Radio NWR, EPISODE #7
Jerry Williams is a bunch of interesting people. He started out as “Little” Jerry Williams, singing pop and country songs as a 12-year-old in Portsmouth, Virginia in the mid-1950s. He became a key songwriter and producer of the soul music era, and then in 1970 turned himself into Swamp Dogg, a singer-songwriter who was both and at the same time politically incorrect and a singularly soulful social critic. The Dogg remains a funkmeister and taboo-breaker who challenged and confounded labels and audiences across 20-plus albums.
He’s not done yet wreaking total destruction to our minds. Just last year, he released the weirdly haunting and mocking Love, Loss and Auto-Tune, teaming up with Ryan Olson and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon to reinvent his sound and win a new audience of hipsters one third his age. And now he’s working on a new album with Vernon and Olson, a country music set that will remind America that black folks were listening to – and making – country music long before Lil Nas X hit the “Old Town Road.”
We dropped in on the 77-year-old Dogg in his Northridge home near the top end of California’s San Fernando Valley, inspected the swimming pool, sat in his office and heard stories from the Little Jerry days to the present. Chili dogs were served. And then we stayed some more: Swamp Dogg rounding up Guitar Shorty, drummer and bassist TK into his home studio and jamming an X-rated version of a Sam Cooke classic. After that he disappeared, and when we tracked him down to his bedroom to say goodbye he was in his boxers, watching TV and warning us against shaking his hand farewell. “Don’t get too close,” he grinned: “I got me some gas.” Over the course of a long day in Northridge, we got plenty close to one of the most amazing songwriters alive.
Photos of Swamp rubbing his head and in hat by: David McMurry