Jerry Williams was no lazy dog that’s for sure as Alive Records release four more remastered albums in Swamp Dogg’s Soul and Blues Collection with original artwork and new offbeat liner notes from the Dogg himself. Unlike Total Destruction To Your Mind, Rat On! and Gag A Maggott, these were cut on other artists but with Dogg on writing, recording and production duties they’re very much his babies from a prolific early 70s period.
Doris Duke’s I’m A Loser is the most familiar album having seen previous reissues and being, quite correctly, considered a deep soul classic. Swamp Dogg, then still plain Jerry Williams, signed Doris in 1969 as the resulting I’m A Loser was released early the following year.
Nobody does wounded quite like this Doris. There’s a ragged bruised quality to her voice which perfectly suits the songs given to her. Her man leaves her in the opening track and things seldom get much better as she catalogues a series of broken relationships and tough living. In “I Don’t Care Anymore”, she’s destitute, alone on a lumpy bed in cheap hotel room, and doesn’t “know if I’m better off alive or dead” until a smooth stranger offers her a job. Street-walking. Them’s the breaks honey.
Yet despite the title and heaps of misery, I’m A Loser isn’t a particularly depressing listen, thanks to Swamp’s clean and airy production. It’s not overwrought and at times it can sound mildly uplifting if the lyrics aren’t concentrated on too closely. “I Can’t Do Without You” (one of the two non-Dogg penned tracks) is more upbeat although the chorus “Like an addict hooked on drugs, I can’t do without you,” is hardly radio friendly. After the preceding tracks the minor hit single which ends the album, “To The Other Woman (I’m The Other Woman)”, is a strange sort of triumph as Doris convinces herself she’s better off as a mistress than a wife.
As Doris Duke’s star grew, so, according to Swamp’s never-less-than-frank liner notes, did her ego and her drinking, carrying around a half pint of cognac in her purse at all times. “I just couldn’t figure out why I was a sweetheart during the first part of the day and as night approached, I became a sack full of motherfuckers”. With her increasing unreliability Swamp sent out Sandra Phillips in her place to cover appearances. “Thank God all black people look alike”. Not only did they not look alike, they didn’t sound much alike either.
Signed in 1970, and groomed in Swamp’s mind as Duke’s replacement Sandra Phillips’s Too Many People In One Bed featured eleven of his (sometimes co-written) songs, including a couple already released by Doris.
Swamp couldn’t afford to add horns to Doris’s album but they’re used to good effect here; not too overpowering. Phillips has a wonderfully soulful voice (less battered than Duke, she appears of sounder mind and body) and Too Many People In One Bed is a great southern soul album which improves on every listen and Swamp once again demonstrated his remarkable talent for writing from a woman’s perspective. “She Didn’t Know (She Kept On Talking)” where Sandra listens to another woman bragging about her man, only to realise she’s talking about her own husband, is a masterpiece.
Too Many People In One Bed didn’t see a proper release at the time (Canyon Records going downstream) so Phillips found her vocation as star of stage and screen Williams developed his Swamp Dogg persona, plus created one for Tyrone Thomas, who he named Wolfmoon.
The idea was to create a spiritual theme to Wolfmoon’s self-titled album and Swamp provided a light but funky gospel/R&B groove. Some of the titles alone: “Cloak Of Many Colors”, “If He Walked Today”, “What Is Heaven For” and “God Bless” make the concept clear enough and they’re bolstered by a trio of interesting covers. I usually can’t stand “If I Had A Hammer” – it’s a dreadful song – but Wolf’s Muscle Shoals-style version works far better than any other I’ve heard. An eight and a half minute reading of “People Get Ready” goes from church recital to the outer limits of freaky space travel and “Proud Mary” is the funkiest thing this side of Bootsy Collins’s boot collection.
Swamp’s notes are short on recording details and long on character assassination (“Wolfmoon’s a treacherous, two-faced song thief; with possible cannibal tendencies”) but as far as I can work out Wolfmoon was another album which fell between the cracks in record company shenanigans and only saw a limited release. It’s another strong showing from Dogg’s stable/kennel and deserves belated recognition.
Last up is The Brand New Z.Z. Hill which, as expected from Hill, is a more soulful blues affair. This one definitely did find release; sneaking into the Billboard Top 200 in 1971 and scoring a few hit singles on the R&B charts. It’s okay but not really my bag and especially not when compared to the other three albums here which I’d recommend in the order of writing.
All releases in the Swamp Dogg Blues and Soul Collection also including albums by Irma Thomas, Lightnin' Slim and Raw Spitt are released by Alive Naturalsound Records.