JJ Grey & MOFRO: ‘At The End, Music Is Music’
Following many years interviewing musicians about their work, my recent conversation with JJ Grey stands out not only by the ease in which the give and take of a Q&A flowed but in the sense that this a person who has given and will continue to give much thought to his actions as a songwriter, recording artist, performer and human being. His material has endeared him to northern Floridians because the lyrics often supply regional touchstones. But Grey’s ambitions never stopped at being a hometown hero. His national tours and intense live performances have slowly brought around fans to his musical stew of Muscle Shoals soul with blues, funk and swamp rock. And Orange Blossoms, the fourth album by JJ Grey & MOFRO should add more to the fold.
Prior to my call to Grey, I find a news item on his website (www.jjgrey.com) that mentions the cancellation of a couple of appearances due to voice issues. It’s here that we start a discussion that leads to Grey explaining how his voice and sound has developed, the influences that run through his music and several tangents along the way.
JPG: How are you feeling? I read on your website that you blew out your voice and had to cancel shows.
JJ Grey: I had to cancel a mini-acoustic set thing, some record store stuff. I started catching a cold, I guess it was up in Wisconsin. It started grinding me down. Been on the road since late August. Normally not that big of a deal, but for some reason my voice wore out. But it’s fine now. I just needed a break.
The whole tour has been like shows at night and during the day I play a radio station, doing stuff by myself, playing a radio station, playing record stores. Just like several shows a day for me since August 28. I was just worn out. I couldn’t do it.
JPG: I was reading in an online article that you said you gained more control in how to use your voice without blowing it out. I was thinking, Uh-oh, maybe it’s time to see a vocal coach now.’
JJG: I’ve done that many times. I’ve lost my voice from pneumonia. I kept singing and blew all of it. Basically, my vocal cords were pretty swollen and messed up. The main problem was that I learned to sing, learned how to limp through it. Limping through it was making my voice worse. I could never get well. I went to a guy in Boston. He helped me over a period of time. He helped me get over all that. And another thing I had to learn was that you can do everything you can, but, in the end, know when to say, Uncle.’ In the past, I would never do that, I would just power through everything, blow through everything and then, Well, I’ll get better when I get home.’ Sometimes, it’s not the best thing in the world to do.
JPG: Is that just one of those things that not just with age comes wisdom but with age you realize that you can win some fights and some you just have to make peace with yourself?
JJG: I compare a year in the life of a touring musician, especially a singer, to a season of baseball. Even the greatest teams of all time can’t win every single game. But, you go out and do it the best you can. Go out and do what you can.
JPG: Do you have vocal exercises now that you do before shows?
JJG: I’m supposed to. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. I’ve got all that stuff to do. My problem is I always sing so much harder than I exercise. I’ve found that as long as I do those exercises beforehand and as long as I bullshit enough and run my mouth enough and told enough stories beforehand during the day, I’m usually pretty warmed up to go out and sing.
JPG: Listening from your debut, Blackwater, through to your latest, Orange Blossoms, there’s a progression to your voice into this cool rough soul sound. Is that just the way you learned to sing or have your vocal chords and years on the road turned into that?
JJG: I think it’s a little bit of both. The main part of it is that when I was 17/18 years old and starting as a singer, I prided myself in being able to sing really high and stay somewhat in chest voice, even if it was forced. I tried to make it so more people couldn’t tell it was forced. Stevie Wonder, who has a naturally higher-pitched voice than me, people like that were my heroes. Donnie Hathaway. I just wanted to sing high, high, high, high all the time. As I got older, I just didn’t care any more because those guys naturally sing where they sing and I don’t want to say unnaturally. I was always pushing myself to the top of my range and I listened back and I don’t feel like…my favorite singers are conversationalist, whether it’s Stevie Wonder…
I was listening last night to Aretha Franklin. Whether she’s singing the highest note she can hit or she’s singing right in the middle of her range, wherever, it sounds like she’s talking to you, conversational. No matter how explosive or technically difficult something is that she does it never sounds beyond conversation. And when I listen to myself when I was younger — I go back and listen to it occasionally — I can tell how hard I was trying. It feels like I’m trying to show off an ability or something back then, not so much with Blackwater. Blackwater, I was starting to lay up on it a lot. Dan [Prothero], the producer, had pushed me to lay up on some of it. He always told me it would be great if you could still push some of that range some of the time, but now come bring it back in and incorporate it where it’s more conversational.
It’s like a guitar player who can play blistering fast and won’t stop doing it. So, you know it and you get bored with it. And I would get bored listening to me when I was really young — push, push, push, sing high, sing high, show off. Here’s another high note, another one, another one and after awhile, you just don’t notice anything. It’s like you don’t notice anything at all. You don’t care anymore because I’m not singing to you, I’m singing at you. And I’m showing you how deeply committed I am to being able to sing high notes. As I got older that just fell away. You’ve got to lose your voice to find it. That’s kind of what happened to me, and then I learned how to back off. I learned how to sing and try to sing the lyrics, my own lyrics. They almost become secondary or not important compared to trying hitting pitches and doing runs and doing all those things. The best thing is think lyrics first and then the singing, it will just sing itself. Same thing with playing guitar or any instrument, if you think rhythm first and melody, then all that stuff just happens all by itself. You could look at it the opposite way as well, think melody and then rhythm will happen. But as long as you don’t try to do it all and you just let it happen, it’ll happen.
JPG: It’s like a roller coaster where there are peaks and valleys.
JJG: Right, exactly. I really got tired of hearing myself do that when I was young. Every song in the early stuff that I wrote I almost never stopped singing from start to finish. It was like a marathon with high notes, high notes, high notes, and loud, loud, loud. As time went on I learned, Wait a minute. Some of my favorite singers aren’t singing at half the volume I’m singing, but it sounds more powerful.’ And in fact, it is louder and powerful, but they’re not pushing half as hard as I am. So, you know, you learn all those things as you go along.
JPG: Examples I can think of — Otis Redding, in particular, his Monterey Pop performance of “Try A Little Tenderness" where the song just builds and builds and then explodes at the end and then there’s Robert Plant and even Chris Cornell who purposely used his end scream infrequently in order to give it more impact. Now, I wanted to bring up about Blackwater versus the new album. Even on your first record you see the direction of where you’re going, that Muscle Shoals vibe, soul and blues vibe in there, but it also sounds like this younger person’s energy in there whereas “Orange Blossoms” the songwriting and presentation has it’s own pace and becomes more musically richer.
JJG: In all honesty, Blackwater was meant to sound like Orange Blossoms. In fact, a song like “WYLF” (“What You’re Looking For”) [off Orange Blossoms, I wrote that long before Blackwater was recorded. In fact, tried to record that in a Blackwater session. It’s funny, sometimes, to hear people say, I see this new direction with "What You’re Looking For” It ain’t that new brother, I wrote the song in 1993.’ We recorded it on Blackwater with just Dan and we felt like it, not that it didn’t fit, just the take wasn’t right. “What You’re Looking For” is kind of a sister song to "Air” or "Lazy Fo Acre." That mid-tempo, chilled out kind of song.
But, at any rate I feel like if I listen to Blackwater, of course I was there from start to finish, I know how much Dan Prothero saved that record and saved that session. When he left I didn’t know that we even had a record. Don’t get me wrong, we recorded the tunes and all that, but I wasn’t sure of what we had. Singing-wise if I could go back in time, I would say I want to sing like I do on Orange Blossoms. I didn’t want to sound like I did on Blackwater. I sounded too young and girlish if you will, which would be fine if I was a young girl. Other people say, No, it doesn’t sound like that at all.’ And I know it doesn’t. That’s just an exaggeration of how it seems in my head. Even then, my heroes were Muddy Waters, Otis Redding, all these other people who…you’ve got to be half way born with a deeper voice. My voice is, it’s probably a little deeper now that I’ve gotten older. That’s for sure. That just happens.
I wanted strings, I wanted horns, everything on Blackwater, all of it, just couldn’t afford it. The nature of how that session went down is pretty crazy. Almost the entire first session had to be scrapped, which was a lot of money at a time when none of us had any money. I didn’t even know how to go about getting string players to play on it and horn players. That didn’t happen until Country Ghetto. I always wanted it. It’s always been a part of all the music I love. The other day, about the only really bad review I saw that really ranked on Orange Blossom was like I traded up the music of Tony Joe White for a more Memphis thing with horns and strings. I didn’t know what record he was talking about because every record by Tony Joe White I’ve ever heard has horns and strings. He was the biggest influence on me to have horns and strings. It’s so funny, that a guy from a major newspaper cites me leaving the Tony Joe White theme by incorporating the very thing that Tony Joe White influenced me to do. (laughs)
JPG: Maybe he heard one song somewhere and viewed as representing all of White’s work.
JJg: “Polk Salad Annie”’s got horns all over it. Most famous song he ever did. So, I don’t know. Everybody’s got their own set of ears. More to the point, everybody’s got their own record collection. I had a fan come up and say, ‘Hey man, you sound like one of my favorite singers, Peter Murphy, the singer for Bauhaus.’ I felt like I sounded nothing like him, but at the same time, I took it as a compliment cause it’s his favorite singer and that might be the closest, musically, he comes to what we do. He might not jump off into the swamp funk, r&b, blues, whole world of record collecting that I have in my life. And vice versa. I could meet someone tomorrow in a really bluesy death metal band and I could tell one of their fans, Hey man, I love it. It’s got that metal, but it’s got that Muddy Waters feel.’ (slight laugh) They say, No, it sounds more like Sepultura or an older metal band.’ It’s all relative to your record collection.
JPG: Now, I love that Muscle Shoals sound, that classic 60’s soul sound and I understand the idea of being a product of your record collection, but it makes me wonder. Other people may be into it as well, but it’s more of a niche thing when compared to modern r&b and its combination with the hip-hop, the Neptunes marching band rhythms. Are you stuck in a category because of it or with the internet and downloads things are more open?
JJG: For me, I would say it’s open. In my opinion, in my humble opinion, my arrogant opinion, everybody’s got both, humble and arrogant opinions. But in my opinion, it’s the best era of soul produced, not necessarily every recording. In other words, I know people that purposely make low-fi recordings so they sound like the 60’s. I don’t care about none of that shit. None of that stuff interests me at all; try to make a record sound, dead on the money like 1968. For me, it just so happens that in my opinion, the greatest era, as far as electronic connected to music, it was the greatest era that ever happened. And at some point technology took over everything. We now live our lives sitting in front of a square television thing. We live our lives vicariously through fictional people on a screen.
Do you know what I mean? Technology took over life. Certainly took over music and made it where people will say, Well, this is hip-hop.’ and I’d say, No, it’s a sample of the greatest era of music.’ 99.9% of the time the beats are straight loops off of records recorded in the 60’s and sometimes in the early 70’s and so on and so forth. I just say that hip-hop isn’t music. I love it, too. Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of hip-hop records that I love. I’m just using that as an example that technology becomes this thing where…you know a lot of people say. The sound you do is retro’ and I’m like, That’s Brady Bunch to me.’ A story’s a story. That’s what music is.
To me, what’s more retro than a piano? It’s one of the oldest keyboard instruments there are. So, if you’re playing the piano, like a honkytonk or upright they sound like now like they did in the 1800’s. So what could be more retro than a piano? Or what could be more retro than an acoustic guitar? They’ve been playing for hundreds of years. What could be more retro than bongos or conga drums that have been played for thousands of years? You know what I’m saying? Because you play an electric Wurlitzer 200A piano, they say, That’s retro.’ I say, No it’s not. It’s the greatest sounding electric piano made in this era when the greatest electric pianos were made from mechanical instruments period.’ The Hammond B-3 organ, all the organs and pianos that were made and the microphones that were made then and further back actually, back in the 50’s and 40’s. The pre-amps and tapes…and tape had its own effect on music. It makes it sound different. All these things equal in terms of actual tones and good sounds.
And musically, chord changes are chord changes. Somebody could say, The White Stripes are cutting edge.’ The White Stripes are playing the same blues chord progressions that have been played for God knows how long. They’re no different. The only difference is that they’ve got a LEGO video. Don’t get me wrong. I like Jack White and I like the White Stripes, and I would defend them to anybody. What I would say is that it’s like two people getting together and playing without a bass player. A guitar player and a drummer and they bang it out and play blues rock. And somebody says it’s new. But R.L. Burnside and all those North Mississippi dudes have been doing it forever.
So new and retro, none of that shit means anything to me because it’s not accurate. It’s not the truth. It has nothing to do with reality. It only has to do with the limitation of what somebody sees in front of ‘em. If they walk into a concert and they see two kids rockin’ the house. Great! The music’s great. One’s playing guitar and singing, the other’s playing drums and they go, Wow! That’s new!’ It’s new to them, but it ain’t new to Junior Kimbrough who’s now dead. It ain’t new to R.L., none of the older guys. It’s not new to any of them. It’s like reggae’s new. It ain’t new when it hit America. It wasn’t new to anybody in Jamaica. By the time Bob Marley broke here, hell he was dead. Long gone. And it’s like reggae music is a perfect blend of country & western chord changes, so to speak, and I hate to even get that genre specific — country & western and r&b, blues and soul and Gospel Music — which is all based on music from all across Europe and Africa and the rest of the world.
At the end, music is music. For me though, I do like those tones and I do like those sounds and I am heavily influenced by that era because I feel like I’m getting an honest take. And there’s people that come around right now to this day from Beck to when I saw and I wasn’t into metal at all Metallica playing on the “And Justice For All” tour. I got talked into going to the concert with somebody and I went. I was floored. It was one of the best things I ever saw. I felt like it was soul music. I felt like he meant it. He was diggin’ down deep. They were diggin’ down deep, throwin’ it at me and it’s the same way whether it’s George Jones singing “The Grand Tour" or whether it’s Roberta Flack singing “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” or whether it’s your man there that writes all those songs, “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” and all those tunes. Now that guy’s phenomenal. Burt Bacharach. They’re expressing a take there that they sold me on it. I believe in what I saw and heard and that was enough. I feel the same way about music in general cause I never know what I’m going to like. I could sit down and technically try to explain why I like it and then have somebody come along and technically explain why this other record is just the same way and I don’t like that one. And they say, Why don’t you like this one cause technically it’s just like this one?’ And then I have to say at that point, I don’t know.’ Just like which came first, the chicken or the egg? I don’t know.
JPG: You mentioned about people and seeing something new and how it grabs them. I guess it’s like what kind of icing do you put on a cake or how do you make a chocolate cake? Do you use an electric mixer or do you stir by hand? Little twists in the form that make something seem different. In your case, I saw you at Rothbury and All Good festivals last summer, and there seemed to be a fair amount of people who were familiar with you as well as others who received their first taste of JJ Grey & MOFRO. So, does the festival circuit work for you?
JJG: It’s wonderful. I don’t really have any bad memories of any shows. Usually with festivals, it doesn’t require that everybody there knows who you are, thankfully. If it did, we’d be in big trouble. The thing is when you go there and play…Usually at a place like Rothbury, these people have built up a level of excitement, especially when it’s mixed with people who don’t know who you are because we’re all guilty of laying expectations on different things, building the box for the world to fit in. not just music, but everything in the world. In other words, if I’m going to Rothbury, I’m going to see this band, tell my friends all about ‘em. They’re going to play this song. They’re going to do this and that and you get there and they don’t do that song, they play something different. They play a lot of new material that you don’t know. You’re still let down. You look over at your friends and they’re having the time of their lives because they’re like, Shit dude, I don’t have this level of expectation that you have brother. I haven’t seen ‘em. So I feel good about what they’re playing.’ And sometimes, we all need it cause I’m just as guilty as anybody of that kind of stuff. You look at em and you’re like, Wait a minute. Everyone else is going off and digging it. I’m not digging it because they didn’t start with this song or they didn’t play this song that I’ve been talking or…’ whatever it may be and then I look around and I say, Wait a minute. Everybody’s digging it. What’s wrong with just stopping for a second and asking yourself a question. Brings you out of the cycle of unnecessary expectation, and the next thing you know you’re having a great time. And that’s a great thing about playing to a lot of new people at a festival. That’s just one little tiny facet. Obviously the people, I look at a lot of the festivals, whether it’s Rothbury or All Good, this is a professional audience, whether they’ve seen you a million times or not, they are there to push you to another level. And they always do. And that’s always, always a good thing when the audience pushes you. They become part of the show, 100% official part of the show.
JPG: Now, did it help you doing those two festivals plus Mountain Jam and several other fests to set up the release of Orange Blossoms?
JJG: I think so. This was the first heavy duty every weekend we were playing a festival somewhere. It was mostly fly dates over the summer. The record came out the end of August. So, all summer long we’re playing these things and playing like maybe one maybe two songs max off the new record. But Alligator record’s done a great job. They really got the record out there. People got their copies early. I can say happily that this one, it was a little bit like that with Country Ghetto, but this is like unheard of… you go and sing and people sing the words to every song on Orange Blossoms, not just the single or the songs that we played in the past. They’re singing all the songs; stuff that we’ve never played in that town ever and they’re singing all the words. That was a great thing. That was all to setting things up early on by the record label and a testament to the fans that dig it. They get it. And they get it in a good way. They’re not half committed to music. They’re fully committed to listening to music and not just us. They’re listening to all kinds of records. They go to another person’s concert, it’s the same thing, a professional audience.
JPG: Going back and forth from Orange Blossoms to Blackwater, it seems that the new album is, lyrically and thematically, touching upon some of the same things but for lack of a better way of putting it, it’s less Florida-centric.
JJG: Like "She Don’t Know." It just wound up that way. To be honest with you, it touches on Florida probably as much as any of the albums. “Orange Blossoms” is a combination of two stories and my own stories. It doesn’t get much more Florida than orange blossoms. Even more cities and towns, “Ybor City,” a little small tiny town area in the middle of Tampa, Florida. "She Don’t Know, " I actually wrote that on the B.B. King tour in 2003 and played it way back when several times. I never did before Lochloosa came out. Like I said, “What You’re Looking For” was written before Blackwater came out. "On Fire" is as much about home in Florida. It’s all about an old saying my Dad said to me, the game of cat and mouse I witnessed and had been a party to here at home many times. If I go through each track, "Dew Drops" is a guy who was my best friend in school up until fifth grade and then he quit school in the fifth grade and moved away and his Dad was a drunk and beat him and they lived in a utility shed right down the street from my house. The song "The Truth" is about the car crash I was in on the Blackwater tour with my wife and she almost died. People think like “The Truth” is about women. They think the song "Circles" on “Country Ghetto” is about ladies. The song can be done like that, but the song, "Circles" is about the Barber-Mizelle feud in Orlando that I heard about as a kid. It was like the Hatfield/McCoy deal where you wake up, you’re born into this family, and you automatically have to hate somebody. Before you’ve even done a damn thing in this world, you’ve got to hate those other people. And then how do you break out of that? And it’s the same thing where men carry that baggage into that next relationship with a woman and get burnt and vice versa.
JPG: I almost feel like apologizing but…
JJG: No, no, no, sorry. What I should have, let me say this, what I should have said, don’t apologize at all. What I should say is “Ybor City” spells it all out. People think that’s a woman song, all about going and getting the woman and stuff. “Ybor City” is about a cowboy dying in shoot out on the Florida prairie, and he’s dreaming about going to Ybor City one more time. If you read the lyrics he’s been shot. He ain’t going to make it. He wants to go back one more time.
JPG: I was going to say that in some ways it’s no different than Chrissie Hynde commenting on her Akron hometown in “My City Was Gone.” Also, maybe I felt a bit primed in that way of looking at the lyrics due to reading other stories that focus on where you’re from and how that’s a part of your songs. Also, I remember a photographer friend, who’s from the South, and he seemed a little annoyed that the crowd didn’t react to a particular line a song because of its Floridian reference. Obviously, you can use moments in your life and the state’s history in a literal and figurative but I’m also wondering if this album came out sounding a more universal compared to past releases.
JJG: No. It wasn’t a purposeful thing. I will say this. If there would be one thought, I try not to think about anything when writing a tune. I try to disconnect myself somewhat from things. I don’t like, like nobody on this planet, I don’t like to be put in a box. You can’t control what other people think or say or do, and I have no illusions to try to do so, but the only thing that’s worse than other people putting you in a box is putting yourself in one and becoming a caricature because you think, Is this what other people want?’ And when somebody comes up and says, ‘Hey, you’re not singing about your roots.’ It’s because you don’t make the next song "I Love Duvall County” and just sing it over and over again. I ain’t about to do that.
I try not to think too much about what something is going to be. I definitely, occasionally, am influenced by what I don’t want it to be. I don’t want to be a weak, watered down caricature of myself, where every record I’m going to pick another place in Florida or South Georgia and sing about it. I’m going to let these songs write themselves. These stories tell themselves. And these stories on Orange Blossoms are 100% connected to home. I was just looking down the list here — “Higher You Climb,” that’s a song about a relative of mine, "Dew Drops,” I told you about. That’s my buddy whose daddy beat the shit out of him. “Ybor City” is in the middle of Tampa. I Believe (In Everything)" was a combination of Dave Gardner, comedian, preacher, jazz drummer guy from the 50’s, his philosophy and that car crash I was in and looking around. “On Fire,” singing about my dad. It’s not about my Dad. It’s about ladies in the club. It was kind of like the Old School take on that, more of a cultural reference here. “What You’re Looking For” is straight up, it’s plain. It’s exactly what it’s about. “The Truth” is a cross between "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," which I read in school and me facing the death of somebody I love very much and it was about to really happen. Thank God it didn’t in the end. And “The Devil You Know” was more of me singing to myself. How much I’m going to listen to that voice in my head that so often is wrong?
JPG: Just a couple more. I don’t want to kill your voice after all this conversation. In a past interview you discussed your view of success and you were realistic in your feelings, not wanting superstar success but satisfied in being able to do what you do and having it grow slowly. Although you made an attempt at recording back in ’94, MOFRO started releasing records in 2001. So, you weren’t someone in their late teens/early 20s doing this. You’ve had years working and, if you will, gaining wisdom and maturity, etc. Has starting later helped you mentally as you’re going through things now?
JJG: Yeah, cause I’ve been doing music a long time. I was a sideman, and happily so, for many years and many bands at home I sang in other people’s bands… you know, I’m the singer but the band is the name of the drummer. It’s his band, he put it together, he owns the equipment or whatever. There’s a bunch of reasons that goes on. And I was always happy, but I always saw, over and over again, things fall apart quietly. There’s always somebody at work that’s always concerned at what everyone is always making. Did he get a raise or did she get a raise?’ What’s going on over there? Anyway, I just had a lot of experience watching things fall apart. For whatever reason I went to Australia I think it was in ’92 or ’93 maybe it was ’94, early ’94, I can’t remember and I made up my mind when I got home after I went over there…I loved Australia so much I wanted to go back and I actually wanted to move there and me and my wife, of course we weren’t married at the time, but she was living there. I was like, The only thing that I’m good at, the one thing that I can do, I can sing and friends tell me I can halfway write a decent song. I’m just going to go home and get serious about it.’ And that’s when I came home and just focused all my energy on it. Said, I’m going to call what I do MOFRO’ and I started writing all the tunes. Asked Daryl [Hance] if wanted to jump in on it and he did and told him I’m going to England, and he’s like I’ll come over there, and he came for a while and he couldn’t stay forever but he came over and I played that and did different ensembles for… and MOFRO, God Almighty, it’s kind of hard to say what kind of band MOFRO is looking through my eyes because since ’98 in 10 years it’s been a plethora of different people for different reasons… I’m friends with everybody.
JPG: Why the change from a band name, MOFRO, to JJ Grey & MOFRO on Country Ghetto?
JJG: Dan told me I should just call it JJ Grey years ago when he signed me [on Fog City Records] and he’s like. You should call it your own name, it’s your own music. I put out a solo record by people that it’s not even their music man, and it’s really a band thing.’ I didn’t even have a band, no band at all, the demos of stuff I was doing at home. And Daryl’s always been a part of that as well. I’ve known Daryl forever. We’ve been playing together for a long time, but at any rate… I just could wake up one day and I’d say, What is MOFRO? What is this thing, you know?! It’s a name I made up…’ (laughs) It’s funny to me. It’s different things to different people. I had people come up to me and say, Why would you join a band that you’d have to put your name out in front of MOFRO” I didn’t just join it brother.’ (laughs)
At any rate it’s too personal. What I say is too personal when, with so many songs about so many things that hit me hard, water in my eyes every night about specific people about the strength of my grandmother and a conversation between her and my grandfather right as he died and I turn it into a song… not on purpose, I didn’t even know what the song was, the lyrics til later. It just came to me like, you’ve been wondering what the song was about. It’s conversation and that happens a lot. My grandmother says, Why don’t you have your own name on it or are you embarrassed? Are you embarrassed of me? Are you embarrassed of your grandfather?’ She didn’t mean it facetiously she was just curious. You only get to tell your story once. I’ve been telling my story with this MOFRO.
Honestly, I don’t do anything different than I ever did, I step out front automatically because I’m singing the song about my life and I’m singing and I’m in the front of the stage and I’m the boss. I pay all the bills and always have. I’ve hired everybody that plays with me. We all get together to form a partnership, write songs together and contribute equally; it’s never been like that. It’s never been that kind of deal. It’s always been, honestly, set up like Willie Nelson would do, or Johnny Cash would do. It’s just that I didn’t want to use my own name, I wanted to call it another name, and I thought people would understand that. And people get it, they get it, I don’t know, if they do, they do, if they don’t, they don’ t. There’s a million ways to make a livin’.
JPG: Before you were a musician, you were a surfer.
JJG: I worked in a lumberyard forever. All the guys I grew up with, we’d save up money and go surfing. That’s how I got to go on trips, not cause I was good enough at surfin’. Hell, I didn’t surf good enough to get 50 cents, less a trip right away. No. Everywhere that I got to go, I always took a surfboard. I love surfing.
JPG: Did you travel to different countries?
JJG: Oh yeah, yeah. I went to Costa Rica twice. I went to Australia once. I went over to Europe, England. It was the wildest thing going to a meeting of the London Surf Club, where they all get together, ride together, to go to Cornwall and Devon to surf. I was over there for a year and a half, so I wanted to surf. Surf’s up on the West Coast. Surf on the East Coast. Stuff like that. It was always like save up the money all year, three or four dudes get together and go.
JPG: I’ve been on the Atlantic and Gulf sides of Florida, but I never saw any major waves. How high are the waves for you at Jacksonville Beach? Does it prepare you for other parts of the world?
JJG: No, it won’t prepare you for triple overhead [wave], waves in Hawaii or big huge, huge waves off of Costa Rica that we got popped by one time when we were down there. The waves, they get big enough, you know hurricane swells. They can get double overhead here when they get real big.
JPG: When I hear hurricane swell, were you one of those people who when a hurricane is coming the TV news crews show someone surfing while the rest of the people in the city are leaving town?
JJG: Not me. I’ll surf swell up to a point. Here in Florida, you’ve got to paddle out to everything you surf through. You’re gonna take a beating when you paddle out to where the point breaks. Point breaks in different other parts of the world, you could paddle out and never get your hair wet and then turn the corner and drop in on a humungous wave, as well as paddle out into the channel. Here in Florida if the beach breaks, you’re going to have to go through whatever you surf. It gets big enough to a point where I’m like I’m just not taking that pounding. I surf hurricane swells all the time, but usually the hurricane swells are good here for me and my buddies when the hurricane is like a thousand miles offshore. It’s not affecting the local weather, blue skies and these nice big swells are coming in. I was in Montauk, Long Island a month back and the waves were massive. It was like Hawaii big. It was like 12-foot swell. Huge. I had access to a wet suit and board, but man, I’m not in the shape to paddle into this maelstrom. I mean it’s just gnarly to get out cause the water was cold, the water was like 52 degrees, and I wasn’t in shape. If that answers it. I’ll surf within reason. I definitely felt peer pressure when I was younger to force myself… if someone else was out I would go out. Now, I don’t care if there’s a gig, I ain’t goin’. Let them have at it.