AD: How did you get started playing music?
JJ: I guess I was just always attracted to it, but basically I bought a guitar and little amp for like 10 bucks when I was a kid. It didn’t have but three strings on it, but I messed around on it for a while and then I kind gave it up because I could sing a little bit. I wasn’t great or nothing, but I can keep tune and I thought it would be easier to get in a band by singing than playing guitar, because I wasn’t any good. But anyway, that’s how I got started I guess.
AD: Who were your early influences when you first started?
JJ: Oh everything from Lynard Skynard to Jerry Reed to Stevie Wonder to Kool and the Gang, just all kinds of stuff.
AD: So when you were growing up in Florida did you always know you wanted to be a musician or did you see yourself doing something else?
JJ: No, I didn’t always know it, I just did it. I sang for the fun of it here and there and still do, to be honest with you, it’s just turned into what it’s turned into. There was a time where I made the decision to do it full time, so to speak, but it’s just one of those things I just wound up doing.
AD: What would you be if you weren’t a musician, do you ever think about that? What would your career be?
JJ: I have no idea but I like working on diesel engines so I’d probably be working for CAT or somebody like that.
AD: How did your current band lineup come to be?
JJ: The band, over the years, has been so many different people. The road is a long thing, you know, it’s year in and year out. People kind of come and go sometimes in the lineup because sometimes they get better gigs, or they decide they’ve had enough of the road, sometimes they have children, you just never know why, but the point being is that I’m still good friends with all those guys. Everybody that’s playing with me now has either played with another band I opened up for, or they opened up for me on the road or at some point. Every one.
AD: How long has your current band been playing together?
JJ: The longest any of them have been with me is the horns, they’ve been with us since 2007, that’s Dennis. The shortest time is probably Todd on bass, which has been about 2 years.
JJ: They Greyhounded it, they played a lot of shows with us out on the road, years ago, back in 2004 a good buddy who played bass and organ with me was gonna help some friends out and tour in Europe and be gone for a month. So Farrell and Trube said, “We’re already playing with you on these dates, so we’ll just play with you too. I’ll play bass and he’ll play organ.” Trube played bass and Farrell played organ, and then later down the road when my buddy wanted to get off the road permanently, they stepped in and said, “Hey, we’ll do it.” So they stepped in and Trube played bass for a while then Todd came into the band to play bass and Trube switched to guitar, which is his real first instrument. I mean, he can play both of ’em great, but that’s his better one.
AD: So your tour schedule seems pretty grueling…
JJ: That’s why the band switches up so much!
AD: Hahaha, right, right. That makes sense. How does life on the road affect your songwriting? I read that a lot of your songwriting comes from storytelling and real life experiences, so does being on the road affect that?
JJ: It doesn’t affect it no more or no less, life is life, you know what I mean? Wherever you’re at, whatever you’re doing, so it doesn’t really affect it, me being on the road. Life is life whether I’m in prison, I’m at home, on the road…wherever any human being is at any point, there’s always a story to tell.
AD: I really loved your story at the Old Settler’s about the cup being half full. We’d love to have you retell the story for the readers.
JJ: Basically, if you’re not careful – it can happen to anybody – you wake up one day with a chip on your shoulder, a problem with life, and feel that somehow or another you’re owed something. I reckon my parents spent a lot of time trying to get us ready for life. When you’re young, you’re full of anger and all sorts of different things, well, not every young person is like that, but I certainly was, and I just got to the point where I thought there was something wrong with the world. The world had changed and it wasn’t this beautiful, magical place like it was when I was a kid, it was a dark place with all this shit going on all over the world. World wars and people doing each other wrong and all that kind of stuff. Part of it is because negativity can get addictive and it always snowballs. It always gets worse and worse. I mean, I’m as sarcastic as anybody sometimes kidding around, and occasionally darkly sarcastic, but if you’re not careful you’ll just keep getting darker and darker and darker until you don’t even know what you’re saying anymore and what you’re saying doesn’t even make sense. I see that on TV, I see it on the news, I see it everywhere. If you believe all that shit, you start shaping the world that way, so one day life put one on me, and that’s what it took to wake me up, so to speak. So the next thing you know, you just see the world differently and now I see the glass half full instead of half empty. And then the next thing I know I don’t really care what’s on the TV news anymore. I don’t really care and people are like “You’ve gotta know” and I just say “I ain’t gotta do a god damned thing except die at some point.” I don’t really need to know what’s going on in the news, I don’t care, and then people say “Well, what about when tanks roll down your street?” and I say “I’ll deal with it the same way I would if I knew it was coming.” Even if nobody got out of here alive, I’m not gonna waste one more second of my life worried about what “could happen”, I’m just going to deal with what IS happening right now. From that point on my life got better and better and better. This isn’t part of the story I told on stage, but I realized that all of that watching the news and worrying is kind of being a control freak. We think that somehow by knowing all of these things, we can somehow control them and you can’t. I gave that up a long time ago, we can’t control it, but I don’t mean that in a fatalistic way, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t protest something if something’s going on, or going wrong. Or that you should never, ever watch the news, that’s not what I mean, I just mean I’m not going to invest MY life, my idea of what life is, that’s not going to be an influence for me anymore. Or at least not the main influence, most of our main influences, or at least most of mind at that point, anything I would tell somebody would stem from what I saw on the news. I would have endless conversations on what’s going on in the world, about what somebody says on the news – whether I believe it or disbelieve it. And I was just like, I’m not going to do that anymore, I’m just going to deal with people face to face. Doing that made the glass half full for me, doing that made life fun again. Instead of looking around and seeing judgements about everything, it almost opened my eyes for the first time, or at least since I was a little kid. Everything looked beautiful again, and magical and fun, I couldn’t just dismiss the world anymore as something that I had a firm grasp of understanding exactly what it was, and that it was all bullshit. What was bullshit was me, I was all bullshit.
AD: Negativity sure is contagious, and I think positivity is the same thing. So to have such a positive outlook as a musician you are going to affect your listeners in such a positive way.
JJ: Well, you know, I’m not trying to do it on purpose and I don’t wanna tell people how to think or how to live, I’m just saying “This is what happened to me and take it for what you will.” I’m certainly in no position to tell people what they should or shouldn’t do because I don’t even know what the hell I’m doing. I will say this, I firmly believe that negative stuff is fake anyways, there’s only positive. Doesn’t mean that we can’t make negative things and bad things happen, but in the real world – the one you can’t see – there’s only positive stuff.
AD: So tell us about your recent DVD.
JJ: It just sort of happened. One thing at a time kind of fell together, little by little, and next thing I know I’m doing this DVD. My buddy Spook who directed it, he just said “I wanna just come down there and film stuff around your house and do a little, short documentary for your next record. You know I don’t think people get it, you know your fans, I mean I’m sure some of them get it. I just feel like people should know the story behind it.” So he came down and he filmed that thing, and we filmed a bunch of stuff. We used a little bit of it for the release of “Georgia Warhorse” like, here’s a little footage of JJ’s home and stuff. Other than that it kind got put on the back burner and kinda forgot about it, then he was like I wanna film a show. I thought he was gonna bring a camera or two, but he got 9 cameras, a truck, and a crew, it was crazy. So we did it at the Variety Playhouse and then he was like “We should combine all that stuff”, and I was like “Yeah, I had the same thought”. So that’s how it went.
AD: So how did those 9 cameras at the show affect your performance?
JJ: I never saw them. But honestly, I don’t pay attention to a whole lot during a show anyways. I just try to get in a zone and stay in a zone. I just try to see everything at one time, so I see it all, but it doesn’t affect me. If you’re not careful and you’re paying too much attention, hell, with me I can’t even walk and chew gum at the same time, so if I start paying attention to people or other things I won’t remember the words and I’ll get lost. I try to glaze over everything, stay in me, and stay in the place I am at the same time. It’s kind of hard to describe.
AD: What’s it like to see yourself perform on the DVD?
JJ: I don’t really look at it, you know. It’s kind of like looking at yourself in the mirror, it’s kind of uncomfortable for everybody I think, you know what I mean? We probably all stand in front of the mirror every day, we’re brushing our teeth, doing whatever for 40 odd years like me and I still don’t know what I look like. I gave caring a while back, I mean I can’t tell if my hair looks like crap or something like that, but I still don’t know what I look like. I can certainly tell what all the people around me look like, but it’s kind of like listening to your own voice on an answering machine. You’re used to hearing it one way but you don’t really know what it sounds like. It’s the same way when I see myself on video and stuff, I always think I look stupid, other than that, I don’t know what I look like.
AD: Have you done a live CD before?
JJ: I haven’t, that was the first one.
AD: How’s it different from doing a recorded album?
JJ: Well, you are just doing a straight up show and I kind of forgot they were recording. When you’re doing a studio album, it can sometimes be kind of live, and sometimes not. Most all the records parts of them have been tracked and parts of them have been cut live. The more live I can do it, the better. I’m looking forward to doing the next record like that.
AD: So what does “Brighter Days” signify to you?
JJ: You mean the whole video, or just the song itself?
JJ: The whole thing reminds me of when I was younger I had this whole idea “brighter days, where did they go” and now I realize that they didn’t go anywhere, I did. So that’s the storyline and what it kind of signifies. Song lyrics change for me, my perspective or my position changes on them all the time because I’m saying “Wow, I didn’t know what I was talking about then.” That part of life, getting older, you always change your perspective. In ten years I’ll probably look back and say “Man, I didn’t know what I was thinking.”
AD: So tell us about the Snook Foundation and your work with them.
JJ: The Snook Foundation wants to connect science, good science, with the local fisherman. It’s invaluable information in terms of…you got these guys out there like boat captains, they do it every day of the week. Every day of the week they see fish, they know what’s going on, they know if there’s a lot of fish or not; so much more than a marine biologist coming out there for one week out of a five year period. They need to be talking to the guys that are there every single day, so that’s what they do. They set up a database where these captains can log “This is what we caught, this is what we saw…” and kind of keep a diary of sort so they can factor in some of the studies done by The University of Florida, or whatever marine science program, that winds up shaping our city management stuff. Kind of what happened with Red Snapper. I mean, they [the foundation] was doing stuff before this, but they kind of just shut Red Snapper down. Red Snapper was shut down on the East coast, and I’m not talking about 6 months, this is 3 years later and if you were to try to scuba dive down you couldn’t even get to the bottom for all the Red Snapper. One of the problems is that the lady that is in charge of that program with the federal government, she came down here and she called the local kind of famous sea captain, Rick Rowley, and he took her out fishing and they caught a Red Snapper, you know you kind of can’t help it so you just throw it back, and she asked “What kind of fish is that?” So it’s like, hell, you’re the one who introduced a ban on it for three years. So people are going out fishing and continuously catching Red Snapper but they can’t keep them so they have to throw them back. Meanwhile, just a few more miles out an international boat that wants to can just come out and play havoc, that’s not really going on – but they could conceivably. The point being is like instead of it being guess work for somebody sitting in an office in Washington D.C., they can at least put together the information from all these guys who are willing to be involved and work with them, they can put together the information. They want to protect their livelihood, the don’t want to over-fish either. The problem isn’t anglers anyways. Catching one fish at a time on a hook is of no consequence compared to nets that stretch out for miles and miles and miles and miles. They’ve got a fish factory out there. It’s not even in the same universe. When things are over-fished, it’s not due to anglers. I mean you can have too many anglers in a small area hitting it hard, but overall this foundation is just trying to bridge the gap to reality, what’s really going on out there, and to make better assessments of what’s going on.
AD: How’s does your experience as an outdoorsman growing up in Florida affect your music?
JJ: I don’t know, I can’t help but think about those things, they just pop into my head when I’m doing songs and stuff. But of course, I don’t do every single song about that because I don’t want to become a caricature you know. Songs, to me, are representative of life, so if all I did was talk about fish every second of my life, maybe every song would be that way and it would be real and sound real, and be natural. The fact is everybody has all different types of facets in their lives so you know, songs are like that. So, it’s a part of what I do, but just a part.
AD: How about your roll as a dad?
JJ: Yeah, that’s showed up in songs too. The song “The Sweetest Thing” is kind of about two things, it’s about my daughter, well three things really, it’s about my daughter, my wife, and life itself. Coming to grips with “what is this thing life?”. Life itself is the sweetest thing if you pay attention to it and appreciate it.
AD: What advice would you give to musicians starting out?
JJ: Just learn to stand firm developing your “truth meter”, your ability to feel truth and then sing and play and do everything from there. Everything else is not even worth discussing; trying to get a record deal, managers, agents, all of that stuff is of no consequence. That doesn’t mean a manager or agent can’t work hard for you, but they don’t make real things happen. They help you keep the ball rolling when real things are happening.
AD: So in Austin there’s a lot of really great swimming places, Barton Springs, the Greenbelt, just all these popular and fun swimming holes. We want to know what your favorite swimming area is.
JJ: I’ve got two or three, I love Ichetucknee, Ginnie Springs is beautiful as well. I love swimming in the Spirit of the Suwanee park and the Suwanee river, but that’s completely different, that’s black water. The other two are crystal clear springs. It’s not far from my house, there’s a big rope swing and the water is like iced tea color. Black water is usually really warm too. I’m not a big ocean swimmer, but I’ve surfed my whole life, I’m a big surfer. Anywhere along the Atlantic coast here is awesome.
AD: Last question, we like to ask all of our interviewees is what your favorite quote from any Tarantino movie might be?
JJ: Hmmm, Tarantino, wow. I’ll have to think about that for a second. I think it’s something like, pardon my French, “A sewer rat may taste like pumpkin pie but I’m not gonna eat the filthy motherfucker.” I think that’s one of my favorite quotes from Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction.