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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Interview with JJ Grey & MOFRO

JJ Grey seems to have it going on as of late. The certified soul singer and his sanctified southern soul review band MOFRO have been touring pretty steadily and there is some recent side work Grey just wrapped with producer Steve Berlin (Los Lobos). Grey even got to host his own roots music festival, the Blackwater Sol Revue in St. Augustine FL, the past two years. But the recent news that he sounds most excited about is the notable figure who lives down the road a piece from Grey’s Baldwin FL home: none other than Tim Tebow, quarterback of the 2008 national college football champion University of Florida Gators. For a self-proclaimed Florida college football nut this is about as cool as it gets. Grey’s funky lichen-hangin’- from-the-trees swamp soul, which are Southern as grits at the Waffle House, includes a rock/blues foundation complete with contemplative lyrics about developers cutting down all the woods behind your house that you and your brothers grew up in only to then have the owner let the property go to blight and sell it. They will probably roll up for their gig at the Intersection on Feb. 5 in a crusty (but not rusty since they're from FL) old Cadillac asking about a place to get some good chicken and fried okra. To understand just how Grey got to this point of success you must back seven years, to the beginning of his association with noted producer Dan Prothero, owner of Fog City Records, the Bay Area’s best soul funk outpost. Noted funk-miester Prothero ran the controls on Galactic’s first-ever studio release, Coolin’ Off, which is the first record Fog City ever did. Grey is grateful for all the good fortune that has come his way since he signed with Prothero.“Dan was the first person ever to offer me a record contract. He is the single biggest influence on who I am today. Playing, singing, you name it,” says Grey from a tour stop in Baton Rouge. With Grey arranging and writing all the music, he and Prothero created Orange Blossoms (Alligator), Grey’s 2008 release which he will be featuring on Thursday. Several songs on Blossoms can bring the funk (“WYLF,” "Everything Good is Bad") so this should be as entertaining it gets (MOFRO includes The Hurricane Horns). Of the several record companies who were in the running to release Orange Blossoms Grey picked Chicago-based Alligator records, the county's foremost roots music indie label. “I chose Alligator because of their philosophy that you don’t have to make all the money in the beginning of the record’s life cycle. Alligator has a rich history, thirty years, and they’re in it for the long haul. And they’ve been around so long for a reason. They have a back catalog that will withstand time. I hope that by being associated with that my records will have “legs” as well.”Grey is a multi-instrumentalist but equally adept at writing quality songs. He seems to have a natural knack for writing catchy hooks (the title track) which also tell a mostly complete story in less than five minutes. By his own unique definition, he counts Otis Redding, Tony Joe White, Toots Hibbert, and Jerry Reed among his favorite singer-songwriters.“The image of a singer-songwriter is an acoustic guitar, being introspective, not too loud, and without much groove. People don’t realize that James Brown was a great songwriter as well,” Grey notes.

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