Songwriter maintains plenty of soul

JJ Grey & Mofro
JJ Grey & Mofro

If there’s an artist who wears his region on his sleeve, it’s Floridian born-and bred guitarist and songwriter JJ Grey who is playing at the Greystones on Wednesday.

His southern-fried soul is drenched with swampy riffs, baking-hot melodies and lyrics that reflect the clapboard-cladded context of his upbringing.

“There were some real characters around when I was a kid,” he says. “They would tell stories and entertain us and my family have been living in Florida for generations - we’re not one of the Florida ‘transplants’. The more you move in from the east coast in Florida the more of the real Florida you get to see and these places - including Jacksonville - have a real southern flavour.”

But in order for these characters to become characters, they need to have space to ‘grow’, according to the singer songwriter.

And JJ Grey himself believes he was given sufficient ‘room’ as a child growing up. “Sometimes that room can be physical in having lots of actual space but the real ‘room’ is when people allow you to be who you are without questions.”

The permeance of real-life characters in his life, combined with a passion for soul informs JJ Grey’s sound. “I am influenced by soul artists like Otis Redding, Bill Withers and Jerry Reed but also Toots & The Maytals and southern rock like the Allman Brothers.”

But when it comes to songwriting, Grey acts more like a conduit to a higher force. “Songs just seem to happen by themselves,” he says. “I don’t really give it much thought.”

Grey has been writing songs in this way for a decade. His latest release and his sixth studio album is called This River. It’s named after the St John’s river that runs through the heart of his hometown of Jacksonville.

The album was recorded as if it were a live concert. “We were all in one room playing together, it gives it a really nice sound.”