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Southern Man

J.J. Grey, front man for country-fried funk 'n' soul band Mofro, comes from the Florida swamplands and a rich storytelling tradition. Hints of both seep into the songs on Mofro's latest, Country Ghetto, which contains a few tracks originally penned for neo-blues diva Cassandra Wilson. We recently caught up with Grey, just before he began a coast-to-coast tour.

New Times: How did you come to write some songs for Cassandra Wilson?

Grey: We did a B.B. King tour, and the guy who promoted that is Cassandra Wilson's manager. And at the end of the tour, he said they wanted to do a Cassandra Wilson record that was all down-home and that kind of stuff, so they asked me to write some songs. But as it turned out, they went into the studio and ended up writing all the songs for the record with T-Bone Burnett and the band in the studio, and they didn't use any of [my] songs, so I thought, "Well, shoot, I'm, gonna put 'em on the next record."

NT: What women inspired "A Woman"?

Grey: My mother, certainly my grandmother. All the women that I grew up around. People don't want to admit how much they stand in awe and fear — there's nothing scarier in the world than a strong woman.

NT: You've got a song called "Mississippi." Why did you feel it was important to show that state some love?

Grey: I've always felt that the Southern culture, in general, is like buffalo, hunted just for their tongue and their hide and the rest left to rot. And I feel, in a lot of ways, that Mississippi's the same way. It's sort of a culture hunted down, and all the good parts — the music, the food — is taken from the area and given to the whole world, like blues. Everybody can do blues and everybody loves it but, meanwhile, Mississippi gets to stay the state that's known for slavery or cotton plantations or hatred, or it's like a Third World with a bunch of country dumb-asses. I just thought that somebody should say something worth a shit about the place, 'cause I really love that place. It's killer.

NT: What can we expect from your live show?

Grey: We're a high-energy group, and we don't like to go in there and do 15 songs that sound exactly like the record. We want to do a show, and while the songs sound like themselves, we occasionally open it up and see where the evening goes.

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Niki D'Andrea has covered subjects including drug culture, women's basketball, pirate radio stations, Scottsdale staycations, and fine wine. She has worked at both New Times and Phoenix Magazine, and is now a freelancer.
Contact: Niki D'Andrea

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