News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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September 6, 2012

VIDEO: Mark Bennett: Hoosier trio dodges ditches on way to Terre Haute Blues Fest

TERRE HAUTE — The photograph boils life down to five words.

Keep it between the ditches.

That goal sounds as uncomplicated as the picture gracing the cover of the new album “Between the Ditches” by Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band. Peyton has one hand on the wheel of his truck and the other on his guitar, with the left hand of his wife, Breezy, holding his burly right arm. Through the windshield, a road through the Indiana countryside lies ahead. The rear-view mirror hangs from above.

Survival depends upon the hold … onto the wheel, onto the music, onto each other. Otherwise, it’s hard to avoid running afoul of the law, thieves, and (to paraphrase Peyton’s earthy lyric) not-very-nice people.

Listeners get to ride shotgun, between the ditches, with this country-blues band from Brown County, through their album and live performances.

They’ll steer their truck toward Terre Haute to play Sept. 15 during the 12th annual Blues at the Crossroads Festival.

The two-day event features five acts on Sept. 14, starting at 6 p.m., and seven more the next day, starting at 3:15 p.m.

There are no visible ditches at the Crossroads of America, where the blues fest occurs. Peyton will paint them a sonic picture, though, with his grizzly voice and slide guitar.

Backed by Breezy (his wife of nine years) on washboard and cousin Aaron Persinger on percussion, the Rev (whose real name is Josh) and his little Big Damn Band are drawing praise from national music critics and hefty crowds on their current world tour from Maine to Phoenix, Seattle to England, Ireland, Norway, Poland and countless points in between, including Terre Haute.

Festival-goers will hear “real, organic, original, from-the-heart music,” Peyton said by cellphone from his cabin near Nashville, Ind. Such music, he added, “never goes out of style.”

Beyond that staying power, this band’s sound packs uniqueness.

Peyton finger-picks 1920s and ’30s guitars (and a cigar-box guitar) and snarls and growls his clever lyrics, while Breezy scrapes her washboard wearing thimbles over golf gloves, and Aaron (“Cuz”) hammers the beat on a drum kit supplemented by a 5-gallon bucket. Peyton wears a black beard, more burly than Mr. French ever dreamed of, an English driver’s cap, and often suspenders over a white A-shirt.

Even on the blues and roots-music circuit, the Big Damn Band distinguishes itself.

“In my mind, it’s OK if we’re different and stick out like a sore thumb,” Peyton said.

Their new album sticks out, especially in reviews. Blues Revue Magazine compared the music to blues legends “Mississippi” John Hurt and Charlie Patton, folk icon Woody Guthrie, and a “Scarecrow” era John Mellencamp. Not coincidentally, Mellencamp’s producer, Paul Mahern, also produced Peyton’s “Between the Ditches” album. Mahern, Peyton said, “could see my vision.”

Unlike its previous albums, the Big Damn Band spent three weeks recording “Ditches.” “In the past, we’d set up the mic and do it like we were live, finish it and get dinner on the way home,” Peyton explained. This time, “I wanted to make sure every note, every sound, every beat was exactly the way I wanted,” he added. As a result, the CD debuted at No. 1 on the iTunes Blues Chart last month.

The genre is “country blues,” but the label confuses most folks. “When you say ‘country blues,’ people think Waylon Jennings, and it’s not,” Peyton said, “It’s rural blues.”

Rural blues. That sounds so Indiana.

And yet, fans in far-flung places like Poland dig the shoutin’ and thumpin’ and groovin’ too. “Our kind of blues will fit in a blues festival [in Poland] and it will fit in a blues festival in Terre Haute,” said Peyton, a 31-year-old who grew up in Eagletown near Indianapolis.

For those unfamiliar with the band, the video from the latest single off their album, “Devils Look Like Angels,” offers a glimpse of their style. Its storyline, as Peyton puts it, shows how mean things can come in pretty packages, and vice versa. The video, filmed in Bloomington with an all-Hoosier cast, features an innocent looking little girl who wreaks mischievous havoc on her neighborhood.

Some folks are “creeped out by it,” Peyton said, “and I kind of like that. I was a little worried that it would be too cute.”

Its moral is more than anti-Little Red Riding Hood, though. “A simple way to put it is, you can’t judge a book by its cover,” Peyton said.

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