Mofro has alway been about two guys: JJ Grey and Daryl Hance. They've had a rotating cast of supporting musicians over their career, but looking back to Blackwater and Locholoosa, the liner notes of each state "Mofro is JJ Grey and Daryl Hance."
That is, until their February 2007 release, Country Ghetto.
No longer does the front of the disc read "Mofro." It reads "JJ Grey and Mofro" and if the CD billing wasn't clear enough, things in Memphis certainly showed who was the man in Mofro.
For several years (and possibly longer) the stage had looked as follows: Grey on the left, George Sluppick situated at the back on drums, Hance's guitar rig in the middle, and Adam Scone's Hammond on the right. This time things differed. JJ's organ was situated at the front of the stage, and Hance's amp and chair were at the left and behind JJ. Perhaps it was because there was a horn section, The Hercules Horns, (Art Edmaiston on sax and Dennis Marion on trumpet) backing up the band, but maybe it was something different.
It may be marketing, or perhaps it's just the natural evolution of a band trying to find its way in a cutthroat industry. Either way, there has been a clear development that has unfolded over the last year – that of JJ Grey as a front man. Grey has gone on record as stating that the stories have always been his, that he felt like he was hiding behind the name Mofro. There's no denying that the man whose name is now top billing has always been the charismatic face of the band from Florida.
While the stage may look different, the show itself hasn't changed. There's still as much soul as one act can pour into an evening, a night of desperate stories of women, of country living, and of place. And if there's one man who can spin a web about where he came from, it's JJ Grey.
From the opening licks of "Blackwater," a tale about hometown pride, it was clear who was in charge in Memphis. As JJ oozed with passion, Daryl Hance went about his playing as he does each time out, in an unassuming fashion. If there's any musician out there who looks like they could care less about where they sit on stage so long as they have their instrument in hand, it's Hance. There are players who have stage presence in an "addition-by-subtraction" manner. Derek Trucks gets on stage and it's all substance and no show – it's just guitar playing done right. But, at least he cracks a smile every now and again, and there are once-in-a-blue-moon rare moments where his mouth opens up and he throws his head back.
Not Hance, though.
Nope, he just sits there, and doesn't exactly seem to have the refined, expert-level chops to back up his lack of presence. Perhaps the skill is there, and it's just he needs to be turned up in the stage mix. But until a solo in the set-ending "War," his contributions weren't really evident.
Grey, though, has clearly stepped up his game. His name's front and center, after all, and he responded. He was all over the place, bouncing from guitar (where he made vain attempts at soloing – if there ever was a band who needs a true lead guitarist, it's Mofro, but Grey gets points for trying), to harmonica to his organ. However, his contributions were spot on in the area he always delivers – on the vocals, where there are few out there with as much passion and feeling in their voice.
The Hercules Horns, though, really enhanced the Mofro stage show. They brought the much-needed soloist feel to a band that desperately needs it, a band who tours in "jamband circles," where having a stand-out musician tends to be a vital component to a successful show. Edmaiston, a Memphis local (Gamble Brothers Band, the Grip), got his first chance to shine during a phenomenal "Nare Sugar," where he belted out a funky solo that really set the song off. The show-ending "Ho Cake" was stellar because of Edmaiston and Marion, who were front and center, sharing a microphone and and playing their horns like it was their last hour on Earth.
Grey was in the middle of it all. He was singing. He was dancing. He was down on his knees playing his harmonica, and writhing around on his back. He was everything that a front man is supposed to be.
So where does this leave the band going forward? Rumor is the horns will be a steady component of the future Mofro. It will be interesting to see how this affects the dynamic of the band, a dynamic that's already in flux.