Hit Me, Shorty: A Swamp Dogg Retrospective

“Swamp Dogg don’t fuck around,” wrote John Morthland in 1971 for Creem. Back then, Dogg– né Jerry Williams– had two albums to his name– Total Destruction To Your Mind and Rat On!—that captured his singular version of Southern soul music. Five decades and 21 albums later, nothing’s changed. He’s a timeless template for eccentrics who thrive on the fringes, unconcerned with decorum and Top 40 politics.

On Friday, July 21, Dogg returns to Macon to perform at the Capitol Theatre. In anticipation, here’s a must-listen career-spanning mix of Swamp essentials.

1. “She’s So Divine” (1965)

Swamp Dogg B.A. (Before Acid). In a previous life, Dogg performed as Little Jerry Williams, knocking out a string of life-affirming singles like “Let’s Do the Wobble” and “You Call It Love” that captured the breeze and brash of R&B transitioning from doo wop to soul. Here, Williams channels the honey-throated bounce of Jackie Wilson– Mr. Excitement– in a 3-minute slap of dizzying praise for his love and some gonzo guitar.  “I feel so unnecessary!”

2. “Total Destruction of Your Mind” (1970)

According to Williams, experiments with acid broke ground for his Swamp Dogg alter-ego. The music followed suit. Indiscriminate use of “psychedelic-soul” has robbed the term of its appeal.– but this frenzied opening shot from Dogg’s debut of the same name deserves the description. Gratuitous wah-wah, Jimmy Nolan-esque chicken scratches, and from-the-other-side observations (“Sitting on a cornflake/Ridin’ on a roller skate”)– by the opening verse, it’s as if Little Jerry Williams never existed. 

3. “Predicament #2” (1971)

Our singer’s wife is the total package– a devoted companion, a loving mother to his children. Somehow, that’s not enough. On his second album, Rat On!, Dogg shocks with an admission of infidelity that’s more a rationalization than a confession. Cruel fate has given him two women, one a lover, the other a spouse he can’t shake. We’re hoping for a Come-to-Jesus moment or a comeuppance, but there is no admission, plea for mercy, or punishment. The absence of disgrace haunts us.

4. “Complication #5” (1972)

Dogg’s soulful version of I Am Legend.  Post-apocalyptic, last-man-on-earth circumstances aside, what’s most tragic and chilling is the realization that it’s only now, the end of the world, that he can live a life free from discrimination. 

5. “Plastered To The Wall (Higher Than The Ceiling)” (1973)

The crisis is familiar: The sober, respectable fellow lost his girl and now spends his days and nights getting fucked up. What’s strange is Dogg’s version of the story. What could be a down-in-the-gutter dirge of a cautionary tale instead dismisses any pathos with a horn-filled outro suitable for a bedazzled Broadway finale. As the song marches to a conclusion, one imagines the singer, triumphant and chin-up, strolling to the liquor store, high-fiving everyone he meets, for another pint.

6. “Wife Sitter” (1973)

Cuckold-core that’s as shameless as the title suggests. While you were out, our singer moved in. He’s in bed with your wife, and he’s gonna raise your kids. Robert Johnson was murdered for less than this.

7. “Redneck” (1970)

You want required listening? This is it. Dogg grooves in the Stax tradition– whiplash drum fills, regal horns, and exclamation-point guitar stabs– in a scathing indictment of the good ol’ boys who traffic in daddy’s money, nepotism, tough-guy posturing, remember-when football field glories, and that heritage-not-hate bullshit. Play this the next time you get a friend request from that guy from your high school days.

8. “The White Man Made Me Do It” (2014)

A history lesson dressed in a neo-funk workout. Dogg gets at the roots of African Americans’ resolve and success– slavery, Jim Crow, and all sins in between have imbued them with the strength to survive and thrive. After presenting his thesis, he spitfires a Whitman-like catalog of Blacks who have gone unrecognized as American heroes. The song, Dogg told Glide Magazine, “is about knowing that the white man didn’t invent everything, didn’t create everything, and as a black man you’re not as stupid as you have been made to think you are. You can accomplish things also and everything we have done, we have risen to the top to be number one.”

9. “Soul To Blessed Soul” (2022)

Gospel-gone-so-sexy that it reminds you why the church anticipated the Seven Plagues when Sam Cooke traded hymns for breaking hearts.

10. “Memories” (2020)

Beginning with 2014’s The White Man Made Me Do It through last year’s I Need a Job…So I Can Buy More Auto-Tune, Dogg has been on a tear, releasing four albums that give lie to the notion that artists peak early, their later years a descent into creative banality. Sorry You Couldn’t Make It is the masterpiece of the bunch, a devasting set of country-soul songs that carry the burden of mortality. In “Memories,” he trades verses with John Prine, but they always return to a hard truth: “Memories don’t leave like people do.” The reality of that truism is underscored by the decaying fidelity of the song’s final moments, voices cutting in and out like a radio broadcast losing its signal as the car runs out of road. 

See Swamp Dogg LIVE with special guest Tami Neilson, Friday, July 21st at the Capitol Theatre in Downtown Macon! Purchase tickets now