WoW #8: JJ Grey & Mofro – “This River”

JJ Grey & Mofro – “This River”

The river. It’s an often used symbol in rock’n’roll, blues, music in general. For a songwriter, the river’s mutability might suggest the fleetingness of life itself. But the river bank can also be a place of renewal, of baptism, of cleansing.

JJ Grey wrote “This River” after wandering down to the St. John’s River in his hometown of Jacksonville, Florida. The song closes the 2013 album of the same name, the sixth by Grey’s enduring southern soul, funk and blues project JJ Grey & Mofro.

Setting off with a lonesome acoustic guitar intro, carried along by a spare accompaniment of bass, drums and piano, with horns helping the song crescendo to a close, it is, above all, a showcase for Grey’s stark and powerful voice, which manages to communicate sorrow, remorse, resolve and contrition over the course of a gripping five-plus minutes.  

During an interview that followed the making of This River, JJ shared the story behind the song.

“‘This River’ is sort of about the St. John’s River. But really, it’s more about the river of life. There’s this little park right on the St. John’s River in a part of Jacksonville called Ortega. It’s surrounded by mansions and big houses and rich people. I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. I’m sure they don’t feel rich. Everybody thinks somebody else is rich.

“Anyway…there are a lot of really nice houses all around it. And in this little park, you got this bulkhead, and invariably, at any time of day, you’ll see people who live not too far away, but maybe in a little shotgun house, they go down there with cane poles and they fish. The chances of you seeing the people who live in that area fishing are next to none.

“One day I was there and I saw a guy who looked homeless. Only because he was drunk. He was sitting there fishing, but he wasn’t really paying attention to the fish or the pole or anything. He was just drunk, and looked like somebody who’d lost everything. He had that look that homeless people sometimes have. I didn’t talk to the guy, I just saw him. We didn’t have to talk. It just seemed like that was his story. For all I know, he was happy as a lark.

“At any rate, watching him hit home. And the song is just about reflection and what really is real. He’s kind of asking those questions. I’ve been that dude before, but to a lesser extent. I’ve never lost everything.

“I guess the idea is – and I didn’t intend this – how bad your life is depends on how bad you want it to be or how good you want it to be.”

In the striking images of the video for “This River,” the river becomes a shaded, woodsy creek visited by a young married fellow – played by Grey – seeking refuge from a domestic squabble, and an older, heavily inebriated man, played by actor Danny Aiello. His character, based on Grey’s account, may be homeless or merely drunk or even happy as a lark.

Maybe the two are one and the same.

18 thoughts on “WoW #8: JJ Grey & Mofro – “This River”

    • Deeply moving for those struggling with addiction and or abuse.
      The vocal make this song as well as the band which is second to none.

  1. I am from Middleburg and also a musician. I grew up around the St Johns river and Black Creek, you are amazing JJ Grey, and God bless Danny Aiello, always loved him ?

    • WOW, just WOW. MY Nephew text me this attachment, after his, Father passed away last week. This sweet story and song, fit his ,Father to a tee. Nothing but love Jim B.

  2. I lost my husband to a tragic boating accident and almost lost my son, for some reason this song seems to fit my life, I don’t know where my soul went, and my spirit is broken. Ironically enough, my husband asked me to listen to this song 1 week before the accident. I’m still looking for my soul…..

  3. Found this song cruising YouTube and it hit me pretty hard. It made me think of my situation in the situation of others I’ve known.
    This song topped all others. Definitely my favorite song on the top of my list.
    Thank you JJ for your music and words.
    I think this song hits home hard with a lot of people.

  4. This is one of the most beautiful songs i have ever heard. Its beyond perfect when it comes to reflecting on life

  5. It reminds me of my Death on how I was and how I am and how I am going to dieAnd how I feel. I’m gonna play this song at my grave where my ashes will go in the mountains on top of my dogs grave.

  6. I just read the meaning behind JJ writing this song. Was different than my experience, but is handedly my favorite after following for pushing 20 years.

    I was sick as a child and missed a lot of school and children can be very very mean. I became extremely almost brutally shy, but I grew up in a river town so I would drive to Green Access, a park outside of our town of 500 and just sit by the river to collect my thoughts.

    A different path of course from your meaning but this song brings back those memories and makes me proud that I got over that and am not the same girl anymore. Thank you and your soul for providing it! Can’t wait to see you all again in KC in a couple of months! Much love…

  7. Hey man I grew up in Jacksonville, west side 103 st,me an my beautiful wife discovered thus song an now I play it ,I’m a mucisan,to play at the keg back in the day l e this song locklosa saved my life first time I heard it iwas wasted on a Harley it grabbed a hold of me an carried me home,love your stuff jj rock on!!!!

  8. When I was exposed to this masterpiece (This River), first, I listened to the song alone, then I immediately viewed the video. This interview explained and confirmed the exact vibe I got from the lyrics and video.

    JJ Grey is an incredible song writer and you can hear his intentions and feel his heart’s cry as he purposely wants to connect with his audience to take us along on his spiritual journey.

    However, JJ Grey had a way of reinventing the Blues. Can you do that? (lol) There aren’t many blues writers that inspire hope when approaching the peak/climax of a song. Absolutely beautiful.

    Thank you!

  9. I found this song several months ago ..I wis i could express what it does to my soul. It’s the most beautiful song i have ever heard. Music is my escape…When im down and in my severe depression i play this song as loud as i can and i reach for the sky with tears streaming from my face.
    For a moment i forget about how broken my soul is i don’t know why but it gives me so much peace for just a moment as i extend my arms to God and i feel im speaking to God pleading that he heals my soul and spirit from all the sadness in my heart, asking God why want someone rescue me.
    Thank you, Janie❤️

    • That’s what my husband says!! But he says when he listens he feels the river is God and the whisper is the Holy Spirit and for him it’s the only thing that carry’s him away is God!!! Such a beautiful song of worship in the midst of pain!!!

  10. Beautiful song that’s leads you to the river of life!! My husband sees God all in this Song!!!!

  11. I feel like it was written for me, I feel like the writer saw me sitting by the river pulling on a whiskey bottle and looking at the picture of my deceased best friend, my hero, my younger brother who served his country for 30 years and was taken away by this river of life at 48 years old. I honestly believe it’s in this river of life that we also find peace with the pain in our hearts and minds, yet may still struggle and pull on the bottle to soften the pain and one day we will find glory when all are pain is washed away in this river, by the grace of our lord

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