I’m back from another great weekend at the PRS Experience down at Paul Reed Smith Guitars in Stevensville, MD and, as much as I enjoyed watching the likes of Davey Knowles, and Simon McBride lay down some serious guitar playing next to studio pros like Brett Mason and Tim Pierce (more on them later), the hands down highlight of the weekend was seeing JJ Grey & MOFRO.
If you haven’t listened to this Florida-based soul / funk / R&B / swamp riff / Southern rock outfit you are in for a major treat!
The band is the creation of frontman J.J. Grey but the musicians in this band contribute mightily to the tight, soulful sound that keeps the tunes in your head long after the music stops,
The New York Times commented
“Impassioned singing, riff-based Southern rock, cold-blooded swamp funk and sly Memphis soul.”
From J.J.’s official bio:
Over the course of six albums and a decade of touring, JJ Grey’s grimy blend of front porch soul and down-home storytelling has taken him around the world and back again. Beating the streets on nearly every continent, he and his band Mofro have sewn a continuous thread of laying-it-on-the-line shows that move folks to dance and at times to tears.
JJ was raised in North Florida by a typically Southern extended family that valued hard work and self-reliance. This upbringing permeates his no-nonsense approach to writing and performing and has given him an abundance of material to write about in his songs.
“A friend of mine once said that we’re all characters if we’re given enough room to be one. I guess I was lucky enough to be surrounded by people who had plenty of room cause Lord knows I know some larger-than-life ones. I’ve had a lot of laughs and good times with those characters. We’ve shared some hard times too.”
These characters and JJ’s own triumphs and struggles, make regular appearances throughout his lyrics. “Looking at his show now, it’s remarkable to think how far he’s come, and to realize the creative spirit and force of will it’s taken to get there,” says longtime producer and friend Dan Prothero. “But it’s also remarkable to see him up there singing about the worst of it, and smiling a smile that has come from accepting the good with the bad. In recent years I think he’s come to realize that the fighting stance that seemed to get him where he needed to go back then wasn’t getting him where he needed to go now, and so he changed. Letting go and letting it all happen is at the heart of his creative process now.”
From his early days playing cover music behind chicken wire at a Westside (Jacksonville) juke joint to playing sold-out shows and some of the largest music festivals in the world, it’s been a long road. But JJ has no illusions about where he’s headed or where he’s been. When prompted with questions about his past accomplishments or future plans, JJ lays down a little backwoods wisdom:
“I’m just a salmon swimming up stream. Going back home I reckon. I don’t know why and I quit caring why a long time ago. I guess there is no ‘why’ that my mind could understand anyway. All I do know is that I’ve enjoyed and I’m still enjoying every second of just being here and doing whatever it is I’m doing.”
The band has a strong following and has opened for acts like Widespread Panic and Ben Harper. They recently had Derek Trucks sit in with Susan Tedeschi. Later this year they’ll be on the bill of a festival organized and headlined by Gov’t Mule.
You can read more about them here: http://www.jjgrey.com/home
Sit back and crank this one up.
- “Tame A Wild One” – A solo version by J.J. Grey without MOFRO.
- “Brighter Days” – Recorded live.
- “Somebody Else” – A beautiful Memphis-like ballad about facing demons. From the latest album “This River”.
- “This River” – Another J.J. Grey solo effort that is the title track of this year’s release. During this weekend’s show, J.J. commented that he had received a note from someone explaining how this song helped him avoid some self-destructive behavior.
- “99 Shades of Crazy” – a pure Southern rocker that is the perfect blend of R&B and Soul. Listen for that swampy riff and horn accents that root this one firmly on the ground.
- “Your Lady She’s Shady” – a funk rocker about infidelity and hypocrisy. I love the line”you trying to squeeze your big ass through the door of innocence”.