JJ Grey knows a thing or two about soul. Albeit, soul sang right from his front porch in Florida.
Grey’s southern-fried soul is drenched with swampy riffs, baking-hot melodies and lyrics that reflect the clapboard-clad context of his upbringing.
“There were some real characters around when I was a kid. They would tell stories and entertain us and my family have been living in Florida for generations – we’re not one of the Florida ‘transplants’. The more you move in from the east coast in Florida the more of the real Florida you get to see and these places – including Jacksonville – have a real southern flavour.”
But in order for these characters to become characters, they need to have space to ‘grow’, according to the singer songwriter.
And JJ Grey himself believes that he was given sufficient ‘room’ as a child growing up. “Sometimes that room can be physical in having lots of actual space but the real ‘room’ is when people allow you to be who you are without any questions.”
The permeance of real-life characters in his life, combined with a passion for soul informs JJ Grey’s sound.
“I am influenced by soul artists like Otis Redding, Bill Withers and Jerry Reed but also Toots & The Maytals and a lot of southern rock like the Allman Brothers.”
But when it comes to songwriting, Grey acts more like a conduit to a higher force.
“Songs just seem to happen by themselves. I don’t really give it much thought, it’s like I stumble across songs in the way I’d stumble across something really beautiful when I’m walking through the woods.
“I gave up trying to make everything in a certain way and now I just let it happen and when it does I commit it to a song by recording it.”
Grey has been writing songs in this way for a decade. His latest release and his sixth studio album is called This River.
It’s named after the St John’s river that runs through the heart of his hometown of Jacksonville.
The album was recorded as if it were a live concert. “We were all in one room playing together, it gives it a really nice sound, like it’s just been cut live.”
For this tour, JJ Grey will be playing his new material as well as numbers from his back-catalogue.
And while Sheffield may be several thousand miles miles from the Sunshine State, Grey’s always got Florida on the mind.
“I guess I’m like a salmon swimming upstream,” he says. “Going back home, I reckon.
“I don’t know why but I gave up caring a long time ago.
“I guess that’s why there’s no ‘why’ in my mind.”
JJ Grey takes to the stage at at The Greystones on Wednesday July 3.