“I got all the ways/I just ain’t got the means,” 40-year-old Josh “Reverend” Peyton of Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band sings on Dance Songs for Hard Times, the blues and roots trio’s latest studio release that’s undeniably timely in the era of Covid-19.
That doesn’t necessarily mean misery. The accompanying “Ways and Means” video, filmed on a shoestring budget at a laundromat in Bloomington, Indiana, is a wonderfully strange yellow-and-green affair that offers a quirky Alice-In-Wonderland vibe – like if Quentin Tarantino’s edge was brought to a Katy Perry video.
The new album is a defiant, spirited acknowledgement of the pandemic that sickened the band (especially Reverend’s wife, Breezy, who plays washboard), made touring impossible and cast a pall over their future.
The new album’s lead single “Ways and Means,” feels like a nice summation of the band – a big, dense sound, a sticky slide part, and acknowledgement of certain influences.
That song is quintessential Reverend Peyton. It’s a nice mix of all different kinds of blues including a bit of hill country; there’s definitely that Robert Belfour influence. The slide is Charley Patton in a lot of ways. The way the song comes together, you almost have to tip your hat a bit to John Fogerty or Billy Gibbons for the riffs. I really wanted people to hear that song.
Did you have concerns about releasing the music in the middle of a global health crisis?
Yes, but we have concerns about everything. We have concerns about our career going forward, what the music business is gonna be in the next few months. Nobody knows. Ninety percent of the music business has been devastated. That’s unbelievable. I mean, what is the music business anymore? It’s hard to say what’s gonna be borne from the ashes of all this.
Beyond tangible things like money, what’s lost when a working band simply can’t work?
When you’re used to playing live pretty much every night, there’s an adrenaline rush that’s similar to being addicted to drugs or alcohol. Coming off of that has been tough. I didn’t realize just how much I lived for that adrenaline, that connection. When you’re playing into a camera over the internet, it’s not nothing, but the actual connection you get when staring a crowd in the face and everybody’s on the same wavelength. It becomes bigger than the sum of its parts. It’s a communal thing that borders on the religious. It’s magic. There’s just no replacement for it.
The album showcases a pretty dexterous approach to fingerstyle blues. A great example is “Too Cool to Dance,” which is a real retro-sounding rocker.
That’s kind of a weird song for us. It has this ’50s vibe to it… It’s a thing on the guitar that I always wanted to do more of, basically doing all that rhythm with my thumb while playing those Chuck Berry licks at the same time. It was sung and played at the same time, and cut live to eight-track analog tape.
On “Ways and Means,” you used the vintage Supro Dual Tone shown in the video. Which other guitars do we hear on the album?
That’s actually a unique guitar. It’s a prototype that pre-dates the Supro Dual Tone. We think it might actually be from 1952. Otherwise, I have different guitars that are set up for different tunings. I don’t necessarily capo – I like to put it in the tuning I want to play. On this album, I’m playing a ’49 Harmony H50, an early Kay Speed Demon from before they actually called them that; it has just one pickup. When I bought it, I was told it’s a ’55, but we can’t be 100 percent sure. It’s from somewhere around there.
There are also some resonators.
Yes, a very special 1930 National Triolian that has been with me a long time. There’s also a custom National from National Resophonic. They created that for me, and it’s beautiful. I love that instrument.
Is it hard to come up with ideas and keep sounding fresh when you’re using Delta blues as a base?
Yes, that it is a challenging thing. But the beauty of music is that even though there are those 12 chromatic notes, there’s a whole lot of music to be made between those frets. It’s infinite, and that’s really the beauty of it.
This article originally appeared in VG’s August 2021 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.