For the Big Damn Band, it’s about showmanship. There is the fiery stage antics by lead singer/guitarist Reverend Peyton, the raucous washboard playing (and smashing) by his wife Breezy, and the backwoods hootenanny bucket-drumming of Ben “Bird Dog” Bussell. It’s that keen sense of performance that is at the heart of the trio, who takes a few notes from the frenzied ambiance created by the late Charley Patton, known as the “Father of the Delta Blues.”
It’s the rollercoaster history of this country told through the Big Damn Band sound. It’s about struggle, injustice, triumph and finding truth in dark times. It’s the will to push through to a better time that resides in all of us. It’s the American spirit, for good or ill, and it’s the only way we’d want to hear it.
The Big Damn Band recently passed through Western North Carolina. They sat down with The Smoky Mountain News and spoke about the importance of putting on a good show, how Charley Patton kick-started popular music and why they wake up everyday and thank the heavens above for the chance to hit the stage, day in and day out.
Smoky Mountain News: What sets a Big Damn Band show apart from other bands?
Reverend Peyton: It’s become cool to stare at your feet or something these days. These groups almost pretend the crowd isn’t there. That’s our major difference — we’re the opposite of that. I like to put on a show for the people that are there. Just play music for the people, put on a show. Gospel culture influences a lot of our music, so there’s definitely that part to our performance.
SMN: Why is it important that the music and culture of Charley Patton is preserved and perpetuated in your music?
RP: The Charley Patton thing is so important in that if it had not been for him, you’d have no Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, pop staples, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry. He was the first person to have a major hit on both coasts of the United States. It was folk culture, low-culture art. He showed that blues, country and rock were something that the populous wanted to hear. He grew up on a plantation on the Mississippi delta and was able to drive a brand new car and have a brand new Gibson guitar. The most interesting thing for me as a musician about him is his legacy musically. He was living the life of a pro musician in a time when it was not necessarily cool to do so. He was playing plantation parties, house parties, juke houses in sharecropper fields, and reservations.
SMN: How has Charley influenced the way you run your band?
RP: He’d throw his guitar up in the air, play behind his head, through his legs — he put on a show. I like to think, “What would Charley do?” Charley would entertain. He would play the song he felt like playing.
SMN: Was there a moment you knew playing music was your calling?
Breezy Peyton: Before we were fulltime, we were weekend warriors. We somehow weaseled our way onto a couple of shows with Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi out west in Los Angeles and San Diego. We drove all the way from Indianapolis just for these couple of shows and drove straight back for 40 hours the entire way. The shows were excellent. And having to go back to a day job after that, having to drop the Reverend straight off back at work, we came home that night and said we couldn’t do this anymore. We either have to be a band fulltime or have a day job. We decided then and there to sell everything we owned and hit the road.
SMN: What has a life playing music taught you about being a human being?
RP: The things that translate the best here translate everywhere. Certain people you can tell either started out rich or got famous real fast. I grew up working with my dad and knew what working was, and you come out here on the road and really are appreciative. Everybody is just one show away from digging ditches. I don’t take it for granted, I don’t take our fans for granted, and I try everyday to remember how lucky we are to do this.
1: “Woofstock — Blues, Brews & BBQ” will be held fro 2 to 8 p.m. Saturday, May 3, at McGuire Gardens in Sylva.
2: The Corbitt Brothers will play at 9 p.m. May 10 at the Rendezvous in the Maggie Valley Inn.
3: Art After Dark continues from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, May 2, in downtown Waynesville.
4: The “Airing of the Quilts” will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 10 in downtown Franklin.
5: The Thunder in the Smokies spring rally will be May 2-4 at the Maggie Valley Fairgrounds.