Music: Mmm ... Mo' Mofro, Please

Git yer deep-fried-Southern-soul Swamp/Funk here!

John "JJ" Grey's Florida-swampland roots inspire and inform every nuance of Mofro's self-described "front-porch Soul" music.



"He lived by hisself in the swamp and hunted alligator for a living"

— from "Amos Moses" by Jerry Reed, original Swamp Funk stylist

He doesn't hunt alligator for a living, but John 'JJ' Grey resides now and forever more in the backwoods of northern Florida's blackwater swampland.

Born and raised there on his grandparents' 20-acre farm, JJ's roots were firmly planted and well nourished amid Mother Nature and her glory — gators, wild hogs, rattlesnakes and bullfrogs, to name a few.

JJ and Daryl Hance got together when the Hance family moved back to their northern Florida origins from Atlanta. Not only did this modern day Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn share fishin' trips to nearby Lake Lochloosa and Lake Orange, they both held a natural passion for music. With JJ's blue Soul and Daryl's classic Funk came the foundation of Mofro.

Mofro was "born" out of London.

Right ... two guys from SwampLand USA craft a band in London, even drawing from France and Australia? There's a story there — must be a Southern thing.

When a U.K. record label deal didn't pan out for their earlier outfit, Alma Zuma, they remained determined, writing and recording new material in London. Splittin' the grit between JJ on vocals/guitar/harmonica and Daryl on slide guitar/dobro, they slapped on the Mofro tag and put out a call for help. To the rescue came bassist Fabrice "FabGrease" Quentin from France and Aussie Nathan Shepherd on keys/sax.

Mofro played throughout England, catching the eye of several major labels. JJ wasn't necessarily impressed by their approach.

"(They) were talking about remixing something that hadn't even been recorded or mixed. It didn't even exist," he says. "And I knew then. Thank you, but no thank you. If you want to turn it into ear candy like all that other chicken-shit crap you put on the radio, I'll just sit down here and work at the lumberyard instead."

After sending demos out to a few independent U.S. labels, Mofro signed on with producer Dan Prothero's Fog City Records. Cook up some cracklin' ho cakes, cuz Mofro's coming home!

Dan agreed on flying Fabrice and Nathan over to record Blackwater. And what do you get when you mix a Frenchman, an Aussie, two Southern crackers, drummer George Sluppick (out of Memphis) and Robert Walter (known for his band, 20th Congress) on clavinet/electric piano?

According to the band's Web site (mofro.net), it's "Front-porch Soul ... cheap-ass Funk straight off the front porch." Others have used a multitude of terms to describe it — soulful, smooth, sultry, raw, rootsy, bluesy, greasy, gospely, gritty, funky, flavorful, hypnotic and ambient.

Hot damn, now c'mon! Not too many albums out there can hold all that. But JJ and Daryl did start out stewing over the influences of Otis, Stevie, Skynyrd, Muddy, Aretha, Curtis and Jerry Clower.

Blackwater hit No.2 on

John "JJ" Grey's Florida-swampland roots inspire and inform every nuance of Mofro's self-described "front-porch Soul" music.



"He lived by hisself in the swamp and hunted alligator for a living"

— from "Amos Moses" by Jerry Reed, original Swamp Funk stylist

He doesn't hunt alligator for a living, but John 'JJ' Grey resides now and forever more in the backwoods of northern Florida's blackwater swampland.

Born and raised there on his grandparents' 20-acre farm, JJ's roots were firmly planted and well nourished amid Mother Nature and her glory — gators, wild hogs, rattlesnakes and bullfrogs, to name a few.

JJ and Daryl Hance got together when the Hance family moved back to their northern Florida origins from Atlanta. Not only did this modern day Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn share fishin' trips to nearby Lake Lochloosa and Lake Orange, they both held a natural passion for music. With JJ's blue Soul and Daryl's classic Funk came the foundation of Mofro.

Mofro was "born" out of London.

Right ... two guys from SwampLand USA craft a band in London, even drawing from France and Australia? There's a story there — must be a Southern thing.

When a U.K. record label deal didn't pan out for their earlier outfit, Alma Zuma, they remained determined, writing and recording new material in London. Splittin' the grit between JJ on vocals/guitar/harmonica and Daryl on slide guitar/dobro, they slapped on the Mofro tag and put out a call for help. To the rescue came bassist Fabrice "FabGrease" Quentin from France and Aussie Nathan Shepherd on keys/sax.

Mofro played throughout England, catching the eye of several major labels. JJ wasn't necessarily impressed by their approach.

"(They) were talking about remixing something that hadn't even been recorded or mixed. It didn't even exist," he says. "And I knew then. Thank you, but no thank you. If you want to turn it into ear candy like all that other chicken-shit crap you put on the radio, I'll just sit down here and work at the lumberyard instead."

After sending demos out to a few independent U.S. labels, Mofro signed on with producer Dan Prothero's Fog City Records. Cook up some cracklin' ho cakes, cuz Mofro's coming home!

Dan agreed on flying Fabrice and Nathan over to record Blackwater. And what do you get when you mix a Frenchman, an Aussie, two Southern crackers, drummer George Sluppick (out of Memphis) and Robert Walter (known for his band, 20th Congress) on clavinet/electric piano?

According to the band's Web site (mofro.net), it's "Front-porch Soul ... cheap-ass Funk straight off the front porch." Others have used a multitude of terms to describe it — soulful, smooth, sultry, raw, rootsy, bluesy, greasy, gospely, gritty, funky, flavorful, hypnotic and ambient.

Hot damn, now c'mon! Not too many albums out there can hold all that. But JJ and Daryl did start out stewing over the influences of Otis, Stevie, Skynyrd, Muddy, Aretha, Curtis and Jerry Clower.

Blackwater hit No.2 on amazon.com's bestseller list, subsequently ranking among Amazon's Top 10 R&B CDs of 2001. Mofro earned a guest spot on NPR's Morning Edition. And Jeff Corwin of Animal Planet's Jeff Corwin Experience came to film in JJ's side swampyard. And, for what it's worth, Mofro got their "15 minutes of fame" on MTV's You Hear It First.

Let the accolades roll on.

They've performed Jazz Fest and Bonnaroo, and even hit our own local Camp Buzz. They've played with the likes of Jeff Beck, Ben Harper, Taj Mahal, Susan Tedeschi, Robert Randolph and BB King.

"Nobody can play one note on a guitar, and you know who it is," says JJ of BB. "But he can."

As if one legend wasn't enough, JJ caught a second stroke of luck and met Bill Withers on that tour. He was reminded of a life lesson easier forgotten.

"(Withers) put it into perspective: "You can't do it all — no matter how much you think you can, you can't. You might as well get used to that.'"

Withers struck a chord.

"You can't manage yourself, book your gigs, fix the RV, drive all night, sell stuff, work offstage ... and that's what was grinding me into the dirt," JJ says. "It's rough touring; it's rough for everybody. I've worked putting in AC in 140-degree attics all day long, and I swear that's easier than touring."

So what is Mofro? A distinctive duo dedicated to their "labor of love," built as much from their geographical connection as their musical ones. JJ rises from the notion that we are all "shaped, molded and made by the land around us."

"If one day my grandmother, a full-blown south Georgia cracka, could pick up a guitar and play the Blues, she'd sound like Muddy Waters," he says. "If she could play Bluegrass, she'd sound like Ralph Stanley. Without trying. That's just the way it is; the land ultimately dictates the language, the culture."

What's to expect from Mofro's upcoming sophomore album, Lochloosa, which will star as Swampland Records debut release this June?

"I think it's a clearer picture, clearer statement," JJ says. "Not that Blackwater wasn't. Blackwater needed the next record to be a certain way ... but you couldn't really force it. It's the perfect way to carry on the conversation, tell the story as best you can. And I don't know how long a person can tell a story. We'll see."

Native Floridian and legendary storyteller/Folk singer Gamble Rogers once said, "You cast a song or story like you cast a spell, and an artist is able to cast an aura of enchantment around it." JJ Grey casts that enchantment surrounding the stories and songs of his life.



MOFRO plays with the North Mississippi All Stars on Saturday at the Southgate House.

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