“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.
“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.
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.