Sunday, Aug 25
In the history of rock & roll, there has never been anyone quite like Swamp Dogg.
“For decades, Swamp Dogg has bent R&B/soul traditions as far as they can stretch,” wrote Richie Unterberger in Unknown Legends of Rock ‘n Roll (Backbeat Books, 1998). “Funk grooves are wedded to old Fats Domino licks. Raunchy tales of sexual (in)fidelity butt up against lyrics probing social injustice, racism and the waste of war. His keening voice is a blend of Jackie Wilson, Van Morrison, Percy Sledge, and pure Swamp Dogg, drawing from soul, rock, and even country. It’s black popular music that is too eclectic to pigeonhole—and, for some tastes, too hot to handle in its frank examination/reflection of American society. Even if it is funny.”
In 1970, the first Swamp Dogg single appeared on Canyon Records. A bluesy ballad on the theme of dubious paternity co-written with Gary Bonds, “Mama's Baby, Daddy's Maybe” reached #33 on the Billboard R&B chart and set the stage for the long-playing debut Total Destruction to Your Mind , which included the anti-consumerist “Synthetic World”; “The Baby Is Mine,” a sort of answer song to his hit single; and two tunes, “Redneck” and “These Are Not My People,” composed by Joe South, the white Georgia singer/songwriter of “Games People Play” fame.
1Meanwhile, Swamp Dogg continued to work with a host of other artists across multiple genres. In 1971, for example, Nashville R&B DJ Freddie North cut the Jerry Williams/Gary Bonds composition “She’s All I Got.” Released on Swamp’s Mankind Records, North scored a #10 R&B/#39 Pop hit, which was then covered by the white country singer Johnny Paycheck for a #2 Country hit and a Top 5 Country album of the same title. Johnny Paycheck’s “She’s All I Got” is heard over the opening credits of the Mike Judge film Extract starring Mila Kunis, Ben Affleck, and Jason Batemen.
Many more Swamp Dogg albums have appeared in the decades since Total Destruction To Your Mind, from the major -label debut Rat On (Elektra, 1971) to the self-released Resurrection (2007), praised by Robert Christgau in Rolling Stone as the Dogg’s “most inspired album since 1991 ’s Surfin’ in Harlem.” The fact that not one of these discs ever breached the Billboard Top 200 has never deterred their creator: Indeed, by retaining ultimate ownership of his master tapes and song publishing, Swamp Dogg has fared better financially than many better-known artists who had hit records in the Seventies and Eighties.
Take, for example, “Slow Slow Disco” from Swamp Dogg’s Finally Caught Up With Myself , an album barely released in 1977 on the budget label Springboard International. In 1998, this track was heavily sampled by Kid Rock on “I Got One For Ya” and earned Jerry Williams Jr. a writer credit on Rock’s 11X platinum album Devil Without A Cause. In another instance, Talib Kweli & Hi Tek sampled “Shaft’s Mama” (from Swamp Dogg’s 1977 album An Opportunity...Not A Bargain!!!) for “Move Somethin’,” a cut on Talib’s 2000 album Reflection Eternal.
“I’m glad I didn’t make it, back in the days as Little Jerry Williams,” Swamp Dogg told BluesCritic.com. “I really wasn't that unhappy, ‘cause I didn’t get into music for the money but because I love the music. You can see by the shit I put out, I don't care too much for the brass ring!”
“As Swamp Dogg, I could be whoever I was at that particular time. If I wanna sing a love song, if I wanna sing about fucking, if I want to sing about politics – whatever I wanted to sing about, I could do it as a dog, since you expect a dog to do just about anything. . .and he’s forgiven afterwards!”