Singer and guitarist JJ Grey
describes his music as “swamp funk,” a style that conjures up cypress trees and alligators lurking in muddy waters. Grey revisits his deep Southern roots on a new album titled “This River.”
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. His new album is named for a prominent feature of the Jacksonville landscape, the St. John’s River.
For Grey, songwriting is all about observation, a recollection of the people and places in his life, and “This River,” his sixth album for Alligator Records, is no exception.
“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," he said. "Or, sort of a composite or a mixture of people I know, and myself.”
Florida Bluesman JJ Grey's Heads Home with 'This River'
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.”
Grey and his band Mofro begin a three-month tour of the U.S. and Europe in Lake Buena Vista, Florida on April 5. He says he loves to tour but nothing compares to the sights and sounds of home.
“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,” he said.
JJ Grey mini-documentary (2011)