The cover of Swamp Dogg’s second album Rat On! features the stocky vocalist, who at one time went by the name Little Jerry Williams, straddling a giant rodent. This fantastic imagery, Hieronymus Bosch by way of the Deep South, is unusual in R&B outside the P-Funk Diaspora, but Williams launched his Swamp Dogg persona with this singular lyric: “sitting on a cornflake/ridin’ on a roller skate.” Swamp Dogg is a small man with a big voice and a matching appetite for flesh and the spirit, promising Napleonically to all within earshot that he will “do total destruction to your mind.”
His band, especially drummer Johnny Sandlin, drives on the power of Williams’s voice, which critic Robert Christgau compared to an air raid siren. Williams’s ballads can be as unconventional as his boasts. “Hey you, on up from the Bayou,” is the iconic soul man introduction to “Synthetic World,” the auteur’s lament of a world that is so plastic “you can see through to the other side.” These are not standard R&B laments, but they are delivered with the plangent conviction of a soul man trying to navigate a psychedelic world in a deteriorating environment where human transplants are a reality.
Jerry Williams Jr. had been making records for 16 years under his given name before he took on the identity that made him famous. Swamp Dogg released Total Destruction to Your Mind [Remastered] in 1970, a breakout debut that he never bested. The record was released on tiny Canyon Records and was more heard of than listened to before 1982 when the equally tiny War Bride Records released a Swamp Dogg greatest hits album, decked with a cover photo of Williams in a hot dog bun with all the fixings.
Alive Records has reissued three classic Swamp Dogg albums on vinyl and digitally remastered CD. Total Destruction… is an indisputable classic, a hard-rocking R&B masterpiece that holds on to your dancing leg like a rabid animal and never lets go. 1971’s Rat On!, with its uninspired version of the Bee Gees’ “Got to Get a Message to You,” doesn’t live up to its cover, and Williams’ lyrical tropes come off as self-conscious.
But 1973’s Gag a Maggot, whose title seems a dismissive response to Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain, comes back with a cuckold’s vengeance on bitter alarms like “Wife Sitter” and ”I couldn’t pay for what I got last night.” The album’s startling tour de force may be the five-and-a-half-minute ballad “Choking to Death (From the Ties That Bind),” which builds a wordless tension that lives up to its name.
Thanks to Alive Records for bringing these classic albums back on vinyl, the best way to listen to them.Powered by Sidelines