When big names come together for a single tour, it’s (almost) never a seamless process. Josh “The Reverend” Peyton admits as much, but when he came up with the idea of a triple bill featuring The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, Dom Flemons and J.D. Wilkes, he was determined to make it work.
“Thought it’s not gonna be that difficult to really come together and put this show together and make it something interesting,” he said. “These are guys that I really think are some of the best out there and that’s the idea behind this tour. You’ve got guys that I think are the real deal and let’s put a tour together like that.”
Mission accomplished, and as the Big Damn Blues Revolution Tour hits Brooklyn’s Knitting Factory tonight, the Indiana native couldn’t be happier that it all got sorted out.
“Any kind of tour you have when you have multiple artists on a bill, it takes a little bit of doing,” he admits. “But it wasn’t as hard as you think, though. It makes you feel pretty good because I think it means that the other guys really wanted to be out here with us. They believed in what we were wanting to do and believed in the spirit of it. So it wasn’t that difficult. The hard part is pitching the idea and getting people on board. Then it’s a matter of trying to figure out how to get everybody’s schedules together.”
Given Peyton’s life in and out of the music business, putting a tour together was easy work, and he’s earned a little of that, especially considering that he might not even be here playing music if not for his own stubborn determination to do what he says he’s wanted to do since he was 12 years old.
Back then, Peyton was playing a style of country blues that wasn’t exactly on the radio when he was growing up.
“It ain’t been on the radio since 1959,” laughs the 38-year-old, who you might picture as the outcast in school, the kid sitting in the back of the room all alone strumming his guitar. But then you hear that he was the homecoming king in high school and then all of a sudden it seems like Peyton was part of the “in” crowd. As he explains, that wasn’t exactly the case.
“I had a pretty weird experience then,” he said. “I didn’t play sports, and my hips were not aligned, so I walked funny. I’ve grown out of it through years of focusing on strength training; if I don’t think about it real hard, it still happens. But I was big and I didn’t put up with bullying and stuff like that. So I sort of used that to stand up for people that were being picked on, and despite not being one of the jocks, they were kind to me because of that.”
Plus, he was quite the bluesman for a teenager, and that didn’t make him any less popular.
“When I was in high school, we would have concerts, and half the school would show up to watch me play blues music,” he said. “I don’t know why that happened or how — it was some kind of damn miracle, really.”
Seeing David “Honeyboy” Edwards at a bingo parlor only added to Peyton’s belief that he had found his calling in life.
Then his hands had other ideas.
“I had these problems with my hands right out of high school,” he recalled. “For almost a year and a half out of high school, I couldn’t play guitar at all and it stunted everything and robbed me of all the momentum I had.”
A doctor told him that his guitar playing days were over.
“I didn’t accept that,” said Peyton. “I just kept believing that I would figure something out.”
Ultimately surgery was the answer to Peyton’s prayers to fix his unique ailment.
“I’m on the hyper-flexibility spectrum,” he explains. “My hands can move in ways that other people’s hands can’t, but the hyper-flexion causes cysts to happen and injures the tendon sheath. I’ve learned to deal with it, but back then I hadn’t.”
Once freed to play again, Peyton’s journey resumed and he began chasing those dreams he stored for years. He met a girl, Breezy, who would later become his wife and bandmate, and while trying to make a living playing the blues was no easy task, they persevered.
“There were two years when we were homeless, just lived in a van, and we were doing this,” Peyton said. “I didn’t have a famous last name or a rich daddy to bank roll us playing music, because there are a lot of bands and musicians that do. I could write you a list. (Laughs) When you first start out, there ain’t any money in this and even when you get high up into it, there still ain’t any money. So you have to do it for the love of it. And some people have some benefactor somewhere and we never had that. It was Breezy and I believing in it.”
It all worked out. Today, Peyton, Breezy and their Big Damn Band are ten full-length albums into their career, with their most recent, 2018’s Poor Until Payday hitting №4 on the Billboard Blues Album chart and №99 on the Top 200 list, as well as №1 on iTunes’ Blues chart. As for Peyton, the kid who was made fun of looks like he could walk through brick walls. When I say this to him, he chuckles, knowing that it wasn’t an easy road to get here.
“When I was a kid, I had a doctor tell me, ‘Son, you ain’t ever gonna win any races,’” he said. “I wish he hadn’t said that to me, because it really affected me. I kind of curled up inside and I didn’t want to walk or run in front of anybody. If there was running to be done, I’d hide. But I found over the years that by making myself strong, I can overcome it. It’s a constant battle, but I had a race with my little brother around a year and a half ago. We were just running and I beat him. It was incredible because he’s always been real fast. And little by little, I’ve never given up.”
That goes for his personal and professional life. But if you talk to him, you find out real fast that they’re one in the same as far as he’s concerned. Since the age of 12, music has been Reverend Peyton’s life. It’s what moves him and soothes him. And it’s also what saved him.
“I started playing when I was 12, and when I was that age, I was picked on,” Peyton said. “We didn’t have money growing up, so they’ll pick on your clothes, and they were hard on me because I had this physical problem where I walked very strange and ran even weirder. Then I got the guitar and it was like this:
“You take a fish and pull it out of water and throw it on the ground,” he continues. “And that thing flops around, it looks dumb, it moves its mouth in a stupid way. And you throw it back in the water and it’s like magic. It doesn’t even move the way you think it should — it moves like magic. It’s hard for your mind to even wrap around. And that’s how it was for me with the guitar. It’s like my whole life I felt like I didn’t even have my place in the world. I felt like an outcast, and I didn’t even think my own family wanted anything to do with me and a lot of that was just stuff in my own head. But I will say this, when I got the guitar, it was like I’d been thrown back in water and suddenly I had a place in the world.”
The Big Damn Blues Revolution tour hits Brooklyn’s Knitting Factory tonight, November 13. For more information, click here
For more information on The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, click here