Swamp Dogg reissues psychedelic soul albums, to celebrate at Echo

Jerry Williams Jr., a.k.a. Swamp Dogg, and singer Ruth Brown. Swamp Dogg will make a rare live appearance on Saturday, July 27, at the Echo.
(Courtesy Jerry Williams Jr. / Alive Naturalsounds)
Los Angeles Times Pop Music Critic

Those not familiar with the iconoclastic soul artist Swamp Dogg might know him through his biggest hit, “Don’t Take Her (She’s All I’ve Got),” which hit the top five twice in the 1960s and ‘70s.

If not for that, perhaps you’ve seen the singer, songwriter, producer, psychedelic soul music purveyor on some of the most surreal album covers of the 1970s. Dogg, born Jerry Williams Jr., also penned gems later recorded by Bob Dylan, Irma Thomas, Patti LaBelle and dozens of others.

Williams will make a rare appearance at the Echo on Saturday night, where he’ll perform songs from throughout his career. The impetus?

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His tripped-out early 1970s albums “Total Destruction to Your Mind,” “Rat On!” and “Gag a Maggot” (the latter featuring a cover replete with Swamp’s head floating amid a pile of garbage)  have just been reissued by label Alive Naturalsound, bringing back to life work that combined lyrics about politics, race and psychedelia through frantic early 1970s soul. “Total Destruction,” in fact, was recorded at the legendary Muscle Shoals studios in Alabama, and its dozen songs are wild, singular gems.

“Sitting on a corn flake, riding on a roller skate,” he sings to open the title track, a rollercoaster jam of wah-wah pedal, brass, humming organs and a choice break. Elsewhere on the album he offers stream-of-consciousness lines such as  “Spirit dust your head color red/Sparkle your insides pink with pleasure/Waves splash, silver your sky” before moving into a series of “la la la” vocal melodies.

“The World Beyond” is written about a time after the world has ended. “Tell me about the automobile,” sings Swamp. “How did it run, and what was a wheel?/Did children stand up all alone?/I think that you’re putting me on.”

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Some of the more out-there lyrics now sound dated, but the music stands up: This is serious soul music recorded by some masters of the genre.

Though born in Virginia, Williams has lived in the Valley for decades, but seldom plays live. His gig at the Echo will be part of Jeremy Sole’s excellent regular event “Funky Sole,” and it offers a rare opportunity to witness an unsung master in a live setting.   


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Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit

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