Raunchy, satirical, political, and profane, Swamp Dogg is one of the great cult figures of 20th century American music. The creation of Jerry Williams, Jr., an R&B producer and songwriter of the '60s, Swamp Dogg fit no tidy category. In sheer musical terms, Swamp Dogg is pure Southern soul, anchored on tight grooves and accentuated by horns, but the Dogg is as much about message as music. Williams incorporated all the mind-bending psychedelic ideas of '60s counterculture -- drugs, sex, radical politics, social politics -- into the framework of deep soul, establishing his blueprint on 1970's Total Destruction to Your Mind, then spinning out variations over the next several decades, never having hits (although Total Destruction to Your Mind apparently went gold at some point), but earning a rabid cult following while raking in royalties through his behind-the-scenes work, which included penning the country standard "She's All I Got," popularized by Johnny Paycheck.
A native of Virginia, Williams began his career recording under the name Little Jerry, releasing a jump blues single called "HTD Blues" in 1954 when he was just 12 years old. For the next decade-and-a-half, he was an R&B journeyman working under the name Little Jerry Williams in the early '60s, then leaving the "little" behind in the mid-'60s, having a minor hit in 1966 with "Baby, You're My Everything." By that point, Williams had made serious inroads into the industry. He was working A&R and he was writing and producing singles, usually for unknown artists but occasionally for big names like Gene Pitney. Eventually, he earned the attention of Jerry Wexler and Phil Walden and began working behind the scenes at Atlantic Records in 1968, engineering and producing singles for the label. He also worked as a writer, and as the decade came to a close, he had written "She's All I Got" with Gary "U.S." Bonds, a song that wound up bringing him royalties for decades.
Also at the end of the '60s came Williams' first LSD trip and, with it, a properly blown mind that led him to create Swamp Dogg. Inspired by Frank Zappa's satire and politics but determined to still sing soul, Williams' Swamp Dogg was filthy and political, wrapped up in a cheerfully vulgar package...quite literally so, as he's seen sitting in his underwear on a pile of garbage on his 1970 debut, Total Destruction to Your Mind. All of Williams' studio skills are on display on Total Destruction -- the grooves are tight, not sloppy, the songs precisely written -- and although what he was singing about was firmly outside the mainstream, his deep southern soul sounded commercial, so it became an underground hit, gaining the attention of Elektra, which released his second album Rat On! in 1971. Rat On! streamlined Total Destruction to Your Mind but didn't change it much. It also didn't sell a whole lot, so he returned to the minor leagues, releasing Cuffed, Collared and Tagged in 1972 and the gonzo Gag a Maggot in 1973, and he maintained a large enough fan base to get him back on a major for 1974's Have You Heard This Story?, which appeared on Island.
Dogg's return to the big leagues was short-lived. Throughout the '70s, he regularly released albums which he never supported with live gigs, while continuing to do production work, including collaborations with Z.Z. Hill, Doris Duke, Irma Thomas, and Freddie North, who first had a hit with "She's All I Got" in 1971 and regularly recorded Williams' originals. The productions and writing kept the money coming in and allowed Williams to frequently record as Swamp Dogg, releasing albums on a variety of independent labels, soon winding up with a truly byzantine discography that was reissued and repurposed over the years. He occasionally dabbled in different fads -- he attempted disco, he recorded a country album for Mercury Nashville in 1981 that went unreleased -- but he set up shop at Swamp Dogg Entertainment Group (SDEG) and churned out indie records for his small, dedicated cult, including the ongoing reissue series The Excellent Sides of Swamp Dogg. Occasionally, this cult crested into the mainstream: in 1995, he released the compilation Best of 25 Years of Swamp Dogg...Or F*** the Bomb, Stop the Drugs, his debut Total Destruction to Your Mind was finally certified gold in 1992, and seven years later, Kid Rock sampled the LP for "I Got One for Ya" on his breakthrough hit album Devil Without a Cause. Swamp Dogg began playing live gigs around this time and his original records were often sampled on hip-hop tracks, bringing him some money and expanding his audience ever so slightly. In 2009, he released a pair of new albums -- Give Em as Little as You Can...As Often as You Have To...Or...A Tribute to Rock N Roll and the seasonal An Awful Christmas and a Lousy New Year -- and he continued to record, with the occasional single seeing release. Ace rounded up a bunch of singles -- including sides he recorded under the name Jerry Williams -- for the 2011 release It's All Good: Singles Collection 1963-1989, which may stand as the most comprehensive single-disc overview of his complicated discography.
In 2013, Swamp Dogg received a considerable boost in profile when Alive Naturalsound reissued Total Destruction to Your Mind and Rat On! in March; the albums were scheduled to be followed by reissues of Gag a Maggot and some of Williams' '70s productions for other artists.
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine - courtesy the All Music Guide
Swamp Dogg on YouTube:
Listed to Public Radio International's interview with Swamp Dogg.
Michael Hurtt on the Genius of Swamp Dogg.