The weirdness of R&B icon Swamp Dogg still shines bright—even with Auto-Tune | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

The weirdness of R&B icon Swamp Dogg still shines bright—even with Auto-Tune 

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click to enlarge Swamp Dogg

Swamp Dogg

David McMurry

Jerry Williams (formerly known as Little Jerry Williams) has been knocking out bizarre R&B records for 48 years under the name Swamp Dogg. Since his 1970 debut on Canyon, Total Destruction to Your Mind, he’s taken his music down some weird back roads: a black-liberation song with an admitted Ku Klux Klan member on banjo (“Call Me Nigger”), a tender ballad about a man whose son is engaged to a hooker (“Or Forever Hold Your Peace”), and entire albums devoted to country and calypso—Dogg claims his version of John Prine’s “Sam Stone” would have been a hit if only Al Kooper hadn’t released his recording of the track around the same time. (Kooper later made up for overshadowing him with that release by playing keyboards on a couple of Dogg albums.) And with the holiday season coming up, it’s worth noting that Swamp also penned the enduring Christmas standard “Santa’s Just a Happy Fat Fart.” Given all his eclecticism, it should be no surprise that on his latest album he’s once again jumping on an altogether new bandwagon: Auto-Tune. The title of the record, Love, Loss, and Auto-Tune (Joyful Noise), is an on-point description of its music. Though he takes cracks at pop standards such as “Stardust” and “Answer Me, My Love” (made famous by Nat “King” Cole), this is pointedly not the modern-day equivalent of Frank Sinatra’s heartbreak albums from the 50s. Not only does Dogg sing through that Auto-Tune effect, he talks through it too, delivering love raps that are strange enough that Barry White might have shied away from them. And while some might be afraid that that studio effect might strip away some of his, ah, uniqueness, frankly, it enhances it. It is not clear whether the Dogg will use Auto-Tune in concert, but if he does, it will put an interesting spin on his earlier classics. As Swamp Dogg’s music has progressed over time, it seems he’s matured as well; rather than pose for the album cover wearing shorts or a hot dog suit or riding on the back of rat like it’s a bull at a rodeo, as he has in the past, on the cover of Love, Loss, and Auto-Tune, he’s depicted lounging in front of an empty swimming pool, dressed casually in a robe and flip-flops.   v

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