From Left to right: Ray Grimard (drummer), Lorenzo Rizzardi (bass), Hannah Summer (lead vocalist), Ken-e Williams (keyboardist, backup vocals), Jett Wolfe (guitarist, backup vocals)
In his 2020 book Jacksonville and the Roots of Southern Rock, Michael Ray Fitzgerald states plainly that “trying to define the term ‘Southern Rock’ is tantamount to going down the proverbial rabbit hole. It’s a slippery, nebulous term that can mean almost anything. On its face appears to imply rock music that came from the South, but that could include anything from Wet Willie to Marshall Tucker to Lynyrd Skynyrd, acts that have little in common stylistically or sound wise.”
Let Mr. Fitzgerald tool with the past all he wants. Let’s focus on today. Nearly half a century after Mo Slotin, writing for Atlanta’s underground paper The Great Speckled Bird, coined the phrase in a review of an Allman Brothers Band concert, Daytona Beach’s indie powerhouse Greye is kicking ass, stirring up the hard driving dust these past years (via hundreds of local and regional shows, only briefly interrupted by the pandemic) on a fiery, no holds barred, in your face vibe that’s unleashing Southern Rock 2.0 on the world!
Since the term “Southern Rock” traces its origins to the clever phrasing of a single astute reviewer, it makes perfect sense to leave it to the music journalist tastemakers to let you know what you’ve been missing if you haven’t yet been blown away live by this multi-generational band featuring 20-something Hannah Summer (lead vocals/lyrics), guitarist Jett Wolfe, bassist Lorenzo Rizzardi and the “older guys” who grew up during a time when SR 1.0 reigned on the pop charts, drummer Ray Grimard and keyboardist Ken-e Williams.
Even if you’re new to the raw, raucous and authentically rockin’ Greye aesthetic, you should know that they’re a helluva lot more than a regional phenomenon. As they dropped their most recent single, the fiery, unstoppable “Over My Head,” they were riding high overseas, with three consecutive #1s (“So Far So Good,” “Growing Pains,” “I Don’t Mind” on the Euro Indie Music Chart and World Indie Music Chart. Previously, their first 2020 track “Lucky” hit #1 on the World Indie chart and #2 on the Euro chart while racking up over 1.2 million views for its video. “I Don’t Mind” also landed quickly at #2 on Spotify’s Global Radio Chart Toppers playlist.
Maybe it’s because they’re located along the Central Florida Atlantic Coast. Or maybe, for those writers who know their Greye history, it’s the fact that the band formed back in 2013 at Seabreeze High (alma mater of Duane and Gregg Allman, Class of ’65) when Hannah and Jett were students and Ray was on the faculty. But a lot of writers checking out the band’s sixth and latest album So Far So Good are labeling what they hear, among other things, Southern Rock – and drawing appropriately impactful parallels to the classic sound.
Claire Uebelacker of Ballyhoo Magazine writes, “Thunderously groove-laden in one track and carefully layered as to channel the heavy metal gods in another, it’s obvious when listening to the new album So Far So Good from Greye that the noted Daytona Beach rock outfit has a lot of energy they’re looking to burn off this summer. . .“Shoulda Coulda Woulda” delivers crunchy southern rock riffing where “Over My Head” takes a punky beat and ties it up with a blues-inspired harmony. . .
Samuel Pratt of Entertainment Eyes raves: “There’s no need to question whether you’re hearing a strong southern rock element in tracks like “Shoulda Coulda Woulda,” the blues-powered “Burn” or “Lucky,” as this group of Floridian musicians are undisputedly putting a lot of Skynyrd into their artistic structure here – and unashamedly, I might add. There’s a lot more of a countrified aesthetic influencing the relentless kick of the instrumentation of all ten songs on the album, but it’s never presented in such a fashion as to alienate the rock n’ roll puritans who have become the biggest source of support for this band – and many of their Daytona Beach rivals.”
In an earlier review of their single “Lucky” (which appears on the new album), Nicole Killian of Mob York City made some pretty telling references: “The violent exchange between the different players is held together beautifully by Summer, whose voice acts as a sonic linchpin for every rough edged facet we encounter here, and even when the band is roaring like a southern garage rock unit ready to blow down the walls of an SEC stadium, the musicality they dispense is hardly overwhelming to the audience.”
One more ought to convince you that whether they intended to or not, Greye is at the forefront of a major movement. Clay Burton of Independent Music and Arts, Inc. (IMAAI) wrote, “Fiery guitars and southern-style beats are something of a commodity to the mainstream pop consumer these days, but for those of us who live on the left side of the dial, they’re hard to ignore when they’re being played by a band as talented as Greye are. . .(They) have been making rock their business for years now, lighting up an otherwise dismal Florida scene that hasn’t done much for anyone outside of the insular hip-hop underground in recent memory, and their latest album So Far So Good picks up right where their lauded 2019 effort Under the Weather left off.”
Grimard, who owns the local recording studio where Greye initially joined forces, is grateful that the critics are helping define the sound of the band in ways he and his cohorts always had some challenges with. There’s been a lot of organic growth from their early days when “progressive Americana Rock” seemed to be the best description, but not until recently did the drummer realize the value of being considered bona fide Southern rockers.
Another proverbial feather in Greye’s Southern Rock cap is the fact that they recorded their fifth album Under The Weather at the legendary FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama and had it mixed by multi-platinum engineer Brian Reeves, who has worked similar magic for everyone from Billy Idol and U2 to Elton John and Miley Cyrus. In Grimard’s estimation, Reeves is the one that helped catapult Greye from the status of “emerging regional band” to “rock powerhouse.”
As strong as her voice was, for Greye’s early years, Hannah took a polite, reserved approach to her lead vocals and stage presence. When the drummer sent a demo one of their songs to Reeves, the engineer replied, “Ray, I like the song, but your singer is not delivering everything that’s inside of her. She might really have it, but I can’t feel it yet.” Ray then delivered Brian’s reaction to the demo to Hannah. Ultimately, she got the message. Suddenly, it was like she took off every protective device on her and went out there and started blowing people away. She owns that stage, and she owns that mic in the studio. This prompted me and Jett to start writing heavier grooves and riffs for her to put lyrics to – because we knew she could deliver.”
“For years, people would come up to us and ask what kind of music we played,” Grimard says. “I would laugh and say it’s either s***y music or good music. But when I think about it, groups like the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd built their legend by doing exactly what Greye is doing, making music that’s authentic to who they are. For them, that meant a rock, blues and jazz hybrid, and for us because of our intergenerational, biracial makeup, it’s a fusion of R&B and heavy rock. Most of what is considered classic Southern rock came out of three counties in Florida, and we’re proud to be considered a modern manifestation of that incredible tradition.
Now that the band itself has caught on to what the musical tastemakers are hearing in them, Grimard add that he’s excited by the opportunity to present Greye to promoters as the new phase of Southern Rock rather than try to fit into the country-oriented lineups at some popular regional festivals. “We’re glad we went the balls to the wall rock route rather than morph our Americana leanings into what passes for country music today,” he says. “If Nashville had gotten a hold of us, they would have watered us down and emasculated us into a safe country/pop sound that has replaced what was once ass kicking, rock edged music that was born in the Southern U.S.”
As one of the older guys in the band, whose involvement with Greye led to the restoration of a long set aside dream to play music, Grimard comes from a rock and roll generation that didn’t mince words for fear of offending people. So, forgive his French when the drummer sums up Greye’s being a driving force in Southern Rock 2.0 this way: “Say goodbye to homogenized p***y rock. You’ve got to hear what’s coming out of the South these days. So, get ready. Our audience is there. The band sees it every week when we do the originals from the new album. They love them and don’t even know why.
MOB NEW YORK: “Lucky” by Greye – Mob York City
“Now we can tell them, because maybe they’re too young to realize it – it’s a simple return to good old hard driving Southern Rock without the redneck label,” he adds. “Okay, maybe not in the old school Skynyrd or Molly Hatchett sense with any type of hooky twang but in the real sense – with a soulful, intense and burning rock/blues power sound that breaks ground on and defines the new sense of the term. We’re continually grateful for all the fans, local and worldwide, who have allowed us to keep bringing that fresh air to what’s been a stale rock scene for way too long!”