“Controlling the narrative” is a phrase we’ve heard a lot in 2019. Whether it’s Trump decrying the lack of journalistic objectivity in America or an A-List celebrity struggling to rationalize a 4:00 a.m. Tweet, everyone wants to tell their own story. Everyone appears eager to frame themselves as something other than what they really are, because, deep down, they know that Erving Goffman’s dramaturgical perspective on human behavior has never gone out of style.
In the music world, the artists who present the most minuscule difference between their front stage and back stage personalities tend to be the most compelling, because what you see is what you get. There’s no question as to their true motivations. They’re confident enough in their art to let it stand on its own terms without shrouding everything in braggadocio.
Before he even picked up the phone, I knew that The Reverend Peyton was such an artist, because his songs control the narrative. He writes, sings, and plays from a deeply human place, which is something we’re not getting that often from the mainstream in the 21st century. Every note counts and every word goes a long way towards expressing something worth saying to an audience in search of authenticity.
The older I get, the less enamored I become with the style over substance mentality of the modern pop scene, so the fact that Buffalo still has a venue daring enough to book a three-piece band featuring a guitar, a washboard, and a minimalist drum kit that is the David to Neil Peart’s Goliath is enough to keep me going for years to come.
After hearing from The Reverend himself, I hope you’ll feel the same.
MNOD: You’ll be sharing the upcoming Buffalo bill with Colonel JD Wilkes and Dom Flemons. How did this tour initially come together?
Rev. Peyton: We’ve been talking about doing it for a few years now. We’re calling it the Blues Revolution Tour, because we don’t necessarily fit into one tiny box. I’ve been obsessed with the blues my entire life. I’ve loved it and studied it, so I know that a lot of people don’t consider Dom and JD to be traditional. We’re all a little underground or outside of the mainstream, which is good. For me, I’m fired up about this tour, because I’m able to bring along two people who are the best in the world at what they do. The Colonel JD Wilkes is arguably the best harmonica player on the planet and his knowledge of American music runs as deep as anyone you’ll ever meet. We’re not just fellow musicians, we’re friends. Kindred spirits, in a sense. Both JD and Dom are the real deal and legit artists. JD even petitioned the governor of Kentucky to make me an official colonel. Sometimes, the music industry can be overly competitive, but we all have a mutual respect for one another. I feel like a kid gearing up for summer vacation, because this is tour is going to be a unique showcase/blues revue that audiences haven’t really seen before.
MNOD: You mentioned that you’ve been doing this since you were a kid. Who were some of your early influences as a guitar player?
Rev. Peyton: Charley Patton was one of the first blues guys who fired me up and got me going. David Honeyboy Edwards, T-Model Ford, and Robert Belfour were guys that I really got into as I got older and I was fortunate to spend time with them. Also, guys like Son House and Robert Johnson. I wish that one day the whole world would understand just how great Honeyboy Edwards really was. We’re all a product of everything around us, so my influences have always been varied.
MNOD: How would you describe your band’s sound for those who have never heard you before?
Rev. Peyton: I call it ‘Front Porch Blues’ or ‘Rural Blues.’ I’m playing the bass and the lead at the same time on the guitar while my wife Breezy is on the washboard. She’s an amazing player and one of the most charismatic people you’ll ever see on stage. Our drummer, Max Senteney, is one of the best in the game and he’ll even play the cymbals with his feet.
MNOD: Your latest album, “Poor Until Payday,” is one of the most authentic releases I’ve heard in quite some time. Where did the idea behind the title track originate from?
Rev. Peyton: That was just something that my mom said to me and it stuck. Thematically, I had been working on it for a while, but it just wasn’t there yet. For me, the idea of ‘Poor Until Payday’ isn’t as much about waiting on a check as it is about finally getting the bigger payday where you don’t have to worry so much anymore. It’s ultimately a more hopeful record than our past material.
MNOD: You’re currently running your own record label, which must be nice given the level of freedom you have regarding your musical direction. How has that been going so far?
Rev. Peyton: We’ve had a lot of help from Thirty Tigers. They’re the natural engine that has enabled us to keep going. We make the music that is inside of us and we can control how the message gets out there. PR decides what people think and we want to put the right stuff out there. Each record tells people who we are and we want people to know that we live, love, and breathe this music.
MNOD: The mainstream media always wants to paint Americans as being irreparably divided across just about every line you can think of. Do you notice that your shows are able to bring people from various backgrounds together for the cause?
Rev. Peyton: I’m proud to say that we have a really diverse following. I think our crowds have gotten more diverse as we’ve gone along. The media likes to label everything, but I love looking out into the crowd to guys who collect 78s next to kids with blue hair. We’ve gone from Mississippi to Canada and it’s never the same thing. We’ve been on the Vans Warped Tour and we’ve played the Sturgis Bike Rally, so we’re always up for anything. So much of the world comes down to what people believe or what they think the world is supposed to be, but we love our audiences everywhere we play.
MNOD: You’re known for maintaining a rigorous touring schedule, so I was curious as to how you find time to write while on the road.
Rev. Peyton: When I’m home, I tend to get preoccupied with other things, so I’m always working on songs on the road. I’ll start a song on the road, but I don’t usually finish it until I get home. I don’t get into new material until I start to get sick of other songs, because a lot of it just being open to things you can’t control. Writing is like a lightning bolt that hits you.
MNOD: Given the variety of venues you’ve played throughout your career, do you find yourself tailoring your set to the setting or do you approach every show the same way?
Rev. Peyton: I have to completely feel a song or I can’t sing it, so I often tailor a set to the feeling I’m getting from the crowd at that moment. Putting the necessary feeling into these songs is an emotional drain, because this is what we live for. Sometimes, we’ll be playing a particular venue and I’ll think that a certain song would sound great in that room, but mostly it’s based on the vibe of the audience.
MNOD: When you do find time away from music, is there anything that you like to do to decompress from life on the road?
Rev. Peyton: Fishing is what I do to decompress. I love it.
Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band Blues Revolution Tour stops at Buffalo’s Tralf Music Hall on Wednesday, Nov. 20.
See http://www.tralfmusichall.com or http://www.bigdamnband.com for details.
“Poor Until Payday” is available now wherever music is disseminated, but do us all a favor and pay for a physical copy.