Swamp Dogg Speaks :: The Aquarium Drunkard Interview

Jerry Williams Jr. didn’t adopt the handle “Swamp Dogg” in the early ‘70s in order to confuse, obfuscate, or mislead anyone. To hear the man tell it, he took on the name because it was imperative to do so. “It was born out of a necessity, to find myself, my identity,” the 70-year-old singer says via phone from his home in Southern California. His voice is pitched high, laced with a strong Southern accent that betrays his Georgia roots.

“I didn’t know who Jerry Williams was for a while. That’s when I started having a lot of acute anxiety. Here I had agoraphobia and claustrophobia, at the same motherfucking time. Swamp Dogg wasn’t afraid of anything, where at that time Jerry Williams was afraid of his shadow. I knew Jerry Williams was still the motive for Swamp Dogg; it was like putting a Chevy motor in a Rolls-Royce. That’s what made it run. It’s not really a Rolls, you know? It’s a Chevy that looks like one.”

This month sees the re-release Swamp Dogg’s gonzo soul classics Total Destruction to Your Mind and Rat On!, via California-based label Alive Records. Originally released in 1970 and ‘71 by Canyon Records and Elektra, respectively, the records exhibit the organic change from “Little” Jerry Williams — who’d recorded R&B platters and worked for a short stint as a staff producer at Atlantic — into the wild and feral Swamp Dogg.

MP3: Swamp Dogg :: Creeping Away

Total Destruction’s title track roars with amplified funk boogie, with guitarist Jesse Carr and drummer Johnny Sandlin providing fuzz and a gutbucket beat. The song establishes Swamp Dogg as a character on the same wavelength as rock’s avant garde, with gritty, hard-edged melodies, and a clear admiration for blue-collar country. But it’s not all bombast: Rat On! delivers a couple exquisite weepers, like the tender Bee Gees cover, “Got to Get a Massage to You” and “Predicament #2,” where Swamp mourns a bad situation: he’s got a great wife, but he’s also got a great mistress. Why can’t one woman be both?   “Back then, people were like, ‘Why would someone call themselves a dog?’” he laughs. “People would come down on me because I named myself Dogg. People would say, ‘Why would you name yourself that? What’s your real name? I’m not going to call you that! I’m going to call you by your real name,’ and I said, ‘You can call me by Kiss-My-Ass, you know? I am Swamp Dogg, you motherfucker, and that’s it.”

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