Nestled in the wilds of north Florida between two large lakes is the tiny
community of Cross Creek. It was here in the 1940's that
Rawlings lived, and it was here that she was inspired to write her classic
Cross Creek, The Yearling
South Moon Under.
Palmetto plains with
towering pines stretch on like an impenetrable jungle filled with
rattlesnakes and wild hogs. Summers here are unbearably hot for the native
let alone the non-native, the only form of relief being the cool black water
swamps, clear water springs and the many large lakes that dot the sweltering
landscape. Nearby Lake Lochloosa and Lake Orange play home to a myriad of
creatures including the alligator, Sand Hill cranes, otters and large mouth
bass. South and central Florida have seen many drastic changes over the last
century, but little has changed here. Still a wilderness, still "behind the
times" and still deeply Southern.
65 miles North-Northeast......
JOHN "JJ" GREY
in a small rural area on the outskirts of Jacksonville
playing lazily in the burning sun like modern day Tom Sawyers. JJ
explains the Cross Creek connection, "My grandfather used to carry me and
Daryl's daddy used to carry him down to Lake Lochloosa and Lake Orange
to go fishin'. I loved it there and still do, but the last time I
went down there they was building a bunch of new houses. I guess time,
progress, and money have all caught up with old school Florida. I'm sure
Daryl and me goin' fishin' down there helped shape our lives and music
beyond our knowledge of it."
Even in the early 1970's, juke house
music was at best "sinful" and at worst "the work of the devil."
JJ recalls, "Jacksonville only
had one AM station that played rock blues or funk and
I had to trade a kid at school to get a radio. I had to keep it hid for years.
When we got older we were allowed to listen to it. My parents weren't
overtly religious, it was just a part of the social code down here. My
father-in-law grew up the same way in Trinidad. He remembers his parents
(and most adults) saying 'stay away from those steel pan players, thats the
devils work.' It was 100% the same way here."
JJ talks about life closer to the big city: "We used to collect soda bottles
and get 2 cents each for them at the local grocery store, then we'd take the
pennies and put 'em on the railroad tracks for the trains to crush.
One of the regular haunts for soda bottles was a little juke
house/barbeque joint called K-D'S NITE LIMIT. That's where I got my first
taste of Soul, Blues and Funk music. Everybody up there would be
hangin’ out playin' cards. They'd always give me some
bottles, a plate of 'Q' and let me take a swig of beer or two. I remember
everybody up there would be listening to the ISLEY BROTHERS or somebody like
that on the stereo."
Daryl remembers a different version of the same thing,
"Most kids grew up the same way down here from chasin' frogs and fishin' all
the way over to skatin' at the roller rink listening to LYNYRD SKYNYRD,
STEVIE WONDER, and KC & THE SUNSHINE BAND." Daryl's family are all from the
same area as JJ's. He was born in Kansas but his family moved back to
Florida when he was still a baby. "Everybody here's got an uncle or dad who
can have you laughing your ass off at their funny stories about the booze
running (moonshine) days," says Daryl. "Or a fishing story where someone
ends up runnin' from the game wardens with a fish hook stuck in their butt. I
know some folks say otherwise but Southerners genuinely love to laugh and
b.s. with all comers, no tale too tall, no detail too small." An easygoing, storytelling
spirit permeates the whole MOFRO vibe.
"In terms of live performances, our goal is kind of like
goes funk," explains JJ.
was conceived in February of '98. Years prior, Daryl & JJ had met up
in the local Jacksonville music scene. Daryl's guitar playing was heavily
influenced by the early players from blues through to the 70's
funk groups (ala: MUDDY, CURTIS MAYFIELD, etc.) while JJ was inspired by the
by the vocal Soul giants from the same eras (OTIS, STEVIE WONDER,
HOWLIN’ WOLF, etc.) as well as
("the original swamp funk stylist").
When time came to record their debut album for
Fog City Records,
the band called in a ringer:
Anyone who has seen a recent live show
with fellow Fog City recording artists
Robert Walter's 20th Congress
will know George for his tasteful funky soul jazz drumming for that group,
but for the Mofro sessions George's playing came from his Southern roots, and
from the heart. As George says "we speak the
same language (PERIOD)... my peoples!"
MOFRO's Blackwater album
is a good ole time,
in keeping with Fog City Records' growing catalog of debut releases from uniquely regional acts
(Galactic, Stanton Moore, Garage A Trois, Robert Walter's 20th Congress, Papa Mali).
But a closer listen reveals a document of two best friends coming to grips with their North Florida culture and the threat
it faces from uncontrolled development (not to mention the giant monochromatic blight of pop culture).
When asked directly about his influences, JJ
is quick to push politics aside and point out that
life itself, the good and the bad, is the fuel for his creative fire:
"Neither me or Daryl would trade our past experiences for anything. We
couldn't have got to this point without going through the things we've been through -
both big and small. To us life is pretty much the same way: one minute you struggle and
the next you're coasting. It's just a matter of how long it takes you to convince yourself
that you love the struggle as much as the coasting. Any real Southerner will tell you that.
We just sort of go with it. It makes us stronger, wiser and gives us a damn fine source for