Country Ghetto, JJ Grey & MOFRO's latest effort, is like a musical postcard from the South. On the front is a collage of pictures -- Otis Redding, the Meters, Dr. John, Muddy Waters -- and on the flip side, Grey's spinning yarns about his life, his family, his worldview and his women. We checked in with Grey recently and asked him about storytelling and the new record.
Westword: You're into the storytellers, and you definitely like telling stories. Are there any particular ingredients you intentionally try to get into a song?
JJ Grey: The closest thing to an ingredient, I would say, is that I love preaching to myself. I'm guilty as anybody of everything. Some stories could be about one thing or another, but most of the time I tell them so that I won't forget.
You had Colorado's own Hazel Miller singing backup vocals on the album. How did you hook up with her?
Through Liza Oxnard, who's in Boulder, and she's great -- she put that together. My manager manages Liza. I met Hazel at the Telluride Blues and Brews Festival. They all cut those background vocals at a studio in Boulder; Linda Lewellyn, Liza and Hazel came down and did it. It was fun. And Hazel, wow, she can do it, man.
Those background vocals add so much to the record.
Oh, yeah, definitely. I've always dreamed of being able to bring in horns, strings and background vocals. Now I did, and I'm very happy about it.
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I especially dig the track "A Woman" on the new record.
Yeah, that's my little nod toward Memphis, and toward Otis Redding in particular. I was asked to write the song for a Cassandra Wilson album with an old-school soul feel. And for whatever reason, it didn't wind up on that record, and so I was like, I want to do it. I flipped a couple of the words around so the song was more from a man's perspective than from a lady's.
I love how you talk about there's nothing scarier, wilder or more attractive than a strong woman.
No doubt about it. That's why men drink, why they fight, why they build skyscrapers. There's a lot of fear behind that shit.