Culture Q&A: Josh “The Reverend” Peyton

The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band frontman preaches to <em>IM</em> ahead of a big damn Indy homecoming weekend that includes a concert, a recording session, and a special Record Store Day single release.
Reverend Peyton (center), Breezy Peyton (right), and Ben Bussel (left).

The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, a rip-roarin’ country-blues act from Brown County, has spent a lot of time on the road lately. So the group is making the most of an Indiana homecoming on Saturday with a full slate of performances and events in Indianapolis.

The band’s activities begin with a recording date at WFYI 90.1 FM, for the first installment in the station’s new Small Studio Sessions online concert series, available for streaming at WFYI’s website on April 28. Later on Saturday, at 7:30 p.m., comes a gig at the Howard L. Schrott Center for the Arts as part of Butler ArtsFest. Also on Saturday, a special 7″ Rev. Peytone single is available for purchase at Luna Music, Indy CD & Vinyl, and the eastside Karma Records, in honor of national Record Store Day. The limited-edition disc features two previously unreleased covers of blues standards, and a few copies are signed by Peyton himself. On Tuesday, April 21, Indy-based label Joyful Noise Recordings is releasing a compilation, 50 Songs & A Cat for Indiana Equality—which includes a track from the Big Damn Band—to raise money for LGBT-rights groups in Indiana.

The group’s frenetic performances and down-home persona have made it a crowd favorite in Central Indiana, with Peyton tearing hard-driving rhythms from his guitar at a pace that makes you wonder whether a second guitar player is hiding backstage. His wife, Breezy, plays the washboard, adding a gritty, folksy texture to the songs, and drummer Ben “Bird Dog” Bussell brings a barn floor–stomping beat.

“The Rev” took a few moments to preach to IM while resting in his Brown County cabin.


How is the tour going?
This has been the biggest tour of our lives. The shows went amazing, the fans have been great—people really seem to get where we’re coming from. It’s always nice when people make requests for songs off the new record. They aren’t, like, “Play the old stuff.” That to me has been the most special thing.

You guys are real road warriors. How many upcoming gigs do you have planned?
We are going to be doing 250 shows this year.

That must make homecomings really special.
That’s right, man. At the end of the tour, I love coming home. At the start of the touring, I love going on tour. I love being home, and I love being on the road. It’s that duality of my personality.

Your Record Store Day release includes the song “You Can’t Judge a Book by Looking at Its Cover.”
Written by Willie Dixon, made famous by Bo Diddley. On the other side of the 7″ 45 is a Charley Patton song that we recorded at [Jack White’s] Third Man Records in Nashville, Tennessee. It’s a fourth version. On [the album] Peyton on Patton, there are three versions of some of these tapes. I’ve just been obsessed with that song, man. I love it.

What track did you contribute to the Joyful Noise compilation?
It’s a song called “Orange Triangle” that was recorded during the sessions for So Delicious [the band’s latest album]. It’s about a place in Brown County that I love, Yellowwood Forest. It’s a state forest, and it’s a special place. They decided they wanted to pave the road, but paving that road would completely change the forest. Part of its charm is that it’s a gravel road. I don’t think it should be easy for people to travel through there. It should be what it is—a state forest, a park. I wrote this song and thought that it would be good to be on the record.

The compilation is a response to Indiana’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act. How did you feel about the issue?
Here’s the deal, man. This is the short version: We were on tour when all that really started going down, so we could see just how bad Indiana was hurt by all that, because we were outside the state. Inside the state it was probably harder to tell. It was very damaging. Indiana has some of the kindest, most hospitable people on the planet Earth. I’ve been to 48 states. I’ve been to 20 countries. It hurt me to have people thinking that people from Indiana weren’t some of the kindest, most hospitable people on the planet.

At home in Brown County

Hopefully that is all over.
Yeah, I think so, but I worry that when people say “Indiana,” they will use words like “bigot.” Hoosiers are incredibly kind people. It’s actually a very unique culture, especially in Southern Indiana. It’s a culture of kindness—that’s our chief export. You come here, and it’s hospitable. Indiana actually per capita is one of the biggest states for tourism. A lot of people don’t realize that. Tons of people come to Indiana for tourism, for Brown County, for the Indy 500, for the Dunes [on Lake Michigan]. People come from all over the world to see these things. One of the reasons I think they come, when they could go wherever else they wanted, is because of the friendliness of the people here. The thought of that being damaged makes me sick. I’ve been a champion of this state for a long time. People know that about me. I could live anywhere I want, and I choose to live here at home. When we were approached to be a part of that [compilation benefiting LGBT-rights groups], it just made sense to me. Anything we can do to change people’s perspective of that whole situation.

So you are actually a reverend, right?