Connoisseurs of soul music consider Swamp Dogg (Jerry Williams) a genius for his six decades of work as a songwriter, singer, producer, and instrumentalist. Although he may not be known to the general public, R&B aficionados know and appreciate Dogg’s body of work. Well, before we turn him into an idol and/or icon, we should remember; HE IS NOT DEAD! In fact, he’s just released a 14-song disc that reveals why so many revere the man.
Part of this Dogg’s appeal always could be found in his strange sense of humor and gritty look at reality. He’s not above being vulgar or afraid to be saintly, whether singing about love, race, politics, sex, or god, even at the same time. That’s as true today as it ever was. Dogg opens with a history lesson and a civics lecture on the opening track, “The White Man Made Me Do It” from which the album gets its title. He asserts slavery and Jim Crow racism made black people what they are, a great people who had to be better than whites to survive. He notes black Americans—male and female—have thrived in every walk of life from business to medicine to music to science and invention to politics. And he does this to a funky electric guitar lick reminiscent of Prince’s “Kiss”, heavy horns, and a rich pulsating beat.
Dogg covers several oldies, and by that I mean old for him (pre-seventies) including Sam Cooke’s romantic “You Send Me”, the droll humor of The Clover’s “Your Cash Ain’t Nothing But Trash”, and The Coaster’s tale of warning, “Smokey Joe’s Café”. He makes this songs fresh again by putting his own spin on them. He’s true to the sources without copying them by singing in his own voice in soul revue fashion. Although they are studio productions, they feel live and vibrant. So when he changes a lyric from “He grabbed me by the collar and began to shout / You’d better eat up all your beans boy and clear right on out” to go “You eat up all you chili beans and get the fuck out”, it sounds as if he is doing the earthy original instead of a new interpretation of a classic Leiber/Stoller song.
He also sings the blues on such tracks as “Lying, Lying, Lying Woman”, “If That Ain’t The Blues Nothing Is”, and “What Lonesome Is”. Dogg’s pleading voice contains the cold rain and cold women that make up his world, but there remains a glint of optimism. The sun may set every evening, but he knows it rises again in the morning. That explains why he can sing spirituals such as “I’m So Happy” and “Light a Candle Ring a Bell” with such conviction. When life brings him to his knees, he knows it’s time to pray and be thankful for what he has. Dogg never pretends to be holier than anyone else and reminds us to lend others a helping hand.
Crate diggers consider finding one of Dogg’s old records a major find. However, one doesn’t have to search dusty bins for old soul gems. You could just buy a brand spanking new copy of The White Man Made Me Do It and blame it on me. I gladly accept that responsibility!