Outside the Lines: JJ Grey & Mofro

By: Dallas Terry


Current Location: Florida

Most Recent Release: This River (2013) – Alligator Records

For Fans of: Uncle Lucius, Paul Thorn, Josh Weathers


For those of you who have been following the “Outside the Lines” column this summer, you may have noticed a common thread in my musical taste: soul. I can truthfully claim that there is not a band on the road today that has more soul than JJ Grey and his band Mofro. That’s right, I said it. Although there has been some recent popularity for soul-based musicians in the Texas/Red-Dirt/Americana community such as Uncle Lucius and Josh Weathers, some acts have been overlooked due to their geographic location and/or genre misplacement. JJ Grey & Mofro is one of these bands.

Just like Oklahoma created the label “Red-Dirt” for their regionally unique music, JJ Grey has created a sound so deeply rooted in his rural Florida swamp surroundings that it probably deserves a genre name of its own. Although they have been signed to Alligator Records (a famous blues label based out of Chicago) since 2007, the band’s music leans more towards the sounds of Muscle Shoals rather than Chicago blues; think Stinky Fingers-era Rolling Stones mixed with some Wilson Pickett and The Band. When asked about it, JJ Grey simply refers to his sound as “Front Porch Soul.”

As many Texas music fans know, very few artists signed to record deals are ever awarded complete creative control over their records. JJ Grey is one of the only artists on Alligator Records’ roster that is awarded this freedom. Grey is one of the hardest working musicians around. In the studio, he plays guitar, harmonica, bass, drums, horns, and even sings his own backup vocals in order to get the arrangements tight before the band joins him. Did I mention that Grey is also an unbelievable songwriter? He does everything except draw his own album artwork… Oh wait, he does that too.

This, however, does not take away from the unique artistic talent and musical abilities of each of the members of Mofro. Texas’ own Andrew Trube lights up the stage with his roadhouse-style of electric guitar, slide guitar, and lapsteel. Trube’s partner-in-crime, Anthony Farrell, plays organ and keys like a madman, contributing to the swampy, humid sound of the band. The other Anthony in the band, Anthony Cole, keeps a backbeat not unlike Levon Helm himself, singing backup vocals as well. Bass player Todd Smallie won a Grammy with the Derek Trucks Band before joining Mofro after the band dismembered. Lastly, the two-piece horn section of trumpet player Dennis Marion and saxophone player Art Edmaiston keep things spicy with their jazz flavored tones, choreographed dance moves, and frequest brass battles.

Furthermore, during their live performances JJ Grey & Mofro is a cohesive masterpiece. The band has more chemistry than Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin in their prime. Their free-form jam-based live shows often yield surprising twists and turns, call-and-response style solos, and completely improvised full-band jams. Grey himself will often carry the improvisation with his excellent harmonica and/or guitar playing. Their live setlists are just as eclectic as their albums, often going from 10-minute full band jams to solo acoustic guitar ballads to fiery Swamp-rock shuffles.

JJ Grey & Mofro’s studio recordings have always been fantastic, although the band has definitely improved their output since joining Alligator Records in ’07. When approaching the band’s music, 2010’s Georgia Warhorse is a perfect place to start, as it showcases all of the band’s many talents while still creating a consistent and cohesive sound. Brighter Days, a live album, is a must have for any live music fan; the accompanying live DVD/documentary is just as interesting as the CD. The band’s latest album, This River, was released in April of this year to much critical acclaim. The album is by far the most reflective of their full-band live sound to date.

JJ Grey’s voice is the embodiment of Southern soul. For any fan of Southern music, live music, and music from the heart and soul, JJ Grey & Mofro is everything one could ask for and then some.

Songs to check out: “Lochloosa,” “Georgia Warhorse,” “King Hummingbird,” “This River”

Dallas Terry

Born and raised in STL. English major. I do the columns "Outside the Lines" and "Dallas in the Midwest." Sometimes I convince artists who are way out of my league to let me interview them. I dig music.

45 thoughts on “Outside the Lines: JJ Grey & Mofro

  • July 18, 2013 at 11:20 am

    Dallas, the most talented guy on the Alligator Records label is Anders Osborne. If you haven’t listened to him yet, I highly recommend you do.

  • July 18, 2013 at 1:30 pm

    Alligator Records has many talented artists. Anders Osborne is one of them. Although, I enjoy his live shows much more than his albums. His albums have picked up a lot of steam though since he joined Alligator. I really dig Black Eye Galaxy. I’m glad he put out that acoustic-based EP, I actually like him best with just an acoustic. Wish that EP would’ve been a bit longer.

  • July 18, 2013 at 9:06 pm

    Great band with great sounds. Highly recommend listening to it. You are gonna love it.

  • July 19, 2013 at 10:58 am

    Dubbya86 They are both remarkable, 2 different styles yet the outcome is the same. Found them both this year, one by a suggestion of a friend and the other by chance. To compare the styles would compromise the message they deliver. Both get equal playing time daily. Have barely listened to other artists since.

  • July 20, 2013 at 6:36 pm

    Very random question for anyone who has an answer. Is Paul Eason still on the music scene? Loved his last album five years ago and haven’t heard about him since. His website doesn’t look like it’s been updated either.

  • July 22, 2013 at 11:43 am

    I am so impressed with the songs you recommended. King Hummingbird is one of my favorite songs by JJ Grey & Mofro. I have so many, but I listen to that one the most when I am alone in the car and need a quiet moment.

  • July 22, 2013 at 12:57 pm

    Being from Jacksonville, I became aware of Mofro early on and have been a fan of theirs for many years, but I wouldn’t say that I am truly a Blues fan. That said, let me recommend taking a listen to Alligator Records 40th Anniversary Collection. Although there are artists on it that I’m not familiar with, I can’t stop listening to it. It, and my Mofro collection, are going to wear out my CD players.

  • July 22, 2013 at 1:56 pm

    I am a new JJ Grey fan…I was visiting my nephew and over heard a song on his stereo, it was Circles by JJ..I was a fan from that ve’ry moment. I found myself traveling to Nashville to catch his show, one of the best shows I have seen in my life. I have been to many. Agree with you totally, this man is the picture of “Soul” I am a fan of all his Cd’s. I have heard them all. Counting the days down to see him once again in Black Mountain NC.

  • July 22, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    I am also a new fan of JJ Grey. I was working in my shop and had Pandora hooked up playing music from the genra of The Black Keys when Gal Youngin played. I stopped what I was doing and looked to see who it was. I’ve been a fan ever since. I’ve introduced JJ’s music to my friends. I’m counting down the days to see him in Dallas this October!

  • July 22, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    Paul Eason is still playing, saw him here in Austin a couple weeks ago at a song swap with Ryan Beaver. He wrote “That’s how I’m going out” that Rosehill recorded recently, but he didn’t mention a new album coming out anytime soon.

  • July 22, 2013 at 5:31 pm

    I have made a commitment to spread the word of this amazing group and its depth defying soul! I have never heard a music group that has touched me so deep… stretching beyond the classical artists that made way and influenced musicians today. JJ goes above and beyond for me. I make it a point every opportunity to tell others of his amazing ability to… ” get me in the getter” and he does grab your soul! Thank you for your contribution to music! Love them can’t wait till they are back in RVA

  • July 23, 2013 at 5:26 pm

    I first heard of JJ Grey & Mofro when I lived in Tampa! They used to play at Skippers a lot and were pretty good. It’s just recently that they’ve really started to make waves though. Great for them! I’m glad others are getting to see them

  • July 24, 2013 at 6:54 am

    Recently went to see JJ Grey and Mofro in Sheffield UK, they are as good as any band I have seen in 50 years of gig going, started going to see bands in 1961 age 13, seen most of the greats (in my opinion) these guys are as good as it gets

  • July 25, 2013 at 10:47 am

    Saw JJ at Red Rocks Father’s Day weekend with Grace Potter and Tedeschi Trucks. JJ opened up the show after a delay for a short rain shower. Set was shortened, wish they could have played more. Fantastic as always!

  • July 25, 2013 at 10:42 pm

    JJ Grey and Mofro are a staple in our home. Our son plays it in the basement and the wonderful music fills the house. You picked a superb musical talent to highlight in your column.

  • August 5, 2013 at 8:44 am

    I am with you Mark. Mofro needs to headline RR.I was hoping for a much longer set.

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