Soul is one of those things often imitated but never truly replicated. It’s pretty simple; you either have it or you don’t. As for the man known as Swamp Dogg, he has so much he swims in it.
Known worldwide for the past fifty years as a blues/soul singer (and the original D-O double G), Swamp has an entirely lesser-known musical career. Prior to the creation of his Swamp Dogg alter ego / person in 1970, he lived life as Jerry Williams Jr, his given birth name. As Williams he not only served as an A&R man for Musicor, he was a producer for Atlantic Records with music moguls Jerry Wexler and Phil Walden and also co-wrote the iconic song “(Don’t Take Her) She’s All I’ve Got” that Johnny Paycheck, Freddie North and Tracy Byrd each took into the Billboard Top Ten.
Released in early March of this year, Sorry You Couldn’t Make It has been praised across the board by outlets like NPR Music, Pitchfork, Vice and us here at American Songwriter where our own Geoffrey Himes said, “Swamp Dogg and Jerry Williams live inside the same brain, sometimes getting along and sometimes fighting. Out of their unusual relationship have come some of the strangest, most compelling records of the past half century.”
Sorry You Couldn’t Make It, his twenty-third full-length album, is the ‘country’ album Swamp has promised / threatened for years in the sense that the songs and sounds harken back to his earliest of years when he would listen to his Grandpa’s records ‘Mule Train’ by Frankie Laine or ‘Riders in the Sky’ by Vaughn Monroe. In addition to Swamp’s own version of “(Don’t Take Her) She’s All I’ve Got,” the album is highlighted by two songs with his late friend, the incomparable John Prine, in “Memories” and reflective “Please Let Me Go Round Again.” The latter, originally written and demoed when Swamp was in his 40’s, is a plea for one more chance at life, sung with acute emotional connection. Hard to believe one month and one day after the album was released, Prine was gone forever.
American Songwriter chatted with the 77-year-old musical cult hero to talk about the album opener, “Sleeping With You is a Dragg” that features Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and Jenny Lewis. Warm and weathered with the comfortable sound of a Hammond B3 wrapping its arms around you, “Sleeping With You is a Dragg” is soul and painful emotion personified.
“The song ‘Sleeping Without You is a Dragg’ is something we’ve all experienced at one time or another, trying to keep up with our quote-unquote loved ones. It describes the emotions of going through a bad relationship…
“And at the end, I reached back to the good old days of VHS and Beta tape with a commercial at the end for a song that’s yet to come out. But details on that one later!”