Reverend and Breezy have always had a relationship rooted in music.
“On our first date, I actually played him a Charley Patton-influenced album that a friend of mine named Jimbo Mathus (of the Squirrel Nut Zippers) did,” Breezy says. “I don’t think there are many 19-year-old girls listening to Charley Patton records at that age.”
2018 marks 15 years of marriage for the dynamic blues couple. Both lifelong Hoosiers, Reverend and Breezy have called Brown County home for most of their time together. “We are in a different town every day on tour,” Breezy says. “When we come home, it’s nice to decompress and come back to a place where things are very simple and calm.”
While they may still be out on the road more days than not, this living situation is certainly better than the one they had in the early days of Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band.
“Prior to living n Brown County, we were homeless and on tour,” Breezy says. “We spent our time camping in Brown County and living in Flava Dave’s basement.”
Even before they ever went on a date, Reverend and Breezy lived pretty interconnected lives. “My best friend is sisters with one of his best friends from high school,” Breezy says. “They had tried to get us together for years, but for whatever reason I guess we thought they were full of shit. We finally went through with it, and we really haven’t been apart since then.” Breezy’s washboard playing, in fact, can be traced back to their first date.
“I said, ‘Man, it’d be fun to get a washboard and mess around on it. People just don’t play the washboard very much,’” she remembers. “The next day, he went and picked one up at an antique store. So we started messing around on it when we first got together.”
Although he’s known for his masterful guitar playing, Reverend suffers from ganglion cysts in his hands that have plagued him from time to time. When he and Breezy first met, he was actually unable to use his hands due to surgery. “They were worried that he may not be able to play guitar ever again,” Breezy remembers.
“Sometimes I think that was for a reason. If I had known how obsessed this guy was with guitar and that my life would be nothing but guitar every minute when we first got together, I probably wouldn’t have given him the time of day. Maybe that’s how he sucked me in.”
While dealing with these cysts has certainly created struggles for Reverend over the years, the bluesman now sees his hand condition as a blessing in disguise.
“I’m on what’s called the hyper flexibility spectrum, so my joints are hyper flexible,” Reverend says. “For some people, that can be debilitating. But luckily, I’m one of the few people that’s in the middle, where you can actually use it to your advantage.”
He continues, “There are certain things that I can do on the guitar that wouldn’t be possible if I wasn’t on the hyper flexibility spectrum. That’s something that I didn’t know about until fairly recently.”
A longtime student of the guitar, Reverend first found his fascination for the instrument while listening to his father play as a youngster. “He told me that I loved it, and that I couldn’t believe all this music that he was making,” Reverend says. “He said, ‘If you get good, we’ll get an amp.’ I’ve never put it down since. I mean never.” From an early age, Reverend has dug deep into the annals of blues music, thanks to his father’s initial influence.
“There was always music around,” Reverend recalls of his childhood. “My dad was really into guys like Johnny Winter and the Stones. From those fellas, it’s not hard to go straight to guys like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf.”
As his blues explorations continued, Reverend fell further and further in love with the storied American genre. “I started delving deeper and deeper and getting back to names like Charley Patton, Furry Lewis, Blind Lemon, John Hurt, and Mississippi Fred McDowell,” Reverend says. “The older, deeper country-blues stuff was what I was really drawn to.” As he began trying to emulate the style of these greats, Reverend actually found that his hand condition was more of a help than a hindrance.
“It took my hand problems to really make me proficient,” Reverend says. “It was like something clicked in my brain. With country-blues guitar style, you essentially have to be able to play two things at once. A lot of that is not in your hands—it’s actually in your mind.”
Over the years, Reverend’s guitar stylings have become a signature piece of the Big Damn Band puzzle. On their latest record, however, Rev. Peyton and company specifically zeroed in on the ‘50s studio sound. Titled Poor Until Payday, Reverend had classic 45s in mind when he conceived the record.
“Imagine it’s 1955, and Howlin’ Wolf, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bo Diddley, and Ray Charles are all on the radio brand new,” Reverend says. “That stuff comes across so exciting it’s just hard to believe. I started collecting 45s and immersing myself in that era of music, not just in terms of style but in terms of production and the emotional excitement level that comes out of those records.”
In order to accomplish this sound, Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band had to record with the right gear. “Over the last couple years, I’ve been focusing hard on recording gear,” Reverend says. “Luckily, Primary Sound Studios [where the band recorded Poor Until Payday] in Bloomington has a lot of great gear too. Between mine and theirs, it was like a vintage audio show.” In addition to having the right gear, Reverend also made sure Poor Until Payday was recorded using old school techniques.
“There’s very little on this record in terms of technology that’s newer than 1959,” Reverend says. “When you listen, remember that this was done live to tape in a style that’s similar to what they would’ve done at Chess Records, Stax, or Sun.”
As for the album’s lyrical content, Reverend tried to focus on a brighter future.
“In the back of my mind, I needed to have these songs that were a reminder for me that there’s better days ahead,” Reverend says. “So there is that theme that runs through this record maybe more so than other records.”
He continues, “Breezy and I have been through an awful lot. So for me personally, it was just a reminder that we’ve been through a lot and are better for it. The best days are ahead. Sometimes you need to pep talk yourself.”
In particular, Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band has encountered some financial obstacles due to foul play from a record distributor. “We worked with a record label in Indianapolis to get distribution, and that record label stole all the money that we made,” Reverend says. “So it’s been tough. There are always people around in the music business looking to steal from artists.” Circumstances such as this are made even more difficult when you’re an entity as grassroots as Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band.
“It’s tough when you’re independent because you don’t have the access to some of the big lawyers,” Reverend says. “And even if you do, there’s only so much that can happen. It’s kind of crazy the way the music business is. People can steal from you, and then they can just wave at you and go, ‘Bye-bye.’”
Nevertheless, Reverend and Breezy are just trying to stay positive while sticking to their vigorous Brown County sound.
“At the end of the day, what we are is a rural blues band from rural Indiana,” Reverend says. “We’ve done everything on our own without some big, wealthy benefactor, without some major label, and without a big movie theme song. To me, the album’s title is just about us waiting for that big day to come.”
This November, Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band will again return to Indianapolis for their traditional day-after-Thanksgiving show at the Vogue. “It sort of that big homecoming,” Breezy says of the yearly Vogue show. “We get to see a lot of our family and friends.” After a full year of touring, the show is always a great time to experience the Big Damn Band live up close and in person.
“For us, that’s the time of year where we’ve been out all year,” Breezy says. “I think it’s always one of our best performances.”