Few of the thousands of fans that JJ Grey has made around the world over the past 15 years are aware of the specifics of his down-home upbringing, that he is totally enamoured with the bucolic backwoods near Jacksonville, Florida where his family has lived for generations or that he is an avid outdoorsman (nicknamed Buckshot), hang ten surfer, ardent angler and conservationist. And yet, they sense intuitively that Grey is one of the most geographically centred individuals that they will ever meet. They hear it in the sentimental detail of his true-to-life lyrics, the laid back, uncluttered feel of his story telling and in his intensely personal music unapologetically steeped in Southern traditions of hot and humid blues rock, swampy soul and mud-covered funk.
Surprisingly, the vocal talents of Mofro’s multi-instrumentalist front man were not inspired by the melodic timbres of a Sam Cooke but by the mimicking of comedic impressionist Rich Little. “I kind of used to imitate voices as I was singing as a kid,” Grey admits recalling hours spent in the family rec room listening to his sister’s collection of 45s on a cheap stereo. ”I tried to sound like as many people as I could.”
Impersonation gave way to an individual style when he learned to live in the immediacy of the moment, to let his creativity unfold like an unplanned day following a serious car crash. “To me, music is conversation,” says Grey whose best song ideas often arrive unheralded while doing mundane things like mowing the grass or driving. “I tell a story. It’s just more memorable because there’s a melody.”
Grey’s slow but steady climb to success began in 1993 when he co-founded a funk band called Alma Zuma while working at a Jacksonville air-conditioning company. When the group sputtered in 1997, he put the leftover pieces together as Mofro adding his name as an after thought to reflect his role as the band’s song writer. The hype surrounding their first two CDs, Blackwater (2001) and Lochloosa (2004) on the independent Fog City Records imprint accelerated when blues music’s premier label, Alligator Records entered the picture bringing wider audience exposure for the next duo of studio offerings, Country Ghetto (2007) and Orange Blossoms (2008). Following in their considerable wake and named after a tough-as-nails grasshopper, is Grey’s break-out 2010 Alligator Records’ tour-de-force Georgia Warhorse. The USA Today recommended it highly for its “Intoxicating North Florida blues-rock with hints of Memphis, Muscle Shoals and garage-band music” while the Chicago Sun-Times admired its “Inspired, delirious funky, deep-in-the-pocket front porch soul.”
On stage as in life Grey, 42, believes in a casual, easy vibe. “It’s when I’m not trying to will the show in a certain direction that the best stuff happens” he says. “It’s when you’re in the zone. You’re not thinking, and the music takes us – the performer and audience – to somewhere else.”
Rhythm section locked on the groove, gravely vocals, beefy guitar chops and bright surging horns, go with the flow and step into the zone with JJ Grey & Mofro! http://www.jjgrey.com