NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The latest album from Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band was written by candlelight and
then recorded using the best technology available . . . in the 1950s.
But listeners won’t find another album as relevant, electrifying and timely as Dance Songs for Hard Times.
Dance Songs for Hard Times conveys the hopes and fears of pandemic living. Rev. Peyton, the Big Damn Band’s
vocalist and world-class fingerstyle guitarist, details bleak financial challenges on the songs “Ways and Means”
and “Dirty Hustlin’.” He pines for in-person reunions with loved ones on “No Tellin’ When,” and he pleads for
celestial relief on the album-closing “Come Down Angels.”
Far from a depressing listen, Dance Songs lives up to its name by delivering action-packed riffs and rhythms
across 11 songs. The country blues trio that won over crowds on more than one Warped Tour knows how to
make an audience move.
“I like songs that sound happy but are actually very sad,” Peyton says. “I don’t know why it is, but I just do.”
Of course, the greatest front-porch blues band in the world found itself sidelined from a relentless touring
schedule because of the coronavirus pandemic. Peyton says he was surprised when his mind and soul unleashed
a batch of new songs in March and April of 2020.
“I think it was the stress of everything,” he says. “At the time, we were watching everything we know crash down. I
didn’t know what was going to happen with our career, with our house, with food, with anything.”
Peyton wasn’t alone in uncertainty. It’s a feeling that gripped the world. Added to Peyton’s concerns were a
lingering illness — perhaps undiagnosed COVID-19 — affecting “Washboard” Breezy Peyton, his wife and Big
Damn Band member, as well as a cancer diagnosis for his father. A metaphorical wallop arrived when
unpredictable weather in the rustic wilds of Southern Indiana knocked out power at the Peytons’ 150-year-old log
cabin. For multiple days. While Breezy rested and recovered, Peyton crafted songs in near darkness.
“It’s been a struggle the entire time,” he says. “Nothing’s been easy. Other than the music. The music came
“Too Cool to Dance” might be interpreted as the album’s centerpiece for its message of not taking things for
granted. The seize-the-moment anthem offers the chorus, “We may not get another chance. Oh, please don’t tell
me you’re too cool to dance.”
“I was thinking about all the times where I’ve been somewhere and felt too cool to dance,” Peyton says. “I didn’t
want to be that way. Not being able to do anything last year, I had this feeling of, ‘Man, I’m not going to waste any
moment like this in my life — ever.’ ”
Peyton, the cover subject of Vintage Guitar magazine’s January 2020 issue, showcases his remarkable picking
techniques on “Too Cool to Dance.” It’s rare to hear a fingerstyle player attack Chuck Berry-inspired licks with
index, middle and ring fingers while devoting his or her thumb to a bass line. Yet the multi-tasking Peyton has
made an art of giving the illusion he’s being accompanied by a bass player, despite the Big Damn Band’s roster
featuring no one beyond himself, Breezy on washboard and Max Senteney on drums.
“Too Cool to Dance” heats up thanks to Peyton’s 1954 Supro Dual Tone electric guitar. Once known exclusively
for playing acoustic guitar in the country-blues tradition of Mississippi icons Charley Patton and Bukka White,
Peyton has seemingly migrated north and plugged in with Chicago giants Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters.
“It’s crazy,” Peyton says of “Too Cool to Dance.” “It almost feels like a song from the 1950s that’s been lost. At the
end of the day, it still somehow feels like us.”
To document the livewire immediacy of Dance Songs for Hard Times, the Big Damn Band — including a healthy
Breezy — made a pandemic road trip to Nashville to record with producer Vance Powell (four-time Grammy
Award winner whose resume includes work with Chris Stapleton and Jack White).
Peyton embraced Powell’s suggestion to turn back the clock and record no more than eight tracks of audio to
analog tape. Minimal overdubs are heard on Dance Songs for Hard Times, and Peyton sang while playing guitar
live in the studio.
“Vance likes the gear that I like,” Peyton says. “And he has a bunch of cool gear I would only have in my wildest
Visually, Dance Songs for Hard Times is led by a video to accompany the song “Ways and Means.” Defined by
pastel colors and confident dance moves, the video was made at an old-school laundromat to match the song’s
Bo Diddley-boasting on a limited budget: “My knife is sharp, my guitar never flat … king of the laundromat.”
As Peyton says, it’s difficult to create blues music that isn’t personal.
“The song ‘Ways and Means’ was written for all those folks who have the moves, the style, the substance, the
talent, but maybe not the seed money or the famous last name,” Peyton says. “All those people who had to work
extra hard because they didn’t get to start way ahead. Folks who have been playing catch-up since they were
born and had to get really good just to make it to zero.”
As 2020 progressed, Peyton’s father was declared free of cancer following surgery. A new Patreon page
(http://www.Patreon.com/bigdamnband) helped the band connect with fans and make up some lost wages.
And Big Damn Band supporters around the world checked in monthly for pay-what-you-can livestream
performances that originated at the Peytons’ log cabin.
Conditions aren’t ideal when compared to pre-pandemic adventures that allowed the Big Damn Band to play for
audiences in nearly 40 countries. But those days will return, and in the meantime we have Dance Songs for Hard
“Despite the hardships of this moment in history, it created this music that I hope will maybe help some people
through it,” Peyton says. “Because it helps me through it to play it.”
For the past fifteen years, The Hooten Hallers have been crisscrossing the country as inveterate road warriors, bringing their peculiar vision of Americana–a fiery rock and roll fever dream birthed in Missouri’s fertile musical heartland. They’ve put so many miles into the road that they’ve burned through multiple tour vans and left twisted metal and frayed rubber strewn across the road behind them. With their aptly named new album, Back In Business Again, the trio roar back on to the international stage with ten incendiary new original songs drawn from their many travels and inspired by the hardships that all touring musicians have faced throughout a seemingly never-ending pandemic. There’s hope in these new songs, but tinges of madness too, driven by the raw drumming and falsetto howl of Andy Rehm, the infernal growl and swirling guitars of John Randall, and the low rolling baritone and bass saxophones of Kellie Everett. The Hooten Hallers have always been musical colliders, smashing together everything from pre-war jazz to Chicago blues with jaunts around New Orleans and garage rock explorations with hints of punk rock. It’s Morphine meets ZZ Top mixed a dash of George Thorogood and Tom Waits along St. Louis’ Mississippi waterfront. Produced by bassist Dominic Davis (Jack White, Greensky Bluegrass), Back In Business Again takes a match to The Hooten Hallers’ fuse and explodes the renegade power trio to the edge and back again, one vigorous, swinging, perfectly peculiar song at a time. Bubbling beneath the rip-roaring surface of the new album are all-original songs of outsider Americana delight, from tall tales about near-mythological characters, to a eulogy commemorating the demise of 15 years worth of tour vans, to heartfelt blues, thoughtful love songs, and well beyond. Listening to the howls and growls of The Hooten Hallers’ new album, to the burning sax lines and powerful drumming, you’ll hear the pure joy of this band reveling in their newfound groove.