Though they’re just a trio, The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band delivers a big, full sound, and that’s exactly what they did recently at the Pearl Street Warehouse. Hailing from rural Southern Indiana — Brown County — they’ve been called “the world’s greatest front porch blues band,” and I wouldn’t argue with that description.
The Big Damn Band is simultaneously retro and modern. The blues, especially country blues, is the biggest influence on their work. They’ve released an entire album of songs by the early bluesman Charley Patton, and the evening’s sole cover was of Robert Johnson’s “If I Had Possession on Judgment Day.” The Reverend, who played the song solo acoustic, explained that Johnson based his tune on an even older song, “Rollin’ and Tumblin.'” He also shared he’s been working on an entirely acoustic record, which the Reverend said he’s been making “in front of my fireplace.” He promised the album will feature some exciting guest appearances. I can’t wait to hear it!
The good Reverend’s impressive guitar work is always a highlight of a Big Damn Band show, and that was no less the case at Pearl Street Warehouse on Nov. 17. As a guy said to me before their set, “He can really play!” Not only can the Reverend really play, he also has some cool gear. During Friday’s show, in addition to electric and acoustic guitars, he also played a resonator and a cigar box guitar. (A resonator is a type of acoustic guitar that produces sound by the playing of the strings causing vibration of cones in the guitar’s body.) Watching the Reverend play, I was amazed once again at how he gets so much sound out of a single instrument. As he said, “The bass player is my thumb.”
We almost didn’t get to hear the Reverend’s guitar mastery. Many years ago, before he started the Big Damn Band, Peyton developed tendonitis in his hand which forced him to stop playing for a year. Fortunately, surgery restored the use of the hand.
Watch The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band perform “Sugar Creek” live on YouTube:
The Big Damn Band is and always has been a family affair. The trio’s two constant members are the Reverend and his wife, Breezy, who plays the washboard. (The Big Damn Band is one of the few bands to use the instrument; bluegrass group Della Mae also employs it.)
Speaking of Breezy, it’s good to see her looking strong and healthy. In 2020, she faced health issues. These issues, and a prolonged power outage at the Peytons’ home, inspired their latest album, 20201’s Dance Songs For Hard Times. There’s an old saying that you play blues because you’re sad, but once you play the blues, you aren’t sad anymore. Songs like “Ways and Means” tackle serious economic strife while offering uplift and a danceable groove. It’s a great album, deserving of the critical praise it’s received, and might be their best yet.
These themes of working class struggle and survival aren’t new for the band. They were all over their previous album, especially in the title cut, “Poor Until Payday,” a song about living paycheck to paycheck. These themes, and the band’s unique blend of musical influences, have gotten them categorized as “alt-country” and “Americana,” and there’s some truth to that. They draw from the well of American roots music.
The Big Damn Band opened their set with “My Old Man Boogie.” “Sugar Creek,” the Reverend said, “is a bout a real place, like all of my songs.” The set also included “Something For Nothing,” “Devils Look Like Angels,” “So Delicious,” and the traditional gospel classic “This Little Light of Mine.” (They’ve put out a whole album of classic gospel tunes.)
Missouri trio the Hotten Hollars opened the show. They’re a unique trio: guitar, drums, and saxophone. Their sax player is a woman, and I don’t recall seeing many women playing the sax in rock bands. They were loud and raucous, offering a nice complement to the Big Damn Band.
I’ve seen the Big Damn Band several times now, and they’re always a great live act. Every one of their shows feels like a party, and Friday night was no exception.