Southern Soul Assembly at The Saenger Theatre

JJ Grey (Michelle Stancil)

JJ Grey (Michelle Stancil)

It is a privilege, honor and pleasure to play with these guys,” says JJ Grey as he introduces the Southern Soul Assembly that he pulled together. “Thank you for the eternal smile and letting me heal myself in front of you.”

These guys are Luther Dickinson, Marc Broussard, and Anders Osborne–the four songwriters are touring together as Southern Soul Assembly and played in Mobile at The Saenger Theatre on April 1.  Each one has successful music carriers touring with bands and on their own, but on this night it was just four musicians sitting on stools singing songs and telling stories on the sparse black stage with 11 guitars, a long-neck bass, and a guitar made of two strings and a tin can.  Side tables draped in black held harmonicas, water bottles, tambourines, a mandolin, and an untouched apple and banana. The musician’s affection for Mobile was clear as they often changed place names to Mobile or sang their songs about the coast.

Sometimes death comes like a blessing,

And sometimes big dreams can kill a man.

Anders Osborne  (Michelle Stancil)

Anders Osborne  (Michelle Stancil)

I’ve seen dirty needles turn into wisdom,
And I’ve seen love I don’t understand.

Been looking for the same up on every mountain,
And down on every beach.
Playing all my songs all the way from Mobile,
Down to New Orleans,
But I’m still looking, oh I’m looking,
Looking for a day of peace.

Anders Osborne, “Peace”

One of the favorites of the large and enthusiastic crowd was Gray’s Flora-Bama.

Southern Soul Assembly  (Michelle Stancil)

Southern Soul Assembly  (Michelle Stancil)

There’s a place down on the coast
between Florida and Alabama…

I can feel the breeze from the Gulf of Mexico
Something in that salty air feels just right
I can feel the breeze from the Gulf of Mexico
Gonna be a party in Flora-bama tonight

The four played for each other, listening as often as they joined in.  Hands clasped on his knees, Dickinson leaned in to watch Brousaard finger his guitar. Gray, wearing red and white striped flip-flops, stomped both feet together at the same time and Osborne tapped a tambourine with fingertips and palms.

Luther Dickinson (Michelle Stancil)

Luther Dickinson (Michelle Stancil)

“A tape, CD or recording can never capture who someone is,” says Gray.  “Recording doesn’t show who these guys are. You have to see them live.”

They tell each other stories as they introduce the songs. Before playing “Yard Man,” Dickinson told the woes of being a rock and roll star with his name in lights playing 250 shows a year but still has to mow his yard when he gets home because his wife won’t hire someone to do it. The neighbor told him “I hope you play that guitar better than you can cut grass.”

Marc Broussard and JJ Grey (Michelle Stancil)

Marc Broussard and JJ Grey (Michelle Stancil)

Gray’s story of mothers and grandmothers ended with, “Granny ain’t ever loved no one so I don’t know how I got here, but no matter where you are or what you do, Granny has your back.

Osborne used only one chord to sing a song about the lost love of his life. I miss you so damn much girl, please come back home.

“That one chord is a just a groove and a throw back to early bluesmen, like Bo Diddley,” says Tim Camp, program director at 92Zew.  “To create emphasis with one chord, just change the tempo.”

Broussard slowed the tempo and removed the stomp for a stripped-down version of his biggest hit “Home.” He thanked the Zew for the support the station has given him and the song.

Dickinson, who has helped pass down the blues through bands like the North Mississippi All Stars, thanked the audience for helping carry songwriting and storytelling into the future.  He ended the night playing “Shake What Your Mama Gave You” on a guitar made with two strings attached to a stick and a can. The other three joined in the final chorus and sang accapella at the center of the stage, shaking what their mama gave them before walking off the stage one last time.


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