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450 Franklin Street, Rocky Mount VA 24151 - 540-484-8277

J.J. Grey & Mofro (Standing Show) w/ Major and the Monbacks

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J.J. Grey & Mofro (Standing Show) w/ Major and the Monbacks
Sunday, September 25, 2016 8:00 PM
Harvester Performance Center, Rocky Mount, VA
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Show Details
  • Ticket Price: $28.50 - $32.00
  • Door Time: 7:00 PM
  • Show Type: Jam Band
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THIS IS A STANDUP SHOW - NO CHAIRS


From the days of playing greasy local juke joints to headlining major festivals, JJ Grey remains an unfettered, blissful performer, singing with a blue-collared spirit over the bone-deep grooves of his compositions. His presence before an audience is something startling and immediate, at times a funk rave-up, other times a sort of mass-absolution for the mortal weaknesses that make him and his audience human. When you see JJ Grey and his band Mofro live—and you truly, absolutely must—the man is fearless.

Onstage, Grey delivers his songs with compassion and a relentless honesty, but perhaps not until Ol’ Glory has a studio record captured the fierceness and intimacy that defines a Grey live performance. “I wanted that crucial lived-in feel,” Grey says of Ol’ Glory, and here he hits his mark. On the new album, Grey and his current Mofro lineup offer grace and groove in equal measure, with an easygoing quality to the production that makes those beautiful muscular drum-breaks sound as though the band has set up in your living room.

Despite a redoubtable stage presence, Grey does get performance anxiety—specifically, when he's suspended 50 feet above the soil of his pecan grove, clearing moss from the upper trees.

“The tops of the trees are even worse,” he laughs, “say closer to 70, maybe even 80 feet. I'm not phobic about heights, but I don't think anyone's crazy about getting up in a bucket and swinging all around. I wanted to fertilize this year but didn't get a chance. This February I will, about two tons—to feed the trees.”

When he isn't touring, Grey exerts his prodigious energies on the family land, a former chicken-farm that was run by his maternal grandmother and grandfather. The farm boasts a recording studio, a warehouse that doubles as Grey's gym, an open-air barn, and of course those 50-odd pecan trees that occasionally require Grey to go airborne with his sprayer.

For devoted listeners, there is something fitting, even affirmative in Grey's commitment to the land of his north Florida home. The farms and eddying swamps of his youth are as much a part of Grey's music as the Louisiana swamp-blues tradition, or the singer's collection of old Stax records.

As a boy, Grey was drawn to country-rockers, including Jerry Reed, and to Otis Redding and the other luminaries of Memphis soul; Run-D.M.C., meanwhile, played on repeat in the parking lot of his high school (note the hip-hop inflections on “A Night to Remember”). Merging these traditions, and working with a blue-collar ethic that brooked no bullshit, Grey began touring as Mofro in the late '90s, with backbeats that crossed Steve Cropper with

George Clinton and a lyrical directness that made his debut LP Blackwater (2001) a calling-card among roots-rock aficionados. Soon, he was expanding his tours beyond America and the U.K., playing ever-larger clubs and eventually massive festivals, as his fan base grew from a modest group of loyal initiates into something resembling a national coalition.

Grey takes no shortcuts on the homestead, and he certainly takes no shortcuts in his music. While he has metaphorically speaking “drawn blood” making all his albums, his latest effort, Ol’ Glory, found him spending more time than ever working over the new material. A hip-shooting, off-the-cuff performer (often his first vocal takes end up pleasing him best), Grey was able to stretch his legs a bit while constructing the lyrics and vocal lines to Ol’ Glory.

“I would visit it much more often in my mind, visit it more often on the guitar in my house,” Grey says. “I like an album to have a balance, like a novel or like a film. A triumph, a dark brooding moment, or a moment of peace—that's the only thing I consistently try to achieve with a record.”

Grey has been living this balance throughout his career, and Ol’ Glory is a beautifully paced little film. On “The Island,” Grey sounds like Coleridge on a happy day: “All beneath the canopy / of ageless oaks whose secrets keep / Forever in her beauty / This island is my home.” “A Night to Remember” finds the singer in first-rate swagger: “I flipped up my collar ah man / I went ahead and put on my best James Dean / and you'd a thought I was Clark Gable squinting through that smoke.” And “Turn Loose” has Grey in fast-rhyme mode in keeping with the song's title: “You work a stride / curbside thumbing a ride / on Lane Avenue / While your kids be on their knees / praying Jesus please.” From the profane to the sacred, the sly to the sublime, Grey feels out his range as a songwriter with ever-greater assurance.

The mood and drive of Ol’ Glory are testament to this achievement. The album ranks with Grey’s very best work; among other things, the secret spirituality of his music is perhaps more accessible here than ever before. On “Everything Is a Song,” he sings of “the joy with no opposite,” a sacred state that Grey describes to me:

“It can happen to anybody: you sit still and you feel things tingling around you, everything's alive around you, and in that a smile comes on your face involuntarily, and in that I felt no opposite. It has no part of the play of good and bad or of comedy or tragedy. I know it’s just a play on words but it feels like more than just being happy because you got what you wanted — this is a joy. A joy that doesn’t get involved one way or the next; it just is.”

Grey's most treasured albums include Otis Redding's In Person at the Whisky a Go Go and Jerry Reed's greatest hits, and the singer once told me that he grew up “wanting to be Jerry Reed but with less of a country, more of a soul thing.” With Ol’ Glory, Grey does his idols proud. It's a country record where the stories are all part of one great mystery; it's a blues record with one foot in the church; it's a Memphis soul record that takes place in the country.

In short, Ol’ Glory is that most singular thing, a record by JJ Grey—the north Florida sage and soul-bent swamp rocker.


Major and the Monbacks

Major and the Monbacks style of music has been highly debated since the band’s inception. Fans and critics alike have argued relentlessly in an attempt to classify their sound. From garage rock to blue-eyed soul, from country funk to Beatlesque pop. Truthfully it’s all of the above and even a little bit more. The band simply calls it Rock n’ Roll.
All born and raised in Norfolk, VA, The Monbacks began their journey as a loose collective of high school friends with a common interest in late nights and loud music. Desperate to escape the impending reality of the 9 to 5 workday, the group decided to hit the open road and play for anyone willing to listen. What ensued was a nine month continuous tour of the Eastern United States that spanned 30,000 miles and 150+ shows in their beat-up, old passenger van. No matter how dark the basement or lonely the bar, it was here in the farthest fringes of the music industry that these ragtag renegades would make their stand. What they initially lacked in musical prowess was compensated for by sheer volume and occasional acrobatics. Nevertheless, their mission to spread the musical spirit and sensibilities of days long gone drove them onwards to hone their songwriting and live performances.
Growing weary of scorching summer days and 3 hour sets, ‘the Monbacks’ gradually turned their attention towards recording. With the help of an extremely successful crowd-funding campaign in early 2015, the old comrades threw together their best batch of original material written over the previous years and split for a recording studio in Nashville, TN. What resulted was a critically acclaimed and award winning debut album released in May 2015 that captured the raw energy of their live shows, sealed on analog tape.
Now with yet another tour under their belts, an ever-faithful cult following, and sold-out venues across their home state of Virginia, Major and the Monbacks are readying to release the follow up to their self-titled debut. They have recruited internationally acclaimed producer Matthew E. White of Spacebomb Records to guide them through the rough waters of the recording process. The resulting album will surely prove to be a Major turning point in the Monback timeline.