From the days of playing greasy local juke joints to headlining major festivals, JJ Grey remains an unfettered, blissful performer, singing with a blue-collared spirit over the bone-deep grooves of his compositions. His presence before an audience is something startling and immediate, at times a funk rave-up, other times sort of a mass absolution for the mortal weaknesses that make him and his audience human. When you see JJ Grey and his band Mofro live, the man is fearless. On stage, Grey delivers his songs with compassion and relentless honesty. Grey and his current Mofro lineup offer grace and groove in equal measure.
As a boy, Grey was drawn to country-rockers, including Jerry Reed, and to Otis Redding and the other luminaries of Memphis soul; Run-D.M.C., meanwhile, played on repeat in the parking lot of his high school (note the hip-hop inflections on “A Night to Remember”). Merging these traditions, and working with a blue-collar ethic that brooked no bullshit, Grey began touring with Mofro in the late ’90s. They performed backbeats that crossed Steve Cropper with George Clinton and boosted a lyrical directness that made his debut LP Blackwater (2001) a calling card among roots-rock aficionados. Soon, he was expanding his tours beyond America and the U.K., playing ever-larger clubs and eventually massive festivals, as his fan base grew from a modest group of loyal initiates into something resembling a national coalition.