Reverend Deadeye

Here to save yer sinnin' soul.

The Reverend with his Falstaff beercan mic.

In the wake of Tom Waits and the slough of bands evoking an old-time spirit, there's Denver's Reverend Deadeye, mixing up his own brew of ministry inspired, soul-saving music. One of the things that impresses me most about Reverend Deadeye is that, for all intents and purposes, he's the real deal. As a missionary kid, he spent most of his youth mingling with Navajos at tent revivals. His performance is less of an "act" than it is a natural manifestation of his real-life experiences. Where others are often just recapturing worlds that they learned about in books or their old Nick Cave albums, The Reverend is telling a real story that he (more or less) lived himself. Now that's something.

I sat down with him and Liza (of The Emmas fame) for a spell and asked him a few questions about his music and his upbringing.

I think one of the most intriguing things about what you do is your background. You grew up with missionary parents just outside of a Navajo reservation in Arizona. Tell me a little bit about that.
The aspect that I carry on with me into what I do now is what we would do when we were at the tent meetings/church revivals. There would be a rock-n-roll band, essentially, up on the stage.

To a certain extent. I mean, it was rough. It wasn't like what people normally see in a church. The person that was leading the singing would get up and start singing. It didn't matter what pitch they were in; it didn't matter what key they were in; they would just start singing and the band would sit there and try to pick up what key the person was singing in. It was in the 70s so there were amped up amplifiers, which is what I like to play through now.

Is this stuff that your dad would orchestrate?
Not necessarily, but my dad played guitar. The revivals on the reservation, where there were more Navajos, were much more rough around the edges than the church that we would go to on Sundays.

So, you basically grew up surrounded by this stuff your whole life?
As far as being a missionary kid, that was until I was about twelve. My brother was about fourteen. We moved to Greeley [literally a cow-town in northern Colorado] and my dad pastored a church in Nebraska for a while. Most of the time, when I was able to understand what was going on, my dad actually wasn't a pastor, he would just go out to the tent meetings and preach.

Did it get pretty crazy, like with snake handling and speaking in tongues?
Speaking in tongues, definitely. Snake handling is more of an Appalachian Mountains kind of thing.

Tell me the story of the rattle snake biting you in the eye.
I don't remember much about it. I just know that I can't see.

Tell me about your name. Which came first, the Reverend or the Deadeye?
First the Reverend and then the Deadeye. The Deadeye because I lost my eye, and the Reverend just because that's the way it should be.

I think because that's what I most connect with. As I grew up, I made my own decisions about things – religion and what-not – but the fervor is still there. Not for what, necessarily my parents believed in, but for what I believe in. So, I carried on the title that my dad had, although my affiliation as a Reverend is different than the church that he was affiliated with.

Here's a quote of yours that I have here, "The road to redemption is getting stewed to the gills on corn squeezins." Talk a little bit about that philosophy.
Well of course, growing up, one of the very fundamental Christian beliefs is that drinking is a sin. I think that most Christians have it wrong. I can relate to people on that, especially at a bar where I'm playing. Most people are there to drink and I want them to know that I don't think drinking is a sin.

Even though you're there to "save their sinnin' souls," you say that it's alright to get drunk...
Not just that it's alright. That statement really goes further than that. There is something about the bottom of the bottle – something about drinking the whole bottle – getting all the way down to the bottom; and the things that people think about there, and what it is to be Saved. Of course, in the sense of Christian religion, Saved is one specific thing. I'm very connected with the gospels in the bible, but I'm not very well connected with anything else. I don't think that the rest of the bible after the gospels, makes much of a difference. I think it's all doctrine and dogma; something that the people can put together, a booklet that can tell you what is right an wrong.

What's your idea of being Saved, if it's different than accepting Jesus Christ as your personal savior?
[laughs] It's drinking a lot of whiskey.

I can relate. You've said that you're influenced by a lot of blues from the 20s & 30s. When and how did you start listening to that and why does that inspire you?
To start with, I have to go back to my old records that I had on the reservation. Of, course, I was not allowed to listen to anything but Christian music, so the music that came up was stuff like the Louvin Brothers. There was also a husband and wife group called Joel and Labriska ... well, to give it justice, I'd have to pull out all of my old records.

How did you pick up playing yourself?
My dad played guitar.

Did he play acoustic or electric?
He played a '63 Gibson Pro-Electric ES25. I still have that guitar. He played it through a standard Fender amp; I think it was probably a 410.

Man, I can hardly imagine, I grew up Catholic...
Yeah, it's different than Catholicism. It's even different than the Pentecostal movement that my grandparents were from. This was more raw and rough. Native Americans have the ability to take other people's ideas and add them to their own idea palette and use it to paint whatever picture of the world they want. So, it's not black and white. Sunday they would go to church; Saturday night they would be at their peyote meeting.

Did your family ever pick up some of the more Native American beliefs?
No, my parents didn't; although they did become more accepting of them.

So, your dad played guitar. Did he teach you?
No, what happened was, my brother and I wanted to play guitar and my parents said that we would have to take a year of piano lessons before we could take any other instrument. So, I took a year of piano lessons and Backslider [his brother] took three years; which is probably why he's so much better than me. But no one ever really taught either one of us. Later we did have some lessons in college and high school. We were both in Jazz band.

When did you create the Reverend Deadeye with the setup of your guitar and the Falstaff beercan microphone?
That came along later. Let me go back and I'll try to do this chronologically. When the Backslider and I moved from the reservation, we started listening to Heavy Metal music.

Christian Metal.
[laughs] Oh yeah, so we would at least be able to tell my dad that it was Christian. Which, in some cases, he wouldn't let us have any because they looked like girls. He took away my Stryper record because they looked like girls. In that time I don't think I listened to any of that older stuff. I think that Backslider influenced me a lot, as well. He let me borrow a bunch of his old Blues cds that he had and I got much more involved in that sort of sound. When he went to Indiana, I would go out there every once in a while and we would perform in the coffeehouse under the name, Backsliders, and we would play old Gospel songs, some Blind Willie Johnson blues. That's really what started it. From that point, Backslider started doing solo Blues, Bluegrass, Country – he did it all. I stuck more to one thing because I'm not very good at it.

You should have taken those piano lessons!
Yeah. [laughs] So, that's how it started. He would play by himself and I would come back [here] and play by myself.

I understand that your guitar is made out of a wok?
Yeah, it's a wok-lid guitar. I actually don't know the person who made it. It was given to me by a friend of mine who knows the guy who made it. He lives somewhere up in Montana and apparently he makes all kinds of guitars like this.

Your mic, did you make that yourself?
Yeah, I had this beer can sitting on the shelf that I had gotten when I was out camping and I ordered two microphone plates from the old Bullet Microphone company, and all of the stuff. I ordered all old stuff and I just wired it together. I'm working on a Schlitz can now. It's a big, 24 ouncer.

You've worked mostly by yourself or with Backslider, and now you've got Liza [Liza from The Emmas] here on the drums. How is that working out?
Actually, I stopped doing one man shows a while back. I honestly didn't do it very long. I toured by myself, but before then, I had a drummer. I never really did the one man band just because it was a one-man band, it was just because that's how it happened.

So, just as a matter of circumstance, you were a one-man band and here you won the, "Best One Man Band" award from the Westword!
Yeah, I did, and I hadn't played one-man when I won that.  

Tell me a good tour story.
When we were going up to Minnesota last year, we woke up and the first thing we heard when the radio alarm went off was, "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash," and it was the day that he died. We drove all the way to De Moines and played the most powerful show I have ever played; and the absolute, most drunk show I've ever played as well. I was so hammered that I was sick all the way up until the show the next night.

Speaking of male figures in your life passing away, your father recently passed away?
Yeah, about a month after Johnny Cash. Those figures were very important to me.

It's funny: talking to you, you sound just like a regular fella, but in your songs and in your writing, you sound like a hillbilly.
Yeah well, I try to tone things down a bit when I'm in good company.

Anything else you'd like to say?
I done said it all.

Learn more about the Reverend Deadeye on his personal website.

By Heather Bowden, November 2004