Next week, a unique group of accomplished musicians will combine forces to bring a night of swampy tunes and rootsy grooves to Cincinnati’s Taft Theatre. Luther Dickinson, Anders Osborne, Marc Broussard and JJ Grey each have strong legacies and careers of their own, but as The Southern Soul Assembly, they come together to play songs, tell stories and collaborate.
Dickinson is the guitarist for the acclaimed North Mississippi Allstars. In recent years, however, he has branched out to explore various kinds of Southern Roots music with groups such as the South Memphis String Band, a trio that includes Alvin Youngblood Hart and Jimbo Mathus, and The Word, featuring Robert Randolph, John Medeski, Cody Dickinson and Chris Chew. Dickinson’s new solo album is called Rock ‘n Roll Blues.
Anders Osborne is a singer/songwriter/guitarist who grew up in Sweden, wandered the world and eventually found a home in New Orleans more than two decades ago. It has suited him well. Last year, he was named Entertainer of the Year at the Big Easy Music Awards. Guitar Player magazine called him “the poet laureate of Louisiana’s fertile Roots music scene.”
Marc Broussard is a Louisiana native to
the bone, from his musical approach to his bloodline. Broussard — whose
father, Ted Broussard, was guitarist for Louisiana Music Hall of Fame
inductees The Boogie Kings — began recording when he was 20 years old
and since then his “Bayou Soul” music has struck a chord. His latest
album is last year’s Live from Full Sail University.
JJ Grey’s music can be best described as soulful Swamp Rock. His songwriting draws from the experiences he had while growing up in the dark waters of northern Florida.
He is a storyteller, yet he is also a cat who can throw down some funky stuff, a good example being the party song “Florabama” found on his latest album This River. Grey and his band Mofro have become favorites on the festival circuit since forming in the early ’00s.
Grey’s gift for telling a story with lyrics began to surface as a teenager. While he has been widely praised for his writing, his desire to craft a song worthy of his heroes seems to have made him his own toughest critic. He clearly sets the bar high for himself.
“I don’t know if I ever will (become a great songwriter) because, to me, how do people ever write songs like that? How does Van Morrison write a song like that?” Grey says. “I wish I could do that. I still feel that way, like I haven’t done it yet. But I can say that I knew I wanted to (write songs) early on, even when I was playing in cover bands and bar bands when I was 17 and 18 years old. I was writing lyrics before I could play a tune, before I could play a musical instrument. Then I started trying to put it all together over the years. But I guess I’m still working on it.”
These days, you will see Grey taking solos and trading riffs on guitar at Mofro shows. But his ability to sling some mud on the electric six-string came much later in the game.
“My mom and dad got me an acoustic guitar for Christmas when I was a kid, but it was run over by my neighbor’s car on Christmas morning so that didn’t work out,” Grey says. “Then fI bought another guitar when I was in high school for about 15 bucks, a guitar and an amp, and I played that guitar for years on the road. I call it ‘Little Red.’ It’s a little Western Auto Truetone. It only had but three strings on it. I don’t know if I ever strung it all of the way. I was just trying to play stuff on one string a little bit, (but) I kind of gave that up.”
Grey set his guitar down and decided to just sing onstage. But when he hit the studio to record Mofro’s first album, 2001’s Blackwater, long-time producer Dan Prothero convinced him to take guitar playing seriously. It wasn’t until a couple of albums later that Grey saw fit to break loose his improvisational skills.
“Dan, who has produced all of my records, said, ‘Man, you just got to play the guitar,’” Grey says. “His take was, ‘You got a little swampy kind of thing on your music and with all of the guys playing on this record, some of the guys understand and have a history with that music and some of the guys don’t. It just helps if you play. You got to play! You got to play!’ That was around 2000. In 2004 and 2005, I started playing leads. It hasn’t been very long, really, which is why I don’t consider myself a ‘guitarist.’ I’m a guitar player like anybody else that is just playing around.”
Grey, Dickinson, Osborne and Broussard are scheduled to hook up a few days before the start of the tour (March 18 in Evanston, Ill.) to bring their Southern music amalgamation together. Grey says he is looking forward to performing with the Southern Soul Assembly.
“As good as everybody can play, and every one of us has songs, we will take turns playing our songs and just jamming with each other,” Grey says of what fans can expect. “Luther did email me saying, ‘Dude, bring your foot drums and I’m going to bring my washtub gizmo thing, and maybe by the end of the set we can get there with that kind of stuff.’ And I’m like, ‘Shoot, yeah.’
“I know it is going to be great because those guys are awesome. It’s kind of like playing with my own band. I can walk offstage and the rest of the night would still be great. They kill it. Luther is a good friend, and Anders is a good friend. I haven’t met Marc before, but he seems like a super cool guy and I listened to some of his stuff and it was awesome.”
THE SOUTHERN SOUL ASSEMBLY TOUR featuring JJ Grey, Luther Dickinson, Anders Osborne and Marc Broussard comes to Taft Theatre on Wednesday, March 19. Tickets/more info: tafttheatre.org.