The sound of the blues has expanded over the years. J.J. Grey & Mofro not only play blues, but folk, roots, a little country and even some rock (stop singing that old variety show ditty). On his latest album Orange Blossoms (Alligator), the album starts with the title track and “The Devil You Know,” throwbacks from the classic ’70s rock era. There’s also some blues (“Ybor City”) and soul (“Everything Good Is Bad”) and what was already mentioned.
“I don’t think about writing this type or that type of song. I approach the writing, arranging and recording just like any other record. I don’t think about it too much. I might think of the tempo, the dynamics and the intensity of it,” Grey said.
Orange Blossoms was released by Chicago-based Alligator Records, his second with the label (Country Ghetto was released last year). The label also re-issued previous albums Lochloosa and Blackwater.
“Orange is a little more up [compared to Ghetto. The mood is a little lighter. Country Ghetto was a little more angst. This is looser and I think Blackwater is closer to Orange Blossom. [Producer] Dan [Prothero] always did a great job,” he said.
Grey said he’s never felt pressure by the label to go in any musical direction. “[Alligator Records president] Bruce Iglauer told me, ‘If it ain’t broke, I ain’t gonna fix it. It’s great. Here’s some money. Go make a record. When you’re done, let us put it out and get to work.’ He’s been great like that. We talk about track order, but we meet a general agreement pretty quick. Bruce would say, ‘You don’t need my help,’ but I would love to produce a record with Bruce,” he said.
Orange Blossoms was co-produced by Grey, but the process starts at his home studio.
“By the time we get in the recording studio, I’ve recorded the album three times at my home. I got a small studio at home; I get in and play all the parts. I did it three times to hone everything down. To get it right. Then I put it on CDs and give to the other musicians. I try to hold up on the CDs until the last minute so there can be some spontaneity from the musicians,” Grey says.
While Grey enjoyed producing and would love to produce some other artists’ work someday, he still enjoys working with producer Prothero.
“Dan finds a way of getting the songs sicker, nastier and better. He’ll find some crazy instrument that he wants to add to the album like an electric sitar. The sitar wound up on the song ‘Movin’ On,’” he said.
Grey’s broad palette and knowledge of various music styles helps him to fit into a wide range of venues and festivals.
“It’s great to see people from all walks of life at my shows. I’m heavily influenced by Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Son House. I love listening to Toots and the Maytals, Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, Jerry Reed a lot. Oh, man, Jerry Reed. He’s my biggest all around influence. I dream of playing guitar one-hundredth as good as he could,” he said.
(Interviewer and interviewee geek out about Jerry Reed’s music and his performance in the film Gator for five minutes. And we’re back …)
Grey is looking forward to communicating in all sorts of ways with Indianapolis at his two shows.
“Music is a conversation. People have been carrying on conversations as long as people have been around. Just be honest with people and with who you are,” he said.