Josh Peyton has been playing the blues in Lexington for a long time – clear back to the early days of The Dame on West Main, in fact.
Peyton was anomaly then. A child of the ‘80s reared in rural Southern Indiana (Brown County, to be exact), he became enamored of fingerstyle guitar, the blues that was born out of it and especially the legendary stylists like Charlie Patton that sought to expand and individualize the sound.
“My dad was into Johnny Winter and rock-blues stuff,” Peyton said. “Then we would go back and play Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf – that kind of music. When you go back to the early stuff, you see there were a lot fewer rules. Blues now, it’s like, ‘Oh, it’s got to be 12 bars, pentatonic scales and shuffles.’ I’m like, ‘Well, wait a minute. Go back early enough and there wasn’t hardly any of that stuff in blues. There weren’t any rules and the feel was awesome.
“The finger-style country blues just absolutely, I think, was the greatest guitar style America has ever produced. I love it. But I don’t want to just preserve it. I want to take it new places and maintain it as a living, breathing guitar form. Plus, me being a country kid, the rural music just spoke to me more. It just felt right to me.”
Those inspirations eventually found their way into an unconventional trio that matched Peyton’s growing guitar prowess with two percussionists – a washboard player (his wife, Breezy Peyton) and a drummer whose kit includes a five gallon bucket (Ben “Birddog” Bussell).
Then there was the matter of a stage name for Peyton and his trio that indicated something huge and reverential about the elemental blues grind he was forging. Thus was born The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, along with the start of a steady stream of Lexington concert stops that have continued for over a decade.
But The Reverend – not Josh, mind you – insists that if you haven’t experienced the big blues attack of the Big Damn Band since the Dame days, then you are in need of a serious refresher course.
“If you were someone who saw us even five years ago, then you haven’t seen us,” Peyton said. “That’s all there is to it. That’s not just bravado. It’s a literal fact. We literally work at getting better every day.
“Some artists get into kind of a groove and roll and think, ‘This is what we do. We’re going to stick to that.’ I get too bored with that thinking. I have to consciously try to get better. That doesn’t mean I want to be completely different, like, ‘Oh, I’m going to be someone else next week.’ I just want to figure how to be better at being me.
“Now, what does that mean? It means I want to be better at singing, writing songs and playing guitar. I want to get the feel right. It’s just something I work on every day. We work on the live show, too. The live shows are way better now, which is great because that’s our bread and butter.”
Part of that evolution is evident on the Big Damn Band’s new So Delicious! album, the first release by a contemporary artist on the famed Yazoo label (previously devoted exclusively to recordings of archival roots music). The music is so direct and down home that the album notes include Breezy’s recipe for pot roast.
“Oh man, I am more proud of this than anything we’ve ever done,” Peyton said of the record. “I just feel like it has such a cool diversity of sounds. It’s so organic. The vocals on it I’m really proud of – the background vocals, especially. They’re probably the best they’ve been. They really texture the record. The guitar picking on it, I’m just really proud of that, too.
“You make a record and you hope people like it. But with this, it’s like we’re at the top of our game.”