By Doug Levine
I had a chance to talk with Florida singer and guitarist JJ Grey, leader of his band Mofro. JJ describes his music as “swamp funk,” a style that might conjure up visions of cypress trees and alligators lurking in muddy waters.
There’s no question, JJ Grey is a natural storyteller. His songs are inspired by people he grew up with and the rural swamplands of his childhood home near Jacksonville, Florida. Even the album is named for a natural feature of the Jacksonville landscape, the St. John’s River.
JJ tells me that his songwriting is all about observation, basically a recollection of the people and places in his life. He says his latest album “This River” is one of his most personal.
“On this album the songs just kind of come together and more often than not they wind up being stories, either about my own ‘craziness’ or about friends of mine. Or, sort of a composite or a mixture of people I know, and myself.”
JJ Grey says if you want to find the true source of swamp music, go south.
“It varies from the New Orleans ‘super swamp’ style of it all the way over to more of the (singer) Jerry Reed ‘Alabama wild man’ more country side of it, or Tony Joe White country side of it. And that swamp music, you know, swamp funk, swampy blues, swamp rock, whatever, it sounds like those places. It sounds like those swampy places in Florida, in Georgia, in Alabama, in Mississippi and all those places, Louisiana. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is. I know that a clavinet with a little wah-wah pedal on it, if you play it right, it sounds just like a frog.”
JJ Grey and his band Mofro begin a three-month tour of the US and Europe in Lake Buena Vista, Florida on April 5. He says that while he loves to tour, nothing compares to the sights and sounds of home in the deep South.
“If I’m on tour way up north somewhere, and it’s beautiful and I love it, and I’ve been gone from home for a while, when we start to get down there around South Carolina I start seeing palm trees, pine trees and oak trees; and you know you’re not too far from the ocean and I know we’re getting close to home.”
Check out JJ Grey & Mofro trying out the title song from “This River” in Cologne, Germany, March 9, 2012.