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Front Porch Funk

Fans of backwoods, down-and-dirty swamp funk and soul have a new savior in Florida's own Mofro, even if they don't realize it yet. And according to Mofro's lead singer and songwriter, J.J. Grey, the masses' ignorance is hardly surprising.

"The only thing you hear on the radio is teen rock or teen rap or whatever," Grey says with a thick Southern accent. "Which some of it's cool, but there is other stuff in the world. Plus, most of the Florida cities I've been to have a thing with their local bands."

Indeed, getting publicity, airplay, and even sometimes gigs in Jacksonville proved difficult for Grey and company; it got so bad that the band moved to London in 1998. After regrouping and recruiting a few new bandmates, Mofro was born.

"Me and Daryl [Hance, guitar] decided to call ourselves Mofro, just cause it's a word like mojo or mofo or whatever that you can use as a substitute for any other word," Grey explains. "Like, 'Look at that mofro over there' or 'Hand me that little mofro right over there.' It sounded kinda Southern to me, so I figured it'd be a decent name for a band."

New name and band members in place, the group cut its debut album, Blackwater, released on Fog City Records in 2001. The CD contains a heaping pile of stellar moments, particularly for anyone familiar with Florida's less inhabited areas, out in the swamps and the woods of the Everglades, Okeechobee, and the north-central part of the state. Take "Jookhouse," an ode to backwoods bars, or "Ho Cake," a song dedicated to popcorn shrimp, collard greens, corn bread, and all the other foods that make for good eatin' in Middle of Nowhere, South U.S.A. And then there's "Florida," a slower number about the slow yet steady sprawl that is swiftly turning the state into the world's largest strip mall.

This is the sort of stuff that should play well to a Florida crowd, what with many in the audience being familiar with the subject matter. But Grey maintains that Florida has been a hard row to hoe for the band, which has been greeted with more success in other areas of the nation.

"This is our home state, and it's sort of not as conducive to live music as some other places in the U.S.," Grey says, "but I think that's changing. It's actually getting better."

The gripe is one that a lot of bands cite when speaking ill of Florida: The trip down here is hardly cost-effective, particularly when one considers that local press, radio, and clubs tend to ignore the music scene more than other areas do, and promoters pay less cash. But Grey adds that if this is to change, it's up to the performers.

"It takes bands to take the hit initially to come down here," he says. "You've got to come here and build something first. Then it'll work out for you. But take the loss now, and make it work out for you later on."

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Dan Sweeney
Contact: Dan Sweeney

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