At the beginning of Sherill Tippins' wonderful new book February House
(more about which in a future post) she mentions a meeting between Carson McCullers and George Davis (the fiction editor of Harper's Bazaar)
in which Davis used the phrase "a marvellous swamp in sinister frondescence." I find it impossible to get these words out of my head as I try to conjure up the image of that most mysterious of musicians, Swamp Dogg, imagining him as some half-mad character arising from the mist enshrouded primordial ooze with his guitar encrusted in plankton and a crawfish or two hanging on for dear life.
Sadly, none of my dozens of musical reference books is of much help in uncovering the real person behind the Swamp Dogg legend. When I first heard of Swamp Dogg (mentioned I believe by Richard Moore in DAPA-EM
), I didn't have a clue as to who he was or why I might want to know more about him. Then I discovered that I actually owned an unlistened to (nothing new there) CD by the Dogg (maybe for a touch of class, it could be Swamp Doge and now we will envision him rising from the Grand Canal). Anyway, I finally listened to this no doubt critically undervalued CD, somewhat disarmingly entitled Best of 25 Years of Swamp Dogg ... Or F***k The Bomb, Stop the Drugs
. Once you hear the Dogg, mere music just doesn't seem enough anymore.
I guess it really hasn't diminished the experience now that I know that Swamp Dogg is really Doo Wop legend, Jerry Williams. Williams explains his use of the Swamp Dogg name in the CD booklet: "I became Swamp Dogg in 1970 in order to have an alter-ego and someone to occupy the body while the search party was out looking for Jerry Williams, who was mentally missing in action due to certain pressures, mal-treatments and failure to get paid royalties on over fifty single records ...."
One hardly knows where to begin when discussing Swamp Dogg but maybe the best place is the genesis of his name. The "swamp" part comes from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, the "mecca of funk" which inspired legendary Atlantic Records v.p. Jerry Wexler to coin the term "swamp music." Jerry Williams doesn't disappoint on the explanation of the Dogg part: "So I came up with the name Dogg because a dog can do anything, and anything a dog does never comes as a real surprise; if he sleeps on the sofa, shits on the rug, pisses on the drapes, chews up your slippers, humps your mother-in-law's leg, jumps on your new clothes and licks your face, he's never gotten out of character."
You might find it interesting to spend a few minutes at the Dogg's website: swampdogg.com. On the site is lots of interesting information (he was the first to convince Lionel Ritchie to sing!) and he's published an article entitled If I Can't Be Your Husband, Let Me Be Your Wife
. He's also got a song entitled If I Ever Kiss It, He Can Kiss It Goodbye
. Choosing my favorite Swamp Dogg song was easy -- how can you top (at least title-wise) The Love We Got Ain't Worth Two Dead Flies
Swamp Dogg's most controversial song is probably his seven minute and sixteen second magnum opus, Call Me Nigger
. The Dogg successfully takes the stigma out of the N word in a masterful performance and you can be sure that no one will ever attempt a cover version of this song!
A national treasure, Swamp Dogg is an experience best experienced in his 1995 Virgin Records compilation, Best of 25 Years of Swamp Dogg ... Or F***k the Bomb, Stop the Drugs
(check out eBay for this one) .
Tomorrow this recording gem will be winging its way to the Crider compound and if the Texas authorities let it pass through, he will almost certainly weigh in on it himself. Long live the Dogg!!!