Reverb and Recoil: Reverend Peyton on the Country Blues, Rural America and Carrying Concealed

In early December 2016, Reverend Peyton sat on a wooden bench and started playing a blues number on his custom-built three-string guitar. The barrel-chested 36-year-old paused 14 seconds in, cocked the hammer on his guitar and fired at a jug of water before finishing the song with a hearty laugh.

Days later, the Indiana native’s thick black beard, fur hat and shotgun guitar — a modified Winchester 12-gauge he calls a Guitgun — had appeared on millions of computers and phones across the world. The 40-second clip was one of 2016’s most viral videos, now eclipsing more than 30 million combined views across all the sites where Peyton has found copies of it.

“It was crazy, man,” he said recently.

By that night, it was in the top 10 of videos on YouTube. It was already on television. It was just out of control.

The Reverend — a reverend by nickname only — has been performing with The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band — an ironically named three-piece — since the early 2000s but says the attention from the video that they shot in just one take was unlike anything they had ever experienced.

“We put it up on the internet and, within 10 minutes, we could already tell that something crazy was happening with it,” Peyton said. “By that night, it was in the top 10 of videos on YouTube. It was already on television. It was just out of control.”

While the band’s social media pages got a boost from the attention, they made no money directly off the video and only occasionally run into fans who discovered them thanks to Peyton’s idea that his guitar-building friend Bryan Fleming, of Bryan Fleming Pickups, brought to life.

“I guess I would be way more bummed if I didn’t think that the video was pretty awesome,” Peyton admitted.

Country Roots

By all accounts, Peyton is as genuine as they come — a country boy with a serious fishing addiction who fell in love with playing guitar and the country blues as a teenager. His friends started calling him “Reverend” back then, so he ditched his actual first name, and everyone — even his mother — calls him “Rev” now. He almost always wears overalls, almost never wears sleeves and, through his booming voice and lightnin’-fast fingerstyle guitar pickin’, carries on a blues tradition that has all but disappeared from modern American music.

Peyton grew up in rural Indiana — a fact he displays proudly on his right shoulder, where an outline of the Hoosier State and the phrase “Born Bred Corn Fed” are prominently tattooed. His mother’s father played guitar — or “gee-tar,” as Peyton recounts his grandfather pronouncing it — and exposed Peyton to “hillbilly music” at a young age through records and bluegrass festivals. When Peyton was 12, his dad, who loved blues-influenced rock ‘n’ roll, like Johnny Winter and The Rolling Stones, bought a red Kay State of the Art electric guitar for the family — “the cheapest, worst guitar you could possibly have,” according to Peyton. Nevertheless, Peyton was immediately hooked.

I never wanted to just regurgitate those same songs. I wanted to have new songs of mine. I’ve worked really hard at that.

“For me, it didn’t take long and I was just drawn to blues music, particularly what my dad was into,” Peyton said. “Then I kind of wanted to research the roots of that. I just kept going back and back and back. If you keep following that tree down its roots, you get to guys like Charley Patton and Bukka White, and that was the stuff that just really blew my mind, just really got me going. I also felt like all that rural music — the rural blues — it was more like the stuff that I grew up listening to with my granddad at the bluegrass festivals around us.”

Soon, Peyton was a full-fledged disciple of the country blues. The storytelling tradition of folk blues players like T-Model Ford, Robert Belfour and David “Honeyboy” Edwards appealed to him, but it was their fingerstyle guitar playing that really consumed him. Fingerstyle pickers play two separate guitar parts simultaneously — picking the lead guitar pieces with their fingers as they bang the bass lines out with a thumb.

“I became obsessed with that,” Peyton said. “That’s all I cared about, being able to do that. I always wanted my music to sort of pay tribute to my heroes and also sort of have its own voice. I never wanted to just regurgitate those same songs. I wanted to have new songs of mine. I’ve worked really hard at that. I just love it, man. I love the country blues.”

The Front Porch Sessions

Peyton and the rest of the Big Damn Band — his wife, “Washboard” Breezy Peyton, on washboard, and Max Senteney, on drums — released The Front Porch Sessions, an 11-track album, in March 2017. The hard-touring band plays more than 250 shows every year and has put out a robust 10 releases since 2004, garnering a loyal following across the United States, Europe and beyond without major label distribution or substantial radio play.

Looking back, Peyton says it was a giant leap of faith he took with Breezy in 2006 that gave the band the momentum it needed to start carving out a career playing their one-of-a-kind American roots music.

“We sold everything and lived in a van,” Peyton said. “We just traveled around and played music. We got to a point where we couldn’t balance the music career that we had with the jobs that we had, so it was like, ‘Well, we have to quit one of them.’”

“One More Thing,” the seventh track on The Front Porch Sessions, is a reflection of how tenuous life was for the Peytons in those days and an acknowledgment that many of their friends and family members in rural America still face those realities. Throughout the cheerfully melancholy song, Peyton lists the hardships that, were even a single one to occur, would lead to the couple losing their home and everything they own.

Being poor ain’t so bad. Feeling like there’s no hope or that things will just continue to decline, that’s the problem.

“Seventy-five years ago, people were farmers,” Peyton said. “They had certain agricultural economy that fed the world. Now, the only thing that we’re out here producing in the middle of the country is corn and beans, and it’s not really food. There are hardly any real food farms. The corn is feed corn and the beans are to make Frankenstein weird soy food. It’s not real food. You’ve got a couple big farms owned by a handful of people and the rest of rural America is losing, not just their grip on their own economic situation but a little bit of their culture and identity. I think that’s where you see a lot of the problems that we have.”

People will embrace working hard just to scrape by, Peyton explained, but they need to believe there’s promise in a better future.

“I grew up poor. I’ve been poor. When we first started doing this, I was so broke it was ridiculous,” Peyton said. “But I’ll tell you this much: I never felt hopeless. Even growing up, I never felt hopeless. Right now, you’ve got a lot of people that that’s how they feel. They feel hopeless in a lot of ways. That’s a lot scarier than being poor. Being poor ain’t so bad. Feeling like there’s no hope or that things will just continue to decline, that’s the problem.”

The Path to Carrying

After graduating high school in 1999, Peyton moved to Indianapolis to go to music recording school, where he met Breezy. The young couple worked day jobs and eventually moved into a duplex in a bad part of town, a far cry from the country upbringing Peyton was used to. He grew up around guns — mostly for hunting or on the trapline — but Breezy would not allow him to bring any inside their home. Peyton reluctantly compromised and bought a realistic-looking air rifle.

“I kind of taught her how to shoot it and I’m like, ‘If you point this at someone when they’re breaking in when I’m not here, they’ll think it’s real and hopefully they’ll turn and run,’” Peyton recalled.

His timing could not have been more fortuitous. Just one week later, a thief started pulling out an air conditioner unit from their window, trying to enter the couple’s home. Breezy, who was home alone, screamed at the burglar, but he wouldn’t stop. So, she grabbed the air rifle.

“She cocked it and put it right in his face,” Peyton said. “And he peed his pants and ran. At that point, Breezy became a gun owner. She was like, ‘You can get your guns from your dad’s house.’ So, I did.”

Later, another thief broke into the same duplex while they were away. A conversation with the responding police officer shed light on just how vulnerable they were. Despite bloody fingerprints on the broken glass and bloody shoe prints on the floor, the officer told Peyton there was nothing that could be done.

“He said, and I quote, ‘What the (expletive) do you think this is, son, CSI?’” Peyton recounted.

The officer said the department only collected fingerprints when there was a dead body.

“We do not have time to deal with this. You are on your own,” Peyton remembers the officer telling him. “My advice to you is get a gun and carry it. If you care about yourself or your family, you will get a gun and carry it because there is nothing we can do. We have lost control of this area and this city.”

It served as a wake-up call to Peyton. If the police couldn’t protect them, who could?

Before Peyton even knew what the other band’s gripe was, there were guns pointed at his head and those of his bandmates.

Soon, the Big Damn Band began picking up steam and started touring as much as possible, their van and trailer filled with expensive gear and merchandise that made them an attractive target for criminals. But, surprisingly, another band provided the group’s most harrowing road experience to date, according to Peyton. After a show, Peyton was loading up gear behind the venue when the headlining band from that night stopped partying to come over and confront him. Before Peyton even knew what the other band’s gripe was, there were guns pointed at his head and those of his bandmates. Fortunately, another man who was with the other band pulled out his own gun and demanded that his friends put their guns down, temporarily ending the situation. The Big Damn Band members sped away in their van.

“If it hadn’t been for him, we’d have been dead. There’s no doubt in my mind. They were going to kill us,” Peyton said. It was the final catalyst Peyton needed to start carrying a concealed handgun. He applied for his Indiana concealed carry permit as soon as he got home.

“I felt so helpless,” Peyton recalled. “We were outnumbered and surrounded and we were unarmed. I hated that feeling. It was the most scared I ever was in my life. And I didn’t want to ever feel that way again.”

Peyton and Breezy now live in a small home in rural Brown County, Indiana, when they’re not touring, but even in the sticks, they’ve had a few close calls with break-in attempts, some overzealous fans who know no boundaries and one especially frightening night involving a trespassing man wearing full camouflage who appeared to be stalking Breezy. They’ve beefed up their home-security system and Peyton keeps a bobbed-barrel 10-gauge shotgun he nicknamed “Bad Breezy” on hand when he’s home, just in case.

Carry Lifestyle

The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band released their latest album, The Front Porch Sessions, in March 2017.

The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band released their latest album, The Front Porch Sessions, in March 2017.

When Peyton first started carrying every day, he tried to adjust the clothing he wore to fit his gun. Eventually though, he found it was more comfortable to find firearms that he could carry with the clothes he wanted to wear. Pocket guns became his go-to choices, his favorites being his Ruger LCP, Beretta 21A Bobcat and Walther PPK.

Small handguns take more practice than the 1911s he loves shooting though. He upped his training — and his training budget — to ensure he’s a skilled shot with the guns that he actually carries every day.

“You have to make shooting a pistol like shooting a shotgun,” Peyton said. “When I shoot a shotgun, I don’t think about it. The shotgun shoots where I look. That’s how you hit a thing that’s moving, like a bird or a rabbit that’s going fast. You have to be able to shoot without thinking. Pistols are the same way, but pistols are a lot harder than shooting a shotgun.”

A dedication to staying fit and healthy is equally important to Peyton.

“If the fight ends up on the ground, are you tough enough to handle it?” Peyton asked. “A lot of people need to have a very serious conversation with themselves about whether or not they are.”

He also trains with a knife — a Colonel Blades model designed for fast draws and self-defense tactics — as a backup option and for when he can’t legally carry a gun.

“The last thing you want is, when that gun jams, you’re left with nothing,” Peyton said. “What’s your plan if that happens? It’s a mechanical thing. It happens.”

It takes an even bigger commitment on Peyton’s part to ensure he’s always carrying legally. With the band crossing state lines almost daily while on tour, sometimes multiple times in a day, he has to check — and double-check — laws every time they hop in the van.

“Know the laws in the places where you’re at,” Peyton recommends. “Don’t make a mistake. Know your laws and stay within them. The last thing you want to do is become a felon.”

Peyton’s lifetime Indiana concealed carry permit is good in 32 states, and he travels with a portable safe he locks the gun in when he can’t legally carry. He’s considered getting a Utah license, which would add five more states to his list, and he could add one or two other state licenses to boost the count over 40, but the band hasn’t had enough downtime in recent years for him to realistically pursue the additional permits. If the proposed national concealed carry reciprocity act passes, it would make Peyton’s juggling act a whole lot more manageable.

“I wish that something like self-defense wasn’t even a political thing,” Peyton said. “There are certain things in politics that drive me nuts, and that’s one of them. It’s like, ‘Man, why are we even arguing about this?’”

On The Road

Odds are you can catch The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band in a town not too far from you in the near future. After the band’s extensive European tour wraps up in August, the Big Damn Band will hit most of the corners of the U.S. again this fall, and they’re constantly adding dates to their tour schedule at bigdamnband.com.

You can keep up with the band on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook at @bigdamnband or listen to their podcast, Hard Times & Weirdness, through iTunes, Google Play or at bigoanddukes.com.

And if you’re willing to show Peyton and the band a hot fishing hole or two when they come through your area, there’s a good chance he’ll take you up on the offer. The band is always looking for a new spot to throw lines out while they’re on the road.

“Fishing is kind of like my yoga, I guess,” Peyton said. “It calms me down and makes me feel centered.”

Sources

Bryan Fleming Pickups: flemingpickups.com
Ruger: ruger-firearms.com
Beretta: berettausa.com
Walther: waltherarms.com
Colonel Blades: colonelblades.com

But just because concealed carriers choose to prepare for the worst doesn’t mean we aren’t living our lives to the fullest.

But just because concealed carriers choose to prepare for the worst doesn’t mean we aren’t living our lives to the fullest.

What Does This Have To Do With Concealed Carry?

As I was putting this story together, I realized some readers would probably ask why we chose to profile a musician in a magazine that’s about carrying concealed handguns. And, since that’s a pretty fair question, I figured I should try to explain the decision, and hopefully do a better job at it than the first time I pitched the story idea to Executive Editor Kevin Michalowski.

This issue’s theme is “Concealed Carry Lifestyle.” Frankly, though, every issue of Concealed Carry Magazine is a lifestyle issue for those who carry concealed handguns. We cover everything you need to know about living your life as a responsibly armed citizen — from gear and clothing to training and legal advice to the mental aspects of carrying (and possibly using) a handgun for self-defense and well beyond.

I’d argue many of my friends and colleagues who carry are among the most interesting, entertaining and happy people I know.

But these are heavy, sometimes grave, topics. No one wants to be put in a situation where he or she has to use a handgun or other weapon in self-defense. As we often say, even if you prevail, it will be the worst day of your life. So, our articles are rarely light, fun reads. They’re serious because the topics are important and what you learn could potentially save your life.

But just because concealed carriers choose to prepare for the worst doesn’t mean we aren’t living our lives to the fullest. In fact, I’d argue many of my friends and colleagues who carry are among the most interesting, entertaining and happy people I know. Perhaps that gets lost on these pages sometimes. I thought the “Concealed Carry Lifestyle” theme would be the perfect opportunity to have a little bit of fun and feature one bigger-than-life personality who also happens to carry a handgun with him whenever possible. Like many of us, Reverend Peyton has made carrying a pistol a part of his lifestyle, and also like us, it’s only a small part of his life’s story.

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