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Big Damn Band brings troubles home

  • Story Highlights
  • The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band is an Indiana-based blues group
  • Song titles include "Walmart Killed the Country Store"
  • The Rev: Band wants to "make 'em laugh with us and make 'em hurt with us"
By Jarrett Bellini
CNN
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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- You don't have to tell the Reverend J. Peyton that these are hard times in Indiana. He's been seeing it for years.

The Reverend J. Peyton leads the Big Damn Band in playing the blues.

The Reverend J. Peyton leads the Big Damn Band in playing the blues.

Even down south in rural Brown County, which the country-blues guitarist and his Big Damn Band call home, the struggles on "Main Street" are more than just a political catchphrase. They're a reality.

The Rev, as he likes to be called, is well aware of the hardships elsewhere in his state, too. In the northern Indiana county of Elkhart, where President Obama held a highly publicized town hall meeting to discuss the economy and his stimulus package, the unemployment rate has more than tripled over the past year to almost 19 percent -- more than double the national average.

"The writing's been on the wall for a long time," says The Rev. "To me, this isn't anything new. It's new that people are covering it -- it's new that it's on the news."

The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band, made up of The Rev, his wife Breezy on washboard and his brother Jayme on drums, has been touring the country almost nonstop for several years, and they've had a chance to see the harsh realities of the American dream up close. They've made their personal struggles, their family's setbacks and stories from people they meet into lyrical fodder -- and despite the grim subject matter, put on an enthusiastically upbeat, memorable performance in each town they play. Video Watch the Big Damn Band perform "Worn Out Shoe" »

"We don't take it lightly," The Rev says. "I just hope that when people come to the show, we're able to make them feel a lot of different things -- make 'em laugh with us and make 'em hurt with us."

It's a tradition as old as the blues.

The Rev says on the band's Web site, "I feel like I got to directly be involved in a song. Maybe if I played a different genre of music I'd feel like I could get away with [making stuff up], but this style of music is too honest; you can't lie to people, because they'll see right through it."

For The Rev, part of being brutally honest also means keeping it simple, allowing listeners to be engaged with the music without having to search for hidden meaning. Among the songs from the band's latest album, "The Whole Fam Damnily," are "Can't Pay the Bill," "The Creek's Are All Bad" and "Walmart Killed the Country Store."

The band gets its ideas from personal experience, says The Rev.

"I ain't got cable where I live," he says. "I stay up on current events as well as I can, but I don't really draw from newspapers. I draw from my family and friends."

Reviewers have praised the work. "The band bring to their retro-fabricated rootsy Americana an utterly gripping compulsion," wrote the (UK) Independent's Andy Gill, giving "The Whole Fam Damnily" four out of five stars. The Big Damn Band is also the cover story in the April/May issue of Blues Review magazine.

What the songs purposefully lack in lyrical flair is made up in sparkling musicianship. The Rev picks his way across old standard-tuned National resonators and acoustic guitars, adding a little slide here and there; Breezy rattles away with metal-tipped baseball batting gloves and washboard, while Jayme keeps rhythm on a rather modest drum set, highlighted by a 5-gallon pickle bucket.

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It's simple, heartfelt country blues at its best, played by a family that revels in its blood ties. And that's good enough for The Rev.

"You get by through things that don't cost much, like music, like laughter, like food. You know, those are the things that I think get you by."

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