Graded on a Curve: Swamp Dogg,
Total Destruction
to Your Mind

Let us, dear reader, turn to the strange case of Jerry Williams, aka Swamp Dogg. In 1970, tired of playing “second banana” and biding his time as a “jukebox” for other people’s songs while getting screwed over in the royalties department in the process, the deep soul and R&B singer decided to reinvent himself. “So,” in his own words, “I came up with the name Dogg because a dog can do anything, and anything a dog does never comes as a real surprise; if he sleeps on the sofa, shits on the rug, pisses on the drapes, chews up your slippers, humps your mother-in-law’s leg, jumps on your new clothes and licks your face, he’s never gotten out of character. You understand what he did, you curse while making allowances for him but your love for him never diminishes.”

Dogg’s reinvention, which was apparently aided by an LSD trip, allowed him to turn his attention to, in his own words again, “Sex, niggers, love, rednecks, war, peace, dead flies, home wreckers, Sly Stone, my daughters, politics, revolution and blood transfusions (just to name a few),” without ever getting out of character. Recorded at Muscle Shoals and Macon, Georgia with a bevy of incredibly talented session guys, the songs on Dogg’s 1970 debut LP Total Destruction to Your Mind are every bit as strange as the album’s cover, which shows Swamp Dogg in his underwear sitting on a pile of garbage. One of a kind he is. If you have any doubts, check out his Christmas album, which boasts the wonderful title, “An Awful Christmas and a Lousy New Year.”

No, there’s no doubt about it, Swamp Dogg is one of a kind. The very soulful “I Was Born Blue” posits a world in which Dogg is blue and the rest of the world has orange skin and green hair; “Sal-A-Faster” is, I think, a hilarious testimonial to the wonders of LSD. But who knows? As for the horn-fueled “Dust Your Color Red,” I have no idea whatsoever what Swamp Dogg is talking about, or to be more accurate, testifying about.

Total Destruction to Your Mind is every bit as eclectic as it is electrifried, but despite the frequently surreal and cryptic lyrics Swamp Dogg belts out soul and the blues like a champion, and plays a great piano while he’s at it. Why, he even has some country in him, and some great songwriting collaborators in Joe South and Gary U.S. Bonds. The result is a bright and shining example of what the Dogg calls “swamp music,” and I only dislike one track, Dogg’s cover of Bobby Goldsboro’s “The World Beyond.”

That his use of horns frequently reminds me of Van Morrison is interesting, but what’s really captivating is his voice, which occasionally wanders into Van the Man territory as well (see his take on Joe South’s “These Are Not My People”). The horns of The Maconites shine on such groovy tunes as the racist putdown “Redneck” (another Joe South tune), the soulful and strange Bonds-Dogg collaboration “Dust Your Head Color Red,” the sorrowful “The Baby Is Mine,” the fast-moving “If I Die Tomorrow,” and the swinging Bonds-Dogg collaboration “Everything You’ll Ever Need,” and help turn the title track, a frenetic foray into badassdom, into one of the funkiest and most exciting soul tracks I’ve ever heard. Love the opening lines: “Sittin’ on a cornflake, ridin’ on a roller skate, to late to hesitate, or even meditate.” Meanwhile, the super-funky “Sal-A-Faster” may or may not be a tribute to psychedelics (“Talk about your big trips/Even with a little sip”), but it’s “dynamite, Swamp Dogg style” and impossible to dislike.

The LP offers the perfect combination of slow ones and fast ones, with the title track being the finest example of the former, and the scathing “Redneck” (“But you never did have much use/For the niggers, dagos, and Jews”) coming in a close second. “If I Die Tomorrow (I’ve Lived Tonight)” almost has a disco feel, while Swamp Dogg’s take on “Everything You’ll Ever Need” (which was co-written by Gary U.S. Bonds) is as nice a slice of soul as you’re ever likely to hear. As for “Mama’s Baby, Daddy’s Maybe,” which Bonds co-wrote as well, it’s a super fine example of ‘dem ole swamp blues, complete with a stinging guitar and some great horn punctuation by The Maconites.

If what you’re looking for is great Southern soul with a weird twist, you will do no better than checking Swamp Dogg out. He has insisted that he writes country music (“… if you strip away my tracks, take away all the horns and guitar licks, what you have is a country song”) and this may be true, but if so he’s the most soulful country musician who has ever lived. You owe it to yourself, and to your children and grandchildren, to give Total Destruction to Your Mind a listen. Despite its title, it will not destroy you, it will thrill you, while messing with your head a little. And what more can you ask for from an LP? Except perhaps the cover of Dogg’s 1971 follow-up Rat On!, which featured him riding a giant white rat, and is a frequent contender in the world’s worst album covers department. Shit, I told you the guy was strange.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A

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