by LIZA MITCHELL
JJ Grey is always happy to be off the road and home with his family during the holidays, but he has a little something extra to look forward to this year. Grey and Mofro will ring in the New Year with the Allman Brothers at the Florida Theatre. Mofro originally planned to host a solo show, but Grey jumped at the chance to split the bill with true southern rock royalty, the Allman Brothers. “We had our show held for New Year’s Eve. The Allman Brothers camp challenged the hold and wanted us to confirm or not because they wanted the room,” says Grey. “We said ‘let’s just do the show together’.” If Gregg Allman wants to share a venue in your hometown on New Year’s Eve, you say yes. End of story.
“I’m always home during Christmas. I usually don’t play at all during that time frame,” he says. “I am off until New Years Eve. We’ve got a little run in South Carolina, then we will [come] back home to do the Florida Theatre show.”
Grey says he was a bit of a “Johnny Come Lately” when it came to the Allman’s Anthology. He knew the popular songs like ‘Whipping Post’ and ‘Melissa,’ but he discovered the treasures that are buried within the lesser known tracks. “Of course, I know all of the staple tunes that were on the radio when I was coming up, but I got hip to them more recently in the last five or 10 years or so. I started checking out more and more tracks and digging through crates to come up with different cuts.” Grey has made his career of digging deeper to unlock forgotten wisdom of the past, and his music speaks those truths out loud.
Grey is unflinchingly proud of where he comes from. His stories reflect his love for his home and the lessons he learned growing up in Maxville, just outside of Jacksonville. Grey struggles to recall a favorite holiday memory, but that’s not to say they weren’t plentiful. They just bleed together in one seamless loop, with scents and images rippling throughout a shimmery, childhood landscape. “I can’t clue in one one. There are so many,” he says. “As an adult it’s hard to remember one particular thing. I never know what is going to trigger something.”
“I remember opening one set of presents on Christmas Eve and another set on Christmas Day. I remember running barefoot everywhere, even through stickers. I remember that nobody “bought” shorts. You just took your britches and cut them off. I remember the ocean. I still go to the beach constantly,” Grey says. “This is my favorite time of year. The water is still warm, and the waves get better. It just starts to get cold, and I love that until Christmas, but by January 1, I’m ready for it to get warm again.”
Stories passed down by his grandmother about “how things were back in the day” lead to the Mofro song ‘Santa Claus, True Love and Freedom.’ Grey said he took the bones of those stories and built a song based on their ideals and the strength of “someone going against the grain and not doing what everyone thinks they should do.” On Mofro’s most recent release, This River, Grey looked no further than his own backyard for inspiration.
“The whole album was fun to make. It’s going great and really picking up,” he says. “The tour is going to be insane. It’s going to be really fun to go out and play these songs for people.” Grey and Mofro will hit the road again in February or early March in support of the new album, which is available in stores and on iTunes and Amazon. He is also planning a special performance at the Suwannee Springfest next year with a few good friends sitting in and covering each other’s songs.
But right now, Grey is ready to dip his feet into the chilly Atlantic waters and spend time with family opening presents, enjoying some down home cooking and breathing in the things that let him know he’s home: his grandma’s hoe cakes, the smell of orange blossoms, the beauty of the St. Johns River. These are the memories that he carries with him wherever he goes and the touchstones that always lead him back to where he came from. “I’m pretty much happy. I’m content that I get to keep living the dream, doing what I do,” he says. “I’m just happy to be here.”
JJ Grey – Holidays, New Tracks, Grandma & the Surf
by LIZA MITCHELL