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The Path of Righteous Music

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The tiny Brown County town of Bean Blossom is probably not where you would expect to find one of the country’s preeminent blues bands.

Or are they a country band?

A roots rock act?

“I would say country blues,” says The Reverend Peyton. “And what that means is, it’s rural blues. So if blues was a pyramid shape and at the top is ‘blues,’ if you go down towards the bottom, on one side there’s urban blues and on the other side there’s country blues. Ours is the rural side, country blues, which in its earliest point is sort of dominated by fingerstyle guitar.”

“And that’s sort of my bread and butter, is trying to take fingerstyle, country blues guitar and making music for now. Timeless music, the music that is alive today, doesn’t just belong in a museum on a shelf.

The band's latest album, So Delicious, marks its first with Yazoo Records.  - COURTESY OF THE REVEREND PEYTON'S BIG DAMN BAND
  • Courtesy of the Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band
  • The band's latest album, So Delicious, marks its first with Yazoo Records.

The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band makes its genre-defying, ageless music in this rural area in one of Indiana’s most rural counties.

The country blues trio, composed of The Reverend Peyton, his wife Breezy Peyton on washboard, and Ben “Bird Dog” Bussell on the drums (an upturned plastic bucket) play more than 200 shows a year, with their travels taking them not only all over the United States, but across Europe as well.

Breezy Peyton (right) plays so hard the band now sells shards of the broken washboards from various shows. - COURTESY OF THE REVEREND PEYTON'S BIG DAMN BAND
  • Courtesy of the Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band
  • Breezy Peyton (right) plays so hard the band now sells shards of the broken washboards from various shows.

Despite how far the band’s music has taken him, The Reverend, whose actual name is Josh Peyton, does not hesitate to show his Hoosier roots. That much is certain when you see the Indiana tattoo emblazoned with the phrase “Born Bred Corn Fed” on his right arm.

Through the band’s travels, The Rev says he has learned Indiana is home to more culture than many realize.

“As you travel, and we’ve been now to 27 or 28 countries,” he says. “We’ve been all over the lower 48 states. We’ve literally been across the world, and what I realize now is there is so much culture in Indiana, and it’s from little things.”

Some of the band’s first shows were around Indianapolis-area bars and clubs, like the Melody Inn Tavern on Illinois Street.

“Indianapolis really believed in us early on,” The Rev says. “Sometimes places don’t really sort of understand some of the talent that they have locally. Everybody in the city recognized that we were serious and that we had something to say -- that we were doing something that was different.”

When The Rev has something to say, you hear it. His powerful, burly voice booms out of his mouth, fitting for a man with as great a stature as his.

“Big and organic and real,” is how producer Paul Mahern describes the singer’s vocals. “I mean he doesn’t have a killer range or anything, but he has a lot of personality and he’s really able to convey his messages in a way that feels real and honest.”

The Rev uses an extremely difficult method of guitar playing called “fingerstyle” or “fingerpicking.” There is no need for a bass player in the Big Damn Band, because The Rev plays the bass line with his thumb.

Ben "Bird Dog" Bussell (left) plays percussion for The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band. - COURTESY OF THE REVEREND PEYTON'S BIG DAMN BAND
  • Courtesy of the Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band
  • Ben "Bird Dog" Bussell (left) plays percussion for The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band.

“In my opinion, it’s the hardest style of American guitar,” The Rev says. “Basically the idea is, with your thumb you play the bass, and with your fingers you play the melody at the same time. When it’s done right, it should feel like there’s two, literal guitar parts being played.”

He goes on to explain, “For me, it’s been something that I’ve just been obsessed with since I first heard someone do it. The biggest challenge for me now is not necessarily to do it, but to try to take it to new places.”

As a producer, Mahern says getting that raw guitar sound onto recordings can be challenging.

“There’s actually just the three of them, there’s hardly any overdubs,” Mahern says. “So you have to make that guitar sound as big as possible. And he’s doing so much on the guitar. He’s playing the bass part with his thumb, he’s playing rhythm parts and he’s playing lead parts and side parts all at the same time. It’s all coming out of the same instrument.”

The Rev uses vintage guitars because of the more authentic sound that they give to the band’s timeless brand of country blues.

“Particularly with guitars, old guitars have a magic to them,” The Rev says. “They were made with different materials and that’s very important.”

The band’s affection for classic instruments carries over into the recording studio. The recording equipment they use dates back to the 1960s, at the most recent.

“When it comes to recording, old microphones and analog material just have a much warmer sound,” The Rev says. “And it’s something that with all the advances in digital recording, which has gotten so much better, you still have to have a certain amount of old analog gear to get that sound, the sound that I love.”

Recording with decades-old equipment suits the trio’s sound, says Mahern.

“Because there’s only three of them and they’re not a big orchestrated thing, there’s a lot more space,” Mahern says. “So having that extra harmonic distortion just eats up the sound. It’s perfect for what they do.”

The Reverend gave up guitar when he developed cysts that damaged tendons in his hands. But following surgery to remove them, he resumed finger-style guitar with gusto. - COURTESY OF THE REVEREND PEYTON'S BIG DAMN BAND
  • Courtesy of the Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band
  • The Reverend gave up guitar when he developed cysts that damaged tendons in his hands. But following surgery to remove them, he resumed finger-style guitar with gusto.

Despite the simple three-piece setup to the band, The Rev. Peyton and crew deliver live shows with the ferocity of a punk band.

“I want people to leave the show literally full of adrenaline,” The Rev says. “We’re not the kind of band that just stares at our feet and tries to pretend like the crowd isn’t there. I’ve always felt like those kinds of shows were insulting. And for us, it’s about making the audience feel like they’re a part of something.”

The band returns home to Bean Blossom whenever they have a break from touring. Despite how far their music has taken them, The Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band always longs to return home.

“I love it,” The Rev says of southern Indiana. “I feel like the people are very warm and friendly. There’s so much culture, too, outside of just Hoosier culture that you can experience. [Especially in] Brown County there are so many artists, musicians and people who love the outdoors too.”

To experience the religion that is The Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band, enjoy the band’s live performance this Saturday (April 18) as part of the Butler ArtsFest 2015. The concert will be at the Schrott Center for the Arts. The show begins at 7:30 p.m. For information on tickets, visit the festival’s website.

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