Friday, May 17, 2013

Swamp Dogg "Total Destruction to Your Mind," "Rat On!" "Gag A Maggott"

[GUEST REVIEW BY JAMES PORTER] (Alive) Swamp Dogg has released over a dozen albums since the 1970, 1971, and 1973 LPs that Alive is reissuing this year, but as outrageous and bizarre as many of them have been, nothing matches the mind-blowing power of these R&B/rock/protest/progressive masterpieces that musically kept pretty loyal to Southern soul but conceptually were like nothing else on the market (which is probably why they were relegated to bargain bins instead of Casey Kasem countdowns). In 2000 Roctober published our Swamp Dogg listener guide, and the following excerpts hold true today:
After bursting on the scene as Little Jerry Williams in the 50s, the Virginia native continued in that vein for years, with minor success as a producer, songwriter and soul singer, until 1970 when he retired the sharkskin suit and the love songs and finally gave the world a piece of his mind with these two albums that started the show. Looking back, "Total Destruction" is like a a total reaction to the plastic soul sound of the period. While other producers would assemble a vocal group, string and horn sections, and a wah wah guitarist (to get the white kids!) in one studio and let them battle it out, nothing is wasted to excess on Swamp Dogg's debut. Yes, there's the guitar obbligatos of Pete Carr, Swamp's own Gospel piano, and the usual horn section, but it's Robert Popwell's bass playing that defines the sound. You can hear his forbidding pulse to best effect on "The World Beyond," holding down the bottom while Swamp recites a scarifying tale of life after wartime, one of the LP's several powerful, unique, political statements. "The Baby is Mine," a child custody song not to be confused with "Mama's Baby...Daddy's Maybe" (a minor hit from the same LP, Swamp's only non-Jerry Williams chart appearance unless you count a Kid Rock SD sample) is almost too much for one sitting: "When I come by the house/I'm quiet as a mouse/but he always starts something every time...I got my rights/she might be his wife/but the baby is mine!" While this album isn't as out there as similar soul experiments like Funkadelic or Gil Scott-Heron, songs like "Synthetic World," "Redneck," and the title track are more authentic than (admittedly great) Motown trifles like "Ball of Confusion" or "Friendship Train." Swamp Dogg was speaking his mind while the Motown songs were written to cash in on fads. "Rat On!" is slightly more normal --- the protest riffs, with the exception of "God Bless America," are less bitter and more generalized, and there are a few more cheatin' and infidelity songs ("Creepin' Away," "That Ain't My Wife") than previous, but the Dogg is still in top form.
For years both of this LPs have been available on one CD on domestic reissues (the SDEG label is Swamp Dogg's own) and from Charly in the UK, but not enough can be said about the cover art that ALive reproduces in full 12" glory on the new vinyl reissues. "Total Destruction" has an outrageous sleeve (an out of focus Polaroid of SD in shorts and a mortarboard sitting in the back of a garbage truck) so raw and funny and strange and amateurish that the devastating soul rock it sheathes is all the more powerful, and "Rat On!" (Ratso's fave LP cover of all time) has him riding a giant rat. If only to get the cover art restored to full size (even on the CD resissues it's a full five inches instead of two mini-covers on the prior CDs) these loving reissues would be worth the price, but they also sound great.
"Gag A Maggott" from 1973 has also been reissued. As with "Rat On!" the protest overtones have been toned down in favor of his #2 specialty (cheating songs with a bizarre twist). Since Swamp's label Stone Dogg was distributed by TK (the famed Miami soul label) he's got damn near the whole roster pitching in. George McCrae (soon to record "Rock Your Baby") and his wife Gwen (Rockin' Chair") and the underrated guitar of Little Beaver, who cut some fine jazz influenced blues discs of his own. Here he gets off some soulful strumming on "Please Let Me Kiss You Goodbye," gets funky on "Choking to Death from the Ties that Bind," and pretends he's Jerry reed on the countryish "Plastered to the Wall." There's also  an early attempt at Calypso (which Swamp embraced wholeheartedly decades later) and the infamous "Wife Sitter." You can't beat the bonus material here a stunning cover of "Honky Tokn Woman" and Swamp's great "Mama's Baby, Daddy's Maybe." Rat on, indeed!

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