Josh "The Reverend" Peyton has long considered 1930s Delta bluesman Charley Patton his biggest musical influence. In fact, he's had the idea of doing a Patton tribute album for years.
But it took two specific incidents to finally nudge him into recording Peyton on Patton, the latest recording by the Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band.
"One was we played this blues festival, and I mentioned Charley Patton's name," explains Peyton. "And I could just tell I was getting nothing but blank stares from people — at a blues festival — that did not know who Charley Patton was. That broke my heart. That's just terrible. This guy is maybe the most important figure in all of American music."
Not long afterward, Peyton ran across an Internet discussion that also got him stirred up. "These were fairly famous people, and they were arguing about how to play a Charley Patton song. And all of them were arguing about it, and all of them were wrong. I was like, man, I want to do this record. I think it's time."
Spend enough time talking to Peyton, and he'll likely convince you that the blues as we know it (not to mention rock 'n roll) would not exist without Patton — something that may not be as true of Robert Johnson, who's more typically touted as the king of blues.
"I think there ought to be statues of Charley Patton," declares Peyton. "Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Pops Staples, Bukka White, all of these fellas, they said they picked up a guitar because of Charley Patton. That was why they started playing, or at least part of it."
Peyton's on a roll now. "If there hadn't been Muddy Waters and Bukka White and John Lee Hooker and Howlin' Wolf, there would not be a Rolling Stones or Beatles as we know it. There would not be a Chuck Berry as we know it. Then you follow that up through the last 80-plus years of American music, it is hard to say what our music would sound like."
Likewise, Peyton insists that Johnson, who began recording in 1936, just a couple years after Patton's death, was also strongly influenced by the earlier bluesman. "He kind of made it his own, but he borrowed heavily and he learned from the records."
As for Peyton's own road to the blues, it began at age 12 when he got his first guitar. But it wasn't until after he met his future wife, Breezy, in 2003, that the Big Damn Band became a reality.
With Breezy on washboard and Peyton's younger brother, Jayme, on drums, the group began touring and recording its raw, largely acoustic brand of country blues.
A half dozen albums later, the bandleader is hoping Peyton on Patton will lead listeners to find out more about Patton, and maybe gain a better understanding of where Peyton's own music comes from.
"If they know more about Charley," he says, "they'll understand us a little bit."