BY CARL HANNI
The third of Alive Natural Sound’s releases of southern soul eccentric Swamp Dogg’s early catalogue (following Total Destruction To Your Mind from 1970 and Rat On! from 1971), Gag a Maggot (1973) picks right up where they left off, a wide territory that spans the distance between the surreal and the soulful.
If you’re unfamiliar with Swamp Dogg (born Jerry Williams Jr.), well here’s your chance to catch up with some of the dynamic early work of one of R&B’s great characters. The beauty of Swamp Dogg is that he scores both coming and going: he’s both a hilariously in-your-face character with a wicked, deeply off-the-wall sense of humor, and a terrific soul singer and songwriter. He also benefited from recording in some of the greatest studios in the south (Capricorn in Macon, Muscle Shoals, etc.), which were stacked with world class house musicians. Gag a Maggot was recorded in Miami, and benefits immeasurably from the smooth, funky guitar playing of Willie Hale, aka Little Beaver, one of the great blues/soul fusion guitar players of the era. The band (Little Beaver, bass player Ron Bogdon, drummer Ivan Olander, some horns and Williams on piano) cooks up tight, tasty southern soul grooves than bridge the gap between gospel, soul and country.
Gag a Maggot features nine Dogg/Williams originals, several co-written with one S. McKinney, a decent version of “Midnight Hour,” and a throw away version “Honky Tonk Women,” one of two bonus tracks not on the original LP. As always, the songs titles tell a lot of the story: “Wife Sitter,” “Choking to Death (From the Ties that Bind),” “I Couldn’t Pay For What I Got Last Night,” “Plastered to the Wall (Higher Than the Ceiling)” and a live version of his nasty slow blues classic “Mama’s Baby, Daddy’s Maybe,” the other extra track. The material flows effortlessly from raunchy to topical to sweet, a nice trick if you can pull it off.
But seriously, the record is worth the price of admission for the recently penned liner notes alone, both in the insert and the CD sleeve. Williams has not lost a step over the decades since these tracks were cut: “Henry (Stone, southern soul industry maven) wasn’t like other industry heads. He fucked you and made you love it. You’d wake up the next day and ask ‘what was that and what else can I do to contribute to the cause?’ Henry used a condom, some gel and fatback grease. You almost apologized for being unresponsive.”
Or “I’ve been told that I was light years ahead of myself with my music. Well I’ve finally caught the fuck up. My trip was so long that when I got back, vinyl was back and the president was black. I must have been frozen in ice for several decades. People now telling me how great I am and I’m a genius. Hell I was great back then, but I was the only one who knew it or gave a good goddamn.” Elsewhere he name checks Nixon and Bernie Madoff back to back, and drops something about a ‘faggot great dane.’ Man, this guy just does not have a filter. Which, of course, is a large part of the charm of the persona known as Swamp Dogg, which, one suspects, is essentially a larger version of Jerry Williams, Jr. Whatever it is, it works, and we’re all a little stranger and better off for it.
DOWNLOAD: “Wife Sitter,” “Why Must We Fall (When We Fall in Love),” “Mighty Mighty Dollar Bill,” “ Choking to Death (From the Ties that Bind).”