A JJ Grey & Mofro concert is like medicine for your soul. –Tahoe On Stage
From the days of playing greasy local juke joints to headlining major festivals, north Florida sage and soul-bent swamp rocker JJ Grey remains an unfettered, blissful performer, singing with a blue-collared spirit over the bone-deep grooves of his compositions. His presence before an audience is something startling and immediate, at times a funk rave-up, other times a sort of mass-absolution for the mortal weaknesses that make him and his audience human. The Florida farms and eddying swamps of his youth are as much a part of Grey’s music as the Louisiana swamp-blues tradition, or the singer’s collection of old Stax records.
As a boy, Grey was drawn to country-rockers, including Jerry Reed, and to Otis Redding and the other luminaries of Memphis soul. Run-DMC, meanwhile, played on repeat in the parking lot of his high school. Merging these traditions and working with a blue-collar ethic that brooked no bullshit, Grey began touring as Mofro in the late ’90s, with backbeats that crossed Steve Cropper with George Clinton and a lyrical directness that made his 2001 debut LP Blackwater a calling-card among roots-rock aficionados. Soon, he was expanding his tours beyond America and the U.K., playing ever-larger clubs and eventually massive festivals, as his fan base grew from a modest group of loyal initiates into something resembling a national coalition.
Fan loyalty is fierce, because they know Grey’s searing and emotional voice sings pain like no other performer alive, but also captures a transcendent joy that he calls “the joy with no opposite.”
“It can happen to anybody: you sit still, and you feel things tingling around you, everything’s alive around you, and in that a smile comes on your face involuntarily, and in that I felt no opposite,” he said. “It feels like more than just being happy because you got what you wanted — this is a joy. A joy that doesn’t get involved one way or the next; it just is.”
It is a joy that audiences feel every time JJ Grey and Mofro take the stage.