Ol’ Glory, Bands and Music JJ Grey in Conversation
BD: Thanks for taking the time to chat with me after the sound check, which did sound very good outside, and before tonight’s show at The Tunnels on a sunny Sunday in Bristol.
JJGrey: No problem, yes it is like a warm day where I live in Jacksonville
BD: Is this your first time in Bristol?
JJGrey: I have played here before. It should be my third but the second time I was due to play Bristol the whole plan was de-railed. I was on a train from Paddington to Templemeads, just above the Tunnels and the train broke down around Slough so never got to the gig on time. So glad to be back in Bristol the tour bus outside ensured and looking forward to the show tonight
BD: Over the years your band or Mofro has changed tell us about your current line-up
JJGrey: It is a mix of new and established. As usual Denis Marion Trumpet and Todd Smallie Bass,
Craig Barnette on Drums has re-joined played on my second album Lochloosa with Zach Gilbert guitarist and trumpeter Marcus Parsley. The band works around the sound we produces dirty and funky. Mofro changes, and I have played with many fine musicians. Including Greyhounds (Anthony Farrell & Andrew Trube) who have a recording contract and doing their own.
BD: Your lyrics are powerful, they unfurl with a story that has to be told. Where do you get your inspiration for you songwriting?
JJGrey: Songwriting, just comes, it just happens. I try not to get too involved with the lyrics. Not to over think them. Writing songs is like a conversation sometimes you struggle to find the perfect word but like talking it normally just flows. Lyrics are for the voice they are the support. The voice then mimics the emotion and tells the story.
I believe everyone can write a song. It is about finding lyrics that express an emotion. BD: Really! I am certain that I do not have the skill to write a song. Example of what I am saying, a friend of the Greyhounds was in a tumultuous relationship and she wrote about it, the result a great number with great lines she captured the moment.
BD: Do you have a track on the album that is personal to you?
JJGrey: I love them all. If I had to pick one it would be The Island. The song was written quickly it gives the song a freshness. I wrote the song in the studio and is about where I live, in Jacksonville Florida, near the Florida/Georgia line.
BD: Your Latest Album, Ol Glory,with its dozen new songs is out on CD and Vinyl a growing retro trend – is that important to you?
JJGrey: Starting off with vinyl I have always loved vinyl my last album Georgia Warhorse was also released on vinyl. I would have done all my albums on vinyl but back in the eighties it became so thin, and poor quality with thin grooves and the demand fell. Now people want to buy vinyl often in combination with download for the regular playing. Not to play like we did in the day take to parties, leave around and then put nickels and dimes on the arm to reduce the effect of scratches.
BD: You are back in the UK do you find audiences different here compared to US & Europe?
JJGrey: The reality is the UK is more like USA there are so many connections we have lots in common including for many relatives we understand each other. Our good comedy’s work in the UK and vice versa.
Across Europe audiences are different Germany for example, are very quiet and then enthusiastic when the show is over. Across the UK there are many different vibes all are good Allow you to be different in your performance, sometimes it is quieter and other times the audience want to party. I modify the set list to fit the mood how I deliver a song and for quieter audience’s ballads fit in perfectly. Everybody is part of the show, I do not see the stage as an imaginary wall where it is us (the Band) and audience. An example of this I saw Blind Boys of Alabama the audience was in-tune with the show and I was moved to tears. Couple week’s later different audience and the set not as good as the audience did not connect. BD: I saw them in Cardiff and they were amazing with the audience joining in and the atmosphere was intense, were as I have been to gigs where the audience just sit and listen more like a classical performance. JJ Grey: Yes, I must play in Wales, BD: That be good some great venues in Cardiff that would appreciate the JJ Grey sound. JJ Grey: A show is like a good conversation there is a flow between stage and the audience. An analogy of what I am trying to say would be – If two people have a conversation and one talks and the other says nothing. The person who hasn’t spoken says well that wasn’t a good conversation. Musicians are the same we need feedback from the audience something beyond the performance and the music then gets its own energy and the conversation between performer and audience flows.
BD: Last night a Chapel tonight in the Tunnels underneath Temple Meads, two very quirky venues.
JJGrey: Yes, they are very different to each other with their own challenges. The Chapel was beautiful and had strict Db limits. We are not a loud band but we had to turn down the volume. The sound was good there was a different tone and suited the venue. Tonight I am hoping Bristol is hot, loud and wants to party and you to take the lead in raising the noise, he says with a laugh.
BD: You voice is central to the sound, do you take special care of the eighth instrument in JJ Grey and Mofro?
JJGrey: To tell the truth I have been so guilty in the past I have been singing since I was 17 and for thirty years took no notice of my voice. Things have changed, in the last 3-4 years, I have taken more notice of my vocals and look after it. It is now I feel in better shape than ever I can singer lower and higher than when I was 18! Yes, when on tour I suffer from some wear and tear by the end but after a day or two, it recovers. When singing three straight weeks that is not surprising. When I was with Alligator Records I always had the attitude you can’t beat me they nearly did when I had nineteen shows in seventeen shows, plus radio shows when in town. I did say that enough is enough after that tour.
BD If you were putting together the perfect band with members from across the years (dead or alive) who would you have playing?
Bass: James Jamerson (he was bassist at Mowtown Records)
Drums: Roger Hawkins (Drummer at Muscle Shoals)
Guitars: Derek Trucks – Slide
Vocals: Donny Hathaway
Saxophone: Eddie Harris
Keys: Donny Hathaway
And I would fire myself, just have the joy of sitting back and listening every day.
Read about the Bristol gig HERE