Songwriter/singer/musician J.J. Grey exudes rocking, funky, melodic, front porch realism in every song he writes and performs.
Born, raised and still residing just outside of Jacksonville, Florida, Grey comes from a long tradition of Southern musical storytellers. Many of his songs deal with the loss of his natural surroundings and the decline of the Southern culture he grew up in. The resulting multi-textured music is filled with dynamic rhythms and thought-provoking universal truths. From raw funk to deep soul, blues and rock, JJ and his band, both on CD and live, are simply devastating.
Debuting in 2001 with BLACKWATER, following up in 2004 with LOCHLOOSA, Grey steadily found more and more success. In 2007, with his first Alligator release, COUNTRY GHETTO, Grey’s star shot up fast, and is continuing to rise even higher.
2007 was a watershed year for J.J. Grey and his band, Mofro. The release of COUNTRY GHETTO brought widespread critical and popular acclaim, garnering great press with reviews and features running everywhere from The New York Times and USA Today, to Harp and Paste magazines. Commercial and public radio embraced Grey as well. In addition to countless live in-studio performances at stations around the country, an appearance on National Public Radio’s World Café, the syndicated program E-Town, and a live performance on the Paul Jones Show on BBC2 in the UK, COUNTRY GHETTO received regular rotation on nearly 100 stations and was featured on hundreds more, prompting the album to be Grey’s most successful to date.
Because of the success of COUNTRY GHETTO, along with the label’s love of the music, Alligator reissued Grey’s first two out-of-print CDs, BLACKWATER and LOCHLOOSA. Grey is currently hard at work on a follow-up to COUNTRY GHETTO.
J.J. Grey & Mofro (featuring longtime guitarist Daryl Hance and current keyboardist Adam Scone, drummer George Sluppick, and horn players Art Edmonston and Dennis Marion) toured constantly in 2007. The band played over 120 dates both headlining clubs and playing scores of festivals across the United States and Europe. Highlights include The Voodoo Music Experience, SXSW, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Austin City Limits Festival and a Southeast run with the Allman Brothers. On Labor Day weekend 2007 Grey, with the help of his management company, Madison House, was able to fulfill a lifelong dream by hosting his own annual music festival THE BLACKWATER SOL REVUE, in St. Augustine, FL. The all-day event featured Los Lobos, Tony Joe White and The Legendary JC’s.
What makes Grey so popular is the depth of his talent. His songs blend home-spun realism with the best of the Southern musical and literary tradition. Whether it is a narrative passed down to him from his grandmother or the tribulations of a childhood friend, Grey’s ear for detail rings through in true storytelling fashion. His voice delivers with an unflinching strength that makes the personal universal and paints a vivid portrait of an exact time or place. Like his songs, Grey’s rich, soulful vocals are forceful and commanding, seemingly old beyond his years. On COUNTRY GHETTO, his musical arrangements range from smoldering soul ballads, gospel-infused soul and funk to straight ahead rock ‘n’ roll, bringing it all home with unforgettable melodies and ass-shaking grooves.
Grey’s songwriting influences are widespread. “I like people who tell their story,” he says, naming Muddy Waters, Stevie Wonder, Tony Joe White, Jerry Reed, Otis Redding, Dr. John, Sly & The Family Stone, Van Morrison, Bill Withers and Dan Penn as influences. What these writers and performers have in common is a love for simplicity and the ability to evoke complex emotions with a minimal number of words and notes. As a performer, Grey is influenced by the sexually charged blues of Howlin’ Wolf, the country soul of George Jones and the hard funk of James Brown, the smooth R&B of Donny Hathaway, as well as local personalities like the street preachers and radio disc jockeys of his youth.
In 2001 Grey’s debut album, BLACKWATER, was released under the name Mofro (a name Grey conjured up while working at a local lumberyard). Soon thereafter JJ, along with guitarist and longtime friend Daryl Hance, hit the road hard (175+ shows a year) with an ever-changing Mofro line-up. A National Public Radio feature in 2001 brought JJ’s music to scores of new listeners. Doors at press, radio and venues opened across the country. Since 2001, Grey and company performed at Bonnaroo in 2005 and opened for Widespread Panic, Ben Harper, Galactic, B.B. King and Jeff Beck. Word of their live show spread quickly, and bookings at festivals and concerts around the world increased, including jaw-dropping shows at The Austin City Limits Festival and The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
2001’s BLACKWATER, 2004’s LOCHLOOSA, and 2007’s COUNTRY GHETTO were all produced by Dan Prothero, founder of Fog City Records. “He showed me my strengths and my weaknesses and was a huge part of making me who I am as a singer and a musician,” says Grey. “When you can be honest with yourself and tell ‘the’ story as best you can, then the sky is the limit. Dan helped me see that.” All three albums (and many of the subsequent tours) had entirely different bands performing Grey’s songs. “It wasn’t done that way on purpose,” Grey explains, “It’s just that it’s hard to keep anything together in any particular form for very long. Some don’t like the road, some don’t mesh musically, some get better paying gigs, and some people go do their own thing.”
From gritty funk to juke joint romps to contemplative country soul to blistering rockers, Grey’s music is in a class by itself. And, like the best of the great Southern novelists, he fills his stories and songs with details that are at once vivid and personal, political and universal. The songs and the music will make you smell the cypress trees, feel the hot breeze, taste the ho-cakes, and remind you that home is where the heart is.
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