend 300 days or more on the road and you see how other people live and eat and survive and you take a look at their culture, you realize just how much culture there is in Indiana: music, food, everything."
The Big Damn Band has returned to home base in Bean Blossom, Ind., for two weeks to celebrate Christmas with four different branches of their family and play a post-Christmas, Dec. 26 show at the Vogue that Peyton promises will "be one of the biggest, if not the biggest show we've ever done in Indianapolis."
Peyton won't reveal too much about his plans for the show, but he can say that the band will perform songs from their latest record, The Whole Fam Damnily, that they've never played live before, and that they've been saving for the hometown show and the upcoming tour. They'll also be shooting part of a music video for the new record during the show.
The Whole Fam Damnily, released on the Big Damn Band's new label SideOneDummy Aug. 5, debuted on the Billboard Blues Album chart at No. 4, and has been on and off the chart since.
"It's one of those things," Peyton says. "A country blues band from Indiana was never supposed to be on the blues chart. It's all about electric blues."
Peyton is happy that a record with such pride of place has found success internationally.
"We recorded it in Indiana, in Bloomington, not far from my house," he explains. "All the pictures were taken at my place in Brown County with my cousin's pig. All the songs are about Indiana and people I know in Indiana. It felt really Indiana from start to finish."
Aside from the lyrics, the country blues played by the Big Damn Band - with the Reverend on resonator guitar, Breezy on washboard and Jayme on drums - has Indiana roots, even if it may be a style most readily associated with the rural South.
"Country blues is everywhere," Peyton explains, "but there's been some great country blues players to come out of Indiana: Yank Rachelle most notably, but a lot of fellows that didn't get as much recording time as others."
Revstock and tattoos
The Big Damn Band doesn't lack for local notoriety - it's one of the few local groups that can headline the Vogue without taking out a second mortgage afterwards, and has headlined these pages as recently as August (and, most notably, in comic book form, in a treatment by Wayne Bertsch and Shelby Kelley that chronicled the band just as they devoted themselves to music full-time). But the band also has a surprisingly devoted fan base, nationally and internationally, which Peyton chronicles in a consistently updated (and consistently fascinating) photo blog on the band's Web site, www.bigdamnband.com.
Case one: Revstock, a festival held June 19 in honor of the Big Damn Band in, of all places, a backyard in Ashland, Ore. According to Mapquest, that's 2,283 miles from Bean Blossom, the home of the Big Damn Band. Peyton was well aware of the distance.
"It's an honor when you show up to a town that you really have nothing to do with in the grand scheme of things, and they're excited to have you and they treat you like family, they're excited to hear the record and they know the words to the songs," Peyton explains. "When the road gets hard and when things don't go as planned, it's things like Revstock that keep us going, it's just fuel that we use when things get low."
Case two: Big Damn Band tattoos. Peyton says there's at least 10 to 12 of them out there, and that he saw another one at Locals Only Friday night during Everthus the Deadbeats' Winter Spectacular.
"We thought about doing something in the future for people that do have Big Damn Band tattoos," he reflects. "Special merchandise or something."
Naomi Judd and the Coug
Of course, the band members sometimes play the role of fans themselves. For instance, they found themselves having lunch this September with Naomi Judd in Franklin, Tenn. They were arbitrarily seated at the same table as Judd, and went on to enjoy a lunch and 45 minutes on the porch with the multiplatinum country star.
"It's like this," Peyton explains. "You run into people who are well known - you wouldn't say they're famous, or maybe they're a little bit famous - and they act like jerks. They think they own the world and everything. But then you run into someone like Naomi Judd. She's sold 30 million records, and she's as sweet as could be. And she's talking about playing at the Little Opry in Nashville, Ind., and it's great when you come across people like that and it sort of renews your faith in human beings a little bit."
Being associated with another star - this one from Seymour, Ind. - may have slightly deflated Peyton's belief in the goodness of humankind. The band was at the U.S.-Canada border this summer when they found that what Peyton calls a "misunderstanding" between the two countries would keep their drummer Jayme out of Canada, and that a hard-nosed border guard wasn't willing to make an exception. Peyton picks up the story from when they approached the guard to hear the final verdict.
"We came up to the counter and the guy says, 'Indiana, ay?' I swear he said, 'ay.' I'm not adding that for effect. And we're like, 'Yeah man, Indiana.' And he goes, 'John Cougar Mellencamp, ay?' And we're like, 'Yeah man, the Coug!' We thought maybe he was a big Mellencamp fan and this is going to be worked out. He says, 'OK, it's up to me, I can go either way on this thing. I can say, "OK, let him in, no problem." Or I can not. I've decided to not let him in.' Honest to God. Maybe the guy heard 'Pink Houses' too many times. Maybe it should have been 'R-O-C-K in the C-A-N-A-D-A,' and he would have been all right with it. But I think us not getting in had something to do with Mellencamp."
Jayme took a Greyhound to Montana and barely avoided arrest for vagrancy while Peyton and Breezy played their Canada dates with a replacement drummer.
Back in the States, Peyton says he's happy to have a home to which to return, and that he'll be ready to leave that home soon enough.
"I tell you it's a lot easier to come back home now that we have a place to live," he explains. "For a while, we didn't have a place to live; we were just rambling. So having a home again makes it a lot easier to come home. But it's kind of like this: When we're on the road for a while, we start to get homesick and when we're at home for a while, it's time to get back on the road. It's just because playing music is what we do. It's just in our blood somehow and it's what we're best at. I love travelling and I love being home too. It's sort of the paradox of my existence, I guess."