SWAMP DOGG-RAT ON!
SWAMP DOGG-RAT ON!
It’s not the music that Swamp Dogg’s 1971 sophomore album Rat On! is remembered for. Instead, it’s remember for having one of the worst album covers of all time. Rat On! features Swamp Dogg sitting on the back of an oversized white rat. That epitomises Swamp Dogg since his lysergic awakening.
As the sixties drew to a close, Jerry Williams dropped acid. It was a life changing experience. The Doors of Perception, as Aldous Huxley said, had been well and truly opened. Jerry Williams changed. Psychedelics became his drug of choice. This stimulated his creativity. However, he desperately needed an outlet for this heightened creativity. So he adopted an alter ego Swamp Dogg. He was obsessed by sex, drugs, politics, culture and class. All these subjects came out in his music. His music was funny, prickly, gritty, acerbic and angry. Often, politicians felt the wrath of Swamp Dogg. The newly enlightened Jerry Williams made his debut on his 1970 album Total Destruction Of Your Mind.
When Total Destruction Of Your Mind was released in 1970, it wasn’t a commercial success. Only the single Mama’s Baby, Daddy’s Maybe charted, reaching number thirty-three in the US R&B Charts. For the newly enlightened Swamp Dogg, this was disappointing. Despite Total Destruction Of Your Mind being a groundbreaking album, it passed almost unnoticed. So Swamp Dogg set about working on his sophomore album Rat On! which was recently rereleased by Alive Naturalsound Records. Would Rat On!
For Rat On!, ten songs were written. Eight of these songs Swamp Dogg a.k.a. Jerry wrote or cowrote. He penned Predicament #2 and with Troy Davis, cowrote Do You Believe, Remember I Said Tomorrow, God Bless America For What and Do Our Thing Together. Jerry and Gary U.S. Bonds cowrote Creeping Away and I Kissed Your Face and with Charlie Whitehead, penned That Ain’t My Wife. The other two tracks were cover versions. This included Douglas Gilmore and Mickey Newbury’s She Even Woke Me Up To Say Goodbye and the Gibb brother’s Got To Get A Message To You. These ten tracks became Rat On!
Recording of Rat On! took place at the familiar surroundings of Quinvy Recording Studios, Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Just like with the recording of Total Destruction Of Your Mind, Swamp Dogg brought together a band featuring some top session musicians. This included a rhythm section of drummer Jasper Guarino, guitarist Pete Carr and bassist and percussionist Robert Popwell. Stan Goss and Mike Stough played trumpet and flugelhorn, while Sonny Royal played baritone and tenor saxophone plus clarinet. Once Rat On! which was produced by Swamp Dogg, was recorded, it was released in 1971. Would this mark a change of fortune for Swamp Dogg?
No, it didn’t. Rat On! failed to chart. Just like Total Destruction Of Your Mind, Swamp Dogg’s unique brand of gonzo soul failed to chart. That’s despite Swamp Dogg proving he was one of the most creative and innovative musicians in America. You’ll realise that, when I tell you about Rat On!
Opening Rat On! is Do You Believe, an uptempo track where Swamp Dogg combines gonzo soul, funk and social comment. The rhythm section providing a pounding, funky backdrop, while guitars wah-wah. Swamp Dogg’s vocal is a fusion of power, passion and frustration as he sings about belief. Stabs of horns interject, adding bursts of drama. Later, as Swamp Dogg scats, this is the signal for his band to kick loose. They seamlessly fuse elements of funk, jazz, rock, soul and social comment. Swamp Dogg it seems, is picking up where he left off on Total Destruction Of Your Mind.
Predicament #2 sees the tempo drop as Swamp Dogg delivers a pensive, thoughtful vocal against a Southern Soul arrangement. His predicament is being torn between his wife and the “other woman.” He doesn’t know which way to turn. His lived-in, worldweary vocal is full of confusion. Someone’s heart is going to be broken, he knows that. Horns rasp and growl, as Swamp Dogg lays bare his soul, trying to work out which way to turn. Truly Swamp Dogg sings the lyrics like he’s lived them.
Remember I Said Tomorrow is another song full of social comment. Grizzled horns, rhythm section and hypnotic guitar line accompany Swamp Dogg. He sings about equality and bringing the American troops home from Vietnam. Passion, hope and anger fill his voice, Harmonies and honky tonk piano drift in and out. They play their part in the song’s success, as hooks and social comment collide head on.
Crystalline, chiming guitars open Creeping Away, while the rhythm section keep the tempo slow. Swamp Dogg delivers a sultry seductive vocal. Horns bray and blaze, adding to the drama. As for Swamp Dogg, he sings about “Creeping Away to see my faraway woman, she’s in Tennessee.” You can picture him catching the Greyhound bus and making the trip to Tennessee. That’s because Swamp Dogg paints pictures during this sultry slice of Southern Soul.
Got To Get A Message To You has an understated, wistful arrangement. Just the rhythm section provide a slow, melancholy backdrop before horns rasp. Having set the scene for Swamp Dogg, accompanied by backing vocalists, he breathes life, meaning and much needed soul into the Gibb brother’s track.
God Bless America For What sees Swamp Dogg tap into how many American people felt as the seventies dawned. Swamp Dogg poses the question: “is this the land of the free?” Anger, frustration and sadness fills his voice, as he combines social comment, pathos, humour and sarcasm. The lyrics are cutting, speaking for the disenfranchised and marginalised. Sadly, forty-two years later, they’re just as relevant in many countries.
Just a lone, meandering guitar panned left opens I Kissed Your Face. It’s joined by Swamp Dogg’s impassioned vocal and a clarinet. Memories come flooding back. He can remember where he was and what he saw when “I Kissed Your Face.” Poetic, evocative and beautiful describes the lyrics, while Swamp Dogg’s vocal is best described as heartfelt and wistful. Quite simply, this is a beautiful ballad, that Swamp Dogg brings to life.
That Ain’t My Wife is another heart-wrenching ballad. Stabs of growling horns and guitar punctuate the arrangement, while piano and rhythm section combine. A heartbroken Swamp Dogg sings about finding his wife in the arms of another man. With a heavy heart “he turns right around and walks out the door…That Ain’t My Wife,” he sings on this tale heartbreak and betrayal.
She Even Woke Me Up To Say Goodbye is another tale of love gone wrong. Here, Swamp Dogg delivers the lyrics as if he’s loved, lost and lived to tell the tale. This is another cover version but Swamp Dogg, brings new life to it. Accompanied by rasping horns, clarinet, piano and rhythm section, he unleashes a vocal is full of despair and heartbreak. It’s as of his world has ended. Adding insult to injury, is that “She Even Woke Me Up To Say Goodbye.” Just like the previous track, Swamp Dogg brings the song to life.
Closing Rat On! is Do Our Thing Together. After several ballads, it’s a bit more uptempo. Funky and soulful, chiming, crystalline guitars ring out while the rhythm section provide a pulsating heartbeat. Swamp Dogg’s vocal veers towards a vamp on this slice of gonzo soul. With lyrics full of social comment, It’s as if he’s determined to end Rat On! on a high. This he does, vocally drawing inspiration from James Brown and Sly Stone.
Rat On! saw Swamp Dogg pick up where he left off on Total Destruction Of The Mind. Just like his debut album, Rat On! was another fusion of gonzo soul and funk, albeit with diversions into jazz, psychedelia and rock. Best described as funky and soulful, Rat On surpasses the quality of Total Destruction Of The Mind. Especially the ballads. Swamp Dogg breathes life, meaning and emotion into the ballads. It’s as if he’s lived, loved and survived to tell the tale. Then when it comes to the uptempo tracks, Swamp Dogg struts and vamps his way through the lyrics. Songs come to life, as Swamp Dogg showcases his versatility as a singer and musician. The other thing Rat On! showcases is Swamp Dogg’s talents as a songwriter.
Following his psychedelic awakening, Swamp Dogg’s music were full references to sex, drugs, politics, culture and class. All these subjects came out in his music. His music was funny, prickly, gritty, acerbic and angry. Full of humour and social comment, Swamp Dogg became the spokesman for a newly enlightened generation. Then there’s his relationship songs. Songs about betrayal, making up and breaking up, it quickly becomes apparent that Swamp Dogg’s one of the most talented and underrated songwriters of the early seventies. Sadly, commercial success eluded him.
Just like Total Destruction Of The Mind, Rat On! which was recently rereleased by Alive Naturalsound Records, failed to chart. Since then, Rat On! has remained a hidden gem, better known for its record sleeve than its music. Rat On! reinforces that Swamp Dogg was one of the creative and groundbreaking musicians of the seventies. Comparisons have been drawn with Sly Stone. No wonder. Swamp Dogg, just like Sly Stone, could fuse musical genres and social comment, creating some of the most innovative music of the early seventies.
Sadly, Swamp Dogg neither enjoyed the commercial success nor critical acclaim his music deserved. Instead, Swamp Dogg’s music remained one of music’s best kept secrets. Thankfully, that’s no longer the case. Belatedly, Swamp Dogg is receiving the recognition his music deserves. Rat On! his sophomore album, like Total Destruction Of The Mind, finds Swamp Dogg at his creative zenith, producing music other musicians could only dream of. Standout Tracks: Predicament #2, God Bless America For What That Ain’t My Wife and She Even Woke Me Up To Say Goodbye.
SWAMP DOGG-RAT ON!