Southern soul rocker JJ Gray talks gratitude and tours ahead of Mofro show at GFLA

JJ Gray and Mofro will perform at the Greenfield Lake Amphitheater on Sunday. (Photo by Jim Arbogast)

Fans heading out to the JJ Gray and Mofro show at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater on Sunday are likely to see a version of the band that’s less unpredictable than concerts in years past.

Where Gray generally shuffled the setlist night after night at previous performances, the group has adjusted to playing a more consistent selection of songs on the 2022 tour. This time they switch tracks in a main list and include some covers, like “House of the Rising Sun” made popular by The Animals in the 1960s.

“I put together three or four different ideas to hammer out, rather than just putting together setlists every night — although that can be fun, too,” Gray said during a phone interview.

While it may seem predictable, Gray said it opens up a more immersive experience for musicians to truly hone their craft.

“It’s like everything, when you take a song where no one thinks about what they’re doing, they just play — we all know it’s going somewhere great, and if you get a whole show going like that, it will really crazy,” he said.

Years of touring have built a loyal following as JJ Gray and Mofro have performed regularly at festivals, pavilions, theaters and larger clubs. The band tours over 100 shows a year (except during the pandemic, of course).

“Keeping going is part of it, the persistence of it,” Gray said. “And of course playing with great people – but that’s been possible since day one.”

The Jacksonville, Fla. based singer and guitarist first appeared on stage in the late 1990s, releasing Blackwater in 2001, followed by Lochloosa in 2004. Over the years he has continued to work continuously. Between 2007 and 2013 he released five albums while signed to Alligator Records. On November 11th, the label will release “Country Ghetto” from 2007 on vinyl for the first time.

Gray said there’s a lot to be thankful for when evaluating his career spanning more than two decades. His modus operandi in life is associated with a more optimistic attitude and sunny mood. Fifteen years ago, he said, it was common for him to turn to frustration first when something wasn’t going his way. Today is more about tuning in to gratitude.

“That changed everything,” Gray said. “Instead of constantly finding flaws and flaws in everything, ignoring the 90 percent of the time things go right, and then only focusing on the 5 percent of the time when shit goes wrong, it’s like, like this is life. You don’t get away without pain and wrongdoing, so when something goes wrong, enjoy it and find a way to fix it to make it right.”

JJ Gray and Mofro’s last album, Ol’ Glory, was released seven years ago – a long hiatus for an artist who previously released works in rapid succession. Gray attributes part of the inspiration for the 2015 catalog raisonné to a life change: the birth of his daughter.

“I just got it — just because I have a wonderful family,” he said. “There are several songs on ‘Ol’ Glory’ that are about my daughter.”

His worship continues to be heard “Every Minute”: “That reflected light that sends back/Everything you send out/The grace you give is returned/Love every minute you live.”

“Old Glory” combines three main ingredients that have always been present in Gray’s music: rock, gritty southern country, funk and soul.

The standout tracks include the Ballad “Light a Candle” that sounds as if it was created around 1960 in the Stax Records studio in Memphis, together with artists like Otis Redding or William Bell.

Snappy “Brave Lil’ Fighter” and dark rocker “Turn Loose” bring the funk, while swampy, acoustic-based “The Island” lets Grey’s country-blues roots shine.

“I’m working on a new album right now,” Gray revealed. “I think if you want to call it that – putting things together and listening to them and thinking about them, figuring them out.”

There could be an early 2023 release if all goes according to plan. No word on new tracks being played at the sold-out Greenfield Lake Amphitheater show on Sunday, August 14th.

“I just think the mood of the song and what’s going on in the show at that point will dictate the setlist,” he said.

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