Grey embraces a life he never dreamed of

Friday, March 4, 2011 11:25
Posted in category In the News, Upcoming Shows

JJ Grey has ridden to a fairly prominent place in the blues and rock pantheons with his band Mofro. And if the band’s name has been formally changed to JJ Grey & Mofro, he’s still part of a band.

And yet here he is on tour as a solo act (playing Saturday at Anthology in San Diego) —- not because the band no longer works for him, but (to hear him explain it) simply as another expression of his music.

“With an acoustic show, it’s more singing and lyrics. It’s just natural,” Grey said by cell phone last month from a hardware store near his north Florida home, outside Jacksonville. “Having the full band is fun, too. It’s just different —- I don’t know how to put my finger on it, I just feel compelled to do it.

“It’s more of a sitting down on the front porch thing. … It’s like having a little barbecue with a few friends over, and the other is like a big blow-out party.”

Grey spoke while shopping for a nail gun so he could finish rebuilding the pumphouse on his grandparents’ farm, where he’s also building a new recording studio.

“I’m still finishing up my home studio, and the studio shares power with my pumphouse —- and I’ve got to finish my pumphouse!” he said. “All my recording gear is just sitting there collecting dust.”

The studio is going into an old cinder-block-refrigerated building his grandparents used to store fertilized chicken eggs before shipping them off to other farmers.

“I tore the roof off, a friend of mine framed a new roof on, and framed the front in. I can’t sheet-rock worth a crap, but I’ve done the rest. I just got done wiring.”

Grey said he can’t imagine moving away from his roots. He spent much of his childhood on the farm he now calls home, while his parents still live in the house he grew up in —- just eight miles away.

And if that doesn’t sound like the lifestyle of a blues or rock musician, well, Grey said he gave up on the stereotypical “rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle” years ago.

“Nothing turned out like I dreamed it would —- and, in fact, it’s way better.

“What I thought would happen, back when I was young and daydreamed about stuff like that, I thought you’ll get signed, get the record deal, and then your problems are all over!

“None of that ever happened, at least in that way. Thank God, really. It’s just the way it is.”

Still, as a working musician with five albums out on the respected label Alligator Records and a regular touring schedule thanks to a sizable base among both blues and roots-rocks fans, Grey is able to earn a living through his music —- something he said he appreciates.

“With Alligator, one of the keys is there has to be some sort of passion. (Founder and president) Bruce (Iglauer) doesn’t strike me as a person who signs someone because he thinks he can make a bunch of money off them.

“There is no such thing as a sure thing, so at the end of the day Bruce just follows his gut, follows his passion. When you do that, you’re going to do a lot better than somebody who’s following their mind.”

“At the deepest level, there’s got to be something instinctual, some intuition.

“Your intuition will lead a lot further in life than what you think will.”

Grey said the collapse of the major labels is forcing younger musicians to actually live for their music, rather than far-off dreams.

“Worrying about winning a record deal is like worrying about winning the lottery. You’ll never go get involved in life, you’ll never get anything done, you’ll just sit on the sofa.”

JJ Grey

When: 7:30 p.m. March 5

Where: Anthology, 1337 India St., San Diego

Tickets: $22

Info: 619-595-0300