Legendary eccentric soul man Swamp Dogg (aka Jerry Williams Jr.) has been celebrated as the inspired lunatic of old-school R&B ever since he unveiled his persona on the 1970 classic Total Destruction to Your Mind, but with the passage of time, the Dogg actually sounds saner than the average man in the 21st century, even though he's as bold and outspoken as ever. The White Man Made Me Do It is full of Swamp Dogg's thoughts on race, which is fitting for an album that was recorded in 2014, a year that saw the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner bring a new urgency to America's discussion of the uneasy relationship between African-Americans, whites, and state power; while Swamp Dogg never mentions either case in his lyrics, he has plenty to say about the pros and cons of being black in America. The title tune is a proud recounting of what people brought to the United States in chains went on to do for the nation, and why many are still waiting for their due reward. "Prejudice Is Alive and Well" dismisses the notion that we live in a post-racial culture, especially in the United States, "Where Is Sly" bemoans the decline of a man who brought plenty of truth (and great grooves) to the radio, and "If That Ain't the Blues, Nothing Is" takes aim at voter suppression, economic equality, and Republican congressmen trying to bring down the Affordable Care Act. At his best, Swamp Dogg sounds like the well-read guy at the bar who has plenty to say after his fifth beer, and his songs hit a fine middle ground between clever political commentary and streetside mess-taking, and that's just what he delivers on The White Man Made Me Do It's political numbers. Most of the rest of the album is devoted to covers of classic R&B oldies (including "You Send Me" and "Smokey Joe's Cafe") and tunes that evoke the era of classic soul ("Let Me Be Wrong" and "What Lonesome Is") that show the Dogg in fine voice, and though Williams was using synthesizers to construct his albums in the '80s and '90s, this set is full of real horn and guitars that make the music sound rich, expressive, and timeless (yes, there's a clanky drum machine, but that's forgivable in context). If the white man really did make Swamp Dogg record this album, than we really do have a reason to be grateful for whitey after all.
Swamp Dogg - The White Man Made Me Do It - New LP
The great Jerry Williams Jr., in his Swamp Dogg guise, here releases the first great soul set of 2015 and the set’s title and the art work let you know, even before you’ve heard a note, that the music’s going to be as controversial and idiosyncratic as anything he’s recorded in his remarkable six decade career.
The fourteen track set is built around the title track – a lengthy, loose, funky workout that’s full of sideswipes and biting social comment. Built around an insistent guitar riff, the centre piece is an old school rap rightly listing the achievements of Afro-Americans but despite those successes, Jerry asserts that little has changed even though we’re well into the 21st century. He returns to the theme in the self-explanatory ‘Prejudice Is Alive And Well’ – a bluesy, hard-hitting item that tells it like it is for so, so many disadvantaged.
Points made, Jerry’s been in the game long enough to know that an unrelenting diet of “misery songs” doesn’t make for a balanced album so he rightly tempers the social commentary with lighter songs that highlight his trademark storytelling and wry humour. Best of those is the man’s sideways tribute to Sly Stone…. ‘Where Is Sly’. Jerry lists Mr Stone’s achievements…. even comparing him to Tchaikovsky, Beethoven and James Brown but wonders just what he’s doing now; “is he off somewhere still getting high?”.
The album’s other light moments include a pleasing ‘Hey Renae’ and a lovely ‘I’m So Happy’. Fans of southern soul will delight in the ballad ‘What Lonesome Is’ and the more up-tempo ‘Light A Candle, Ring A Bell’.
The album also boats a trio of covers that hark back to Swamp’s roots. The chosen tunes are the Clovers ‘Your Cash Ain’t Nothing But Trash’, the Robins’ ‘Smokey Joe’s Cafe’ and Sam Cooke’s ‘You Send Me’. All are respectful to the originals but marked by this singer’s gruffer, grittier delivery.
‘The White Man Made Me Do It’ gets 2015 off to a great and soulful start and to make the set even more special the album comes with a bonus disc that offers 10 of Swamp’s best oldies – three of his own songs and seven he worked on as either writer and/or producer. No duds at all and amongst the highlights are Doris Duke’s ‘To The Other Woman’, Irma Thomas’ ‘In Between the Tears’ and Charlie Whitehead’s ‘Read Between the Lines’. The Swamp Dogg sides are, well, typically Swamp Dogg – amongst them ‘Fuck The Bomb Stop The Drugs’ and what could be his autobiography, ‘My Life Ain’t Nothing But a Blues Song’.
In 1970, Southern soul music maverick Jerry Williams, Jr. made the most radical move of his career. Frustrated with music business politics Williams reinvented himself as Swamp Dogg, an irreverent antihero smashing the conventions of commercial R&B music. Swamp Dogg's debut release Total Destruction to Your Mind featured a post-apocalyptic take on the Muscle Shoals’ sound, with lyrics inspired by the revolutionary politics and psychedelic drugs of the late '60s. The music on Total Destruction to Your Mind stood worlds apart from the formulaic pop tunes Williams started cutting in 1954 under the name Little Jerry, and Swamp Dogg hasn’t looked back since.But the music business wasn’t ready for Swamp Dogg, nor was the rest of America. His bizarre album titles and wild cover art turned the average consumer off, while his subversive lyrics earned him a spot on Richard Nixon's infamous enemies list. Swamp Dogg was not deterred. He seemed to relish operating from the margins of the music business, consequently becoming one of the quintessential outsider figures in American music.