JJ Grey: Florida Warhouse
JPG: Back to the album. Its title, Georgia Warhorse, references a resilient southern grasshopper but it could also describe you. Do feel like a Georgia Warhorse?
JJG: Well, I wish. I mean I see those attributes— the calm, the toughness, the tenacity – I see all that in my grandmother and my father and other family members, my grandfather on my mom’s side as well. I guess I aspire to, maybe, one day get there. Who knows if I will? That’s something to strive towards. Honestly, the only way you can do it is to not strive towards it.
JPG: As far as tenacity, you have been doing this for years and years. So, maybe you’re just being too modest to acknowledge.
JJG: It’s just unfolding in front of me. I just sort of lived it. I just don’t think about it too much. In retrospect none of it seemed hard now. At the time there were times when I was like, ‘Omigod, one hour of sleep and three hours a night…’ And I was tour manager, booking agent, manager, driver and all the different things. Then, I’d come home and go straight to the lumber yard and go to work to pay the guys that were playing with me because I wasn’t making any money out there on the road. So, I’d have to go to work and pay them and support my family. That was tough, but it was never really that bad. It was always fun. Life has been pretty much fun. I just take it one day at a time.
JPG: Going through your whole catalog, there’s been a consistency in your music, whether it’s a Muscle Shoals feel, Memphis Soul feel, bluesy feel. Has that been a conscious choice in terms of how you want to present it?
JJG: I don’t really think about it. It’s hard to describe. I don’t really… Definitely, all those things influence me, majorly. They’re all a big part of it. At the time I did think about it and when I thought about it, it felt contrived at times and it felt stoic, forced to me. But, I just try to let it all unfold, unravel. You know what I mean? Right in front of me. I don’t even think about it.
JPG: Do you think the idea of working with producer Dan Prothero and recording at Retrophonics presents a kind of consistency that allows you to not think about things? You’re in a safe place, a familiar place.
JJG: Definitely. By the time we hit the studio I’ve already recorded the whole record at home, maybe a couple of times, and then I do it once and then I always do it at least twice just that I can make sure that I don’t have demo-itis, like some little thing happened and that’s what I’m keying on and not the tune. But by the time we hit the studio I trust that Dan’s going to get the sound, get the tone, that the arrangements are already done. Whoever’s going to play on the record they just learn. I come in and I either play it for them right there on the spot or I send them the CD in advance and they learn the tune and we just come in and jam. And they come in and play it. Funny enough, the record sounds really live. They all have and none of them are, really. But that’s because of the nature of that studio. It’s the only studio I’ve recorded in. It is a huge part and Dan is a HUGE, HUGE part of how this whole thing developed.
JPG: Overall, it sounds pretty self-contained so how did the idea of bringing in Toots Hibbert and Derek Trucks for guest spots. Derek, I think you know him because both of you live in North Florida…
JJG: Toots has always been one of my favorite singers. Him and Otis Redding. To me, he’s the best soul singer alive. I’ve listened to him for years and years. And we just met one time. I don’t go out of my way to bother people who are legends and stuff like that. I mean, I was like, ‘He’s got enough on his plate.’ His manager was actually there and he was like — I guess, my manager told him I was a big fan – ‘Come say hey. Toots wants to say hey to you.’ We just hung out for a second.
And then I sat in with him. My manager and I used to put on a festival, Blackwater Sol Revue. Now it’s called Blackwater Music Festival. Since then, a friend of mine’s taken it over and I let them run with it. That was more work than I ever dreamed of, especially when my band is there. But anyhow, got Toots and the Maytals to come and play one year and we just hit it off. I saw his manager one time when I was in San Diego and he came up and said, ‘You know, he really wants to do something.’ So I said, ‘I’m getting ready to do a record.’ It just worked out. We traded off. ‘I’ll come sing or play something or do something on your record and you come sing and do something on mine.’ ‘Let’s do it.’ That’s how it went.
And with Derek, like you said, Derek lives right here in North Florida. He’s the greatest guitar player I’ve ever seen, ever in my lifetime. And he’s probably one of my favorite musicians ever on any kind of musical instrument. He just came by the house one afternoon and knocked it out in 20 minutes. I told him, ‘Now, I really want to get some tracks away. Let’s do it.’ I’ve done stuff for him, writing some lyrics and stuff set to music for him, nothing they’ve released right now. He’s got a great studio, too. I’d like to do something over there as well. Just friends and family, so to speak. Makes it easy.
JPG: Speaking of lyrics, out of all the songs on the album why provide the lyrics only for “King Hummingbird?”
JJG: It’s a song that moves me the most on that record, lyrically. I mean, not moves me the most, but moves me in that way. I try to pick a song like that somehow or another, even “Georgia Workhorse,” the title track, it speaks for itself. For the lyrics, I’d rather use a song that is powerful and says it from a different angle as the title track.