Summer of Soul:
An Interview with JJ Grey

Words by Audra Tracy

It’s Friday afternoon, and JJ Grey is cruising on a highway somewhere between Boston and Scranton, Pennsylvania. He and his band Mofro are on their way to the Peach Festival, where they’ll play alongside the likes of Gov’t Mule, Rich Robinson, Jackie Greene, and the event’s hosts, The Allman Brothers Band.

Before he hit the stage, Grey took some time to fill us in on his summer vacation, shared news on Mofro’s next album, and explained why he’s not as impressed with his singing voice as we are.

The interview kicks off with some small talk, and a casual chat about Grey’s weekend plans, which include a local gig at The Stone Pony. For Grey, Asbury Park brings back memories of another venue that used to rock the Jersey Shore, the Fast Lane (RIP).

“We played the Fast Lane like, gosh, twenty years ago,” he recalls. “We opened up for The Spin Doctors, and it was right before they really got big.”

It was 1992 to be exact. Back then, Mofro didn’t even exist. Grey was just a kid who was still finding his voice, happy to be playing a gig by the beach so he could go surfing. Reliving the fond memory, he said, “I do remember when I was there, the waves were good that day.”

That voice (sigh, that voice) has grown into a force now known for soothing souls, and weakening knees. From 2001′s Blackwater to 2013′s This River, Mofro’s rich catalog has exposed the band’s deep roots in Southern rock, highlighted further by Grey’s incredible pipes. So naturally, I asked him when he realized that he sounded like an angel. And while the question drew a hearty laugh, he didn’t share my sentiment.

He humbly admits, “When I hear my voice I’m like, ‘it’s terrible.’ I think it’s that way for everybody. We’ve all looked at ourselves in the mirror, for however many years we’ve been alive, and still none of us know what we look like. We know what everybody else looks like, but we have no idea what we look like. I feel the same way about my voice.”

Like a true Southern gentleman, he gives most of the credit to his band: Dennis Marion (trumpet), Anthony Cole (drums), Andrew Trube (guitar), Anthony Farrell (organ), and Todd Smallie (bass).

He says, “To be honest, playing every night with the guys I play with—they would make anybody sound like they know what they’re doing.”

After this string of shows, he and Mofro will return home to Jacksonville, Florida to wrap up a new record titled Ol’ Glory.

“We are just about done,” he says of Mofro’s next studio release. “As soon as I get home I have to put some finishing touches on the record. It’s about three-quarters of the way done, and then the final mix and some editing and then send it off to the new record label, and hopefully they’ll get it out early next year.”

Now that Grey has two decades-worth of albums and tour miles under his belt, what would he say to that kid playing the Fast Lane in 1992?

“That’s easy,” he laughs. “Quit being a sissy, quit taking yourself so seriously, and relax. Think good things and good things happen…and don’t watch the news.”

Catch JJ Grey & Mofro on the road through October. This November Grey will join the Southern Soul Assembly with Marc Broussard, Luther Dickinson, and Anders Osborne for a West Coast tour. See all dates here…

** Editor’s Note: Art Edmaiston (saxophone) was originally listed as a member of Mofro. Art is no longer with the band. | Ol’ Glory