Back Porch Interview with the Great Reverend Peyton
Reverend Peyton and his Big Damn Band have simply boomed in popularity. Their eclectic mix of washboard, sparse drums, and the Reverend’s distinctive voice and even more distinctive guitar style have made them a popular crossover hit. Peyton’s new album Peyton on Patton was released today! Pick up a copy of it here!
Reverend! Tell me about this new CD you got out – the Charlie Patton thing.
We went in the studio and did the whole thing with one microphone. To do something in this day and age where all the music you hear is so computer generated – ProTools and overdubs and everything else – I think it’d be a frightening undertaking for people to do it; but, yeah, I wanted to do it like Charlie did it. I wanted to go in there and do it – one microphone and one day – and whatever happened, happened. That was the record. Just the way Charlie did it.
So that’s what we did, and it turned out to be something I’m pretty proud of because it’s a hundred percent real. It’s a hundred percent human beings making music. There’s no computers involved. One of the reasons we wanted to do this, for Charlie, is there is a lack of knowledge and interest inside and outside the blues world, about Charlie Patton.
It’s all, “Robert Johnson this,” “Robert Johnson that” or whatever. You know Robert Johnson’s great and all, but he was a generation later than Charlie Patton. By the time that Robert Johnson recorded a note; Charlie Patton had already traveled all over the Mississippi Delta, all over the United States. He had played music for a living to the point where he drove a brand new car and played a brand new Gibson guitar and had done all of that and died before Robert Johnson ever played a note.
That’s amazing, you know. Those are accomplishments that Robert Johnson never did in his life. In Charlie’s day, he was the greatest. He was what is. He was everything. If you ask his contemporaries; Bukka White, Pops Staples, Muddy Waters, if you were to ask Robert Johnson himself, Howling Wolf; they all said – and it’s on recordings – Charlie Patton’s a great man. Charlie Patton’s the reason I started playing music.
Without Charlie Patton, there’d be none of them, which means there would be no Chuck Berry, no Rolling Stones, no Beatles. I mean, it’s hard to say where America would be if it hadn’t been for Charlie Patton. Likely very different. There would be no Robert Johnson, even. A lot of Robert Johnson’s songs are borrowed from Charlie Patton’s songs.
One thing about it too is that Charlie Patton’s recordings are pretty rough. I always say people with “pop damaged” ears have trouble listening to Charlie Patton songs. I wasn’t going to try to do some sort of recreation of 78-record pops or cracks with the computer or something, I just wanted to record it using technology as close to as we could get to what Charlie had done.
Just human beings in a room, you know – Keeping Charlie’s music as true as possible. We’d make something that even “pop damaged” ears could latch onto and enjoy and maybe find a few respect for Charlie and what he done.
“Pop damaged” ears, I love it.
It’s true, man. People are so used to hearing stuff that so auto-tuned and computer generated. Even outside of pop music; this goes on every day in all manner of roots music and blues music and Americana, you name it; and I tell you this much, a lot of times you go see a band and what your hearing coming out of the speakers is not 100% what’s happening on stage. A certain percentage of it is coming out of a recording – either an iPod or labtop or something like that.
You’d be amazed at how much happens. Bands we play with in festivals and on tour – the music is not 100% live. I think it’s criminal, as far as I’m concerned the ethics of this kind of music, used to be 100% legit. 100% what it is – words and all. That’s what music is. It’s human beings.
I’ve been listening to the album and a lot of it is just you.
Yeah, this one is a lot of just me. There’s a lot of Breezy and Cuz on there too, [his band] and we made sort of a conscious effort to use them sparingly, only if we could bring something to the song. I wanted to stay real true to what Charlie had done exactly. You know, I’m an artist, a songwriter, I’ve performed all over the world and people get my records because they want to hear lots of me, but on this one I tried to strip as much of me out as I could and stay real true to what Charlie had done. For the most part, there’s a few exceptions where I can’t help myself, like in the three versions of “Some of These Days”. I did a Charlie version and then there’s a couple versions of my own.
There were a few where I felt like it made sense, but I wanted to stay real true to what Charlie had done because Charlie had been such a great influence on me anyway. The one way I can’t help it is vocally, I sing the way I sing and I’m not going to be able to match Charlie Patton no matter what I do. He’s got a voice, I got a voice. In that way it’s 100% me, but I wanted to make something that was like Charlie and my favorite stuff of Charlie Patton’s is just him on the guitar, you know, that’s what I want to do – just Peyton on Patton.
Me on the guitar and one of my great hero’s songs, that’s what I wanted to do. I went through and picked some and a few people said, “I’m surprised you didn’t do this one or that one.” Well, I went through some of my favorites and some of the ones I felt like I could do the best justice and left out some of the ones that had been done in the past by people, just because they had been done. I wanted to present Charlie Patton in the way that I know Charlie Patton through some of my favorites to paint a picture of my Charlie Patton – the Charlie Patton I love – in hopes that it opens some eyes inside and outside the blues world.
I hope people in the blues world take notice of this and pay attention. I didn’t even realize this, but next year is going to be the 100th anniversary of Robert Johnson’s birth and there’s going to be a lot of people releasing Robert Johnson records. It’s kind of interesting that that’s going to happen and I hope before it does that people pay attention to who Charlie Patton, because there would be no Robert Johnson as we know him without Charlie Patton. Robert Johnson was a generation younger.
Charlie Patton was born, depending on which resource you look in, more than a decade and fifteen plus years before Robert Johnson was born. That’s a long time as far as a span of music handed down from person to person.
Here’s something else, too, I want to talk about – I think you might find interesting as well.
Go for it.
When you’re talking about folk music as an art passed down person to person, by the time Robert Johnson was playing; Charlie Patton, Son House, and Skip James had already been making records; and he was listening to them on a phonograph machine and that’s where he learned to play.
You can hear his music when he’s covering Skip James and stuff; he doesn’t cover it the way Skip James did it live, he covers it the way that Skip James did it on the record. Well, we know through that, that Robert Johnson learned to play from the records.
Well, Charlie Patton was one of the last generation of people that learned to play 100% from person to person. After Charlie Patton’s generation there was person to person, but there’s also from the records up to, and including now.
You know I learned to play from person-to-person and also from the records, just like Robert Johnson did; but Charlie Patton, he was the last generation in America – on the planet – that 100% learned to play music passed down person-to-person. That is unique. That’s interesting to me. I find that to be a great change and it’s one of the reasons why Robert Johnson’s music – we know he’s borrowing from Son House, and Charlie Patton, Skip James, and Scrapper Blackwell, Leroy Carr. We don’t know who Charlie Patton’s borrowing from. There’s rumors and legends, but we don’t have a recorded history. Charlie Patton was who he was.
Also, too – I love this about Charlie Patton – he was a person of mixed ethnicity. He was part white, part Native American, part black; which, in the Mississippi Delta made him a black man, but he was part everybody – he was part all of us – he played on Indian Reservations, he played in the shotgun shacks of Dockery Plantation, he played for the white plantation owners. He played for everybody and was beloved and respected deeply amongst these people.
When people talk about Robert Johnson and Tommy Johnson and these different legends about people selling their souls for music, no one owned Charlie Patton’s soul. He as 100% owned by nobody but Charlie Patton. He owned the car, he owned a brand new guitar, he traveled all over – he was his own person. And, at a time when it was very difficult of someone of his standing, his class, to achieve that. It was almost insurmountable. I think it’s another reason why it’s no surprise that people of this era said he was a great man. He must ‘ve been. There’s no doubt.
As far as music goes, I’d always toyed around with making this record in the back of my mind, but only now after playing 250 shows a year, for years and years, and travelling all over the world and making – only now do I feel confident enough that I can do this and do it justice. ‘Cause the one thing I didn’t want to do was to something and not do it justice.
I know this is going to be scrutinized and I welcome it. I’m real proud of this and I’m sort of proud as an American of Charlie Patton and as a musician I’m proud of this record. I sure hope people listen to it and like it.
I’m positive they will, it’s a fantastic record. I got maybe bad news for you though.
Robert Johnson’s 100 birthday just passed, actually.
I thought it was 1912?
No, there saying it’s May 12th, 1911.
Well, I’m no Robert Johnson expert, I’m a Charlie Patton expert. Someone told me it was kind of funny I was putting out a Charlie Patton CD with all of this Robert Johnson stuff coming out and I said I hadn’t even thought about it or known about it.
The pre-Robert Johnson stuff has always been my favorite.
Yeah, it shows in your music.
Well, thank you. That means a lot because it’s something I’ve always loved.
We played recently for a blues society event in Canada and the people there were loving it but when I talked about Charlie Patton or Furry Lewis the people there had no idea what I was talking about. After the show, some people said, “well, what do you call this music.” People are like, “huh.” They don’t know what country blues is. The blues today is what I call city blues and it’s the vast majority of stuff that people are familiar with – from B. B. King, to Buddy Guy, to Stevie Ray Vaughn – that’s urban blues. The stuff that’s always fascinated me and spoke to me, that’s country blues.
I was raised in a rural place. I live in a very rural, country place – so those songs and stories always spoke to me more than the bright lights and the big cities blues songs did. Also, I’ve always loved the idea that it seems like there’s less rules in country blues. In the City Blues it’s 12-bars and turnarounds and if it ain’t that then it probably ain’t no blues songs. Before those rules were defined by music writers and record labels and whatever, there was Charlie People singing songs he thought were cool. Singing songs he thought people would like – that he liked.
What I do in the songs I write and the songs I sing – even in this record – I do songs that I like. Songs that make me feel good and the rest be damned. At the end of the day that’s where the best stuff is born, if you ask me, and if it ain’t 12 bars with turnarounds; well, by God, so be it.
It always cleaves me when people say that Charlie Patton wasn’t a blues man – that he not really a blues man, he’s a songster. What does that mean, you know? There’s no songs in blues? I think that Charlie Patton was very obviously the very first of the real blues stars and the lineage that, Robert Johnson’s not the beginning, Charlie Patton was. There were people before him, but we don’t have them on record. Charlie Patton is the very first in that lineage we have on record and people should know that. That to me is special. It’s important. More people should know that. Fans of Elvis Presley, fans of the Beatles, fans of Rolling Stones, fans of John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Allen Wolf – they should know who Charlie Patton is.
Yeah, he was so influential to the guys that came later. You’re right, I agree, it’s incredibly important that people understand that.
Yeah, and if people can listen to it and hear it as we’ve done it, without the very crude recording process that was done to his music – maybe when they go to his recordings, they’ll understand it a little better.
Yeah, I get that. I like the old stuff. My gal doesn’t like listening to it because she can’t get past the pops and cracks.
Yeah, unfortunately pop damaged ears, man. Here’s something to think about too: That record label that recorded him in Indiana – they were in a backwards, bumpkin sort of operation. They’re equipment was even crude for the time period. There was better stuff in New York city and other places. It was poor recordings and the masters were lost. All we have are private collector’s records and they’re some of the worst records we have from the time period and that’s probably one of the reasons he isn’t as well-known as someone like Robert Johnson.
That’s another reason why I wanted to do this and wanted to do it the way I did stayin’ as true to Charlie as I could.
How did a country blues expert, aficionado such as yourself and your band get on the Warped Tour?
Well, anybody I think, that sees us live understands. I think maybe that stood for Charlie Patton too. Charlie Patton was said to play the guitar behind his back and throw it up in the air. He put on a show and I put on a show. That’s all there is to it. If people just wanted to hear the music and that was it then they could just stay home and listen to the records. There’s a reason why you go see live music. It’s because there’s interaction – a living, breathing thing. People who come out and pay good money to see a show deserve the full ticket price, which is way more than just sittin’ down playing songs. 150% regardless of how I feel, I bring it to ‘em. Real music played from the heart and with 150% your being never goes out of style.
MM: It’s pretty cool that you’re that broadly appealing though.
Yeah, you know, I think that, it was something when we first started doing this, I didn’t know who would care or whatever! You know, and the fact that we have been able to do this is just way exceeded my wildest dreams. We’ve played all over the world and we’ve got fans that are kids, in high school or middle school, up to their great granddad’s comin’ out. It’s really fun when someone says, “man, I brought my dad to this show because I thought he’d like it,” or “I brought my boy to the show ‘cause I really thought he’d like it;” and they both do and they’re both buying t-shirts and, um, and I don’t pull any punches; in lyrics, it’s words and all with everything. It’s a hundred percent. It’s not like we set out to be a family affair or whatever. It’s just that, I think that, when it’s real, from the heart music played with 150% of your being, I just don’t think that goes out of style, I think that’s universal –
It goes beyond country boarders, state boarders. It goes beyond age barriers. Whatever it is – it doesn’t matter – it’s something that is completely universal.
And, you’re always on people’s list of bands you’ve just got to see live. What makes the magic of your band?
I have this theory because certainty publications, including blues publications, have actually talked about the bass player (that we don’t have). I think that a lot of times people hear the record and they don’t believe that all the guitar is just one person and when you see it live and you realize that, I think that that sometimes freaks people out and that’s one of the reasons.
Another reason is that we give it to them with every ounce that we are. It’s how we believe in doin’ it. Nothing’s half-assed. It’s whole hogs, no one deal. From Breezy on the washboard to Cuz on the drums. I believe in puttin’ on a show. I believe the musicianship. I believe the crowd is a living, breathing part of that as well and everything in-between.
I think when it comes to something like this it has to be everything – from the show to the songs to the musicianship, you name it – because there’s so much out there, one of the reasons we’ve been able to rise up there is because of that. We’ve still got a long way to go, but I’m going to that way, one thing at a time.
Ya’ll are really getting popular now. There’s a lot of Reverend Peyton buzz going on out there. You’ve got this Charlie Patton homage album out. Do you have any plans for the future?
Yeah, I’m already working on the next full Big Damn Band record. I’m an artist at the root of it. I’m a musician. I’m a songwriter. I’m always working on new stuff – the next thing – because it takes time for records to come out. By the time they come out the recordings have been done months prior. From the day after the recordings done, I’ve already started on the next thing.
I can guarantee you this, and you can ask anybody that knows me, is I work on this every day. I work on my music every day. People that have been following us can tell ya’ that every show is better than the next. That’s not an accident because I work on this every day.
That’s probably why you’re so popular now. Why do you have three versions of “Some of These Days”.
Well, Some of These Days is one of my favorite songs in the whole world and I’ve been playing it since I was a little kid. I’ve been playing it a lot of different ways. I’ve played it in different keys, all these different ways. I almost did a study in that song. I was going to do a whole record of just that song and do it a bunch of different ways just me and the guitar. Instead we decided to do this. Luckily, we did because I think it’s much better. What I did, was I did it Charlie Patton’s way and then I picked a couple of my favorite verses of it and I put ‘em on there just as something fun. That melody, to me; is so beautiful, so perfect. It lends it’s self to being played so many different ways.
When does the album come out, by the way?
July 19 [Today!]. Preorder is coming up on the website soon and there’ll be some kind of special gift to come along with it. It’s still being worked – the final details – so I’m not sure if I wanna say. Be on the lookout for it. You want to preorder it because you’ll get a special gift.
You’re going to get it two different ways:
One will be a digital download package with a full-length LP in 33 speed, and then, also a limited edition bonus 78 record. This is going to be the 10 inch 78 record, two sided, with a version of Jesus’ is a Dying Bedmaker that was recorded inside the cotton gin at Dockery Farms, where Charlie Patton grew up.
Which reminds me, tell me about that trip to Dockery – were you able to talk to anybody or anything?
Yeah, yeah. We met the caretaker over there and were given a tour. It was really special. Bill Stever took photos.