Swamp Dogg - 1970 – Total Destruction To Your Mind
Industry veteran Swamp Dogg unleashed his alter ego on this 1970 masterpiece, spelling out his unconventional views in groove-heavy soul music. He makes good on the title’s brag with catchy, original songs that touch on environmental decay, social isolation, dystopian visions, racism and questions of paternity. Williams’ lyrics are often Zappa-like in their surface absurdity, but there’s a gripping observation or lament at each song’s heart.
His voice has the pinched, keening sound of the Showmen’s General Norman Johnson, but with a rounded richness that suggests Jackie Wilson. Recorded at Capricorn Studios in Macon, GA, his band is soaked in the horns, low bass and guitar riffs of Southern soul, and touched by the propulsion of West Coast funk. It’s hard to imagine how this record (as well as the follow-up, Rat On!, an album better known for its cover than its content) has remained so obscure and hard to find.
A1 Total Destruction to Your Mind 3:24
A2 Synthetic World 3:23
A3 Dust Your Head Color Red 2:48
A4 Redneck 2:47
A5 If I Die Tomorrow (I’ve Lived Tonight) 2:50
A6 I Was Born Blue 2:58
B1 Sal-a-Faster 2:48
B2 The World Beyond 3:39
B3 These Are Not My People 2:36
B4 Everything You’ll Ever Need 2:51
B5 The Baby Is Mine 2:48
B6 Mama’s Baby, Daddy’s Maybe 4:08
Yeah, Swamp Dogg (aka Jerry Williams Jr.) is easily one of music’s most talented, if erratic characters. Over a career stretching back to the 1950s, he’s seldom demonstrated that talent and the weirdness (the cover photo showing Dogg posing in his underwear on the back of a garbage truck may have had a somewhat limiting impact on sales), as well as on his 1970 debut “Total Destruction To Your Mind”. Self-produced, the album aptly displayed Dogg’s talents as a writer and performer. Extremely versatile, the title track and ‘Synthetic World‘ rocked harder than most metal bands (backing from Johnny Sandlin and a couple of members of the pre-Allman Brothers band Hour Glass didn’t hurt), while horn-propelled soul tracks such as ‘If I Die Tomorrow (I’ve Lived Tonight)‘ and ‘The Baby Is Mine’ came close to matching Otis Redding’s intensity. Dogg’s bizarro factor was also readily visible. Anyone want to take a guess as what ‘Dust Your Head Color Red‘ or ‘Sal-a-Faster‘ were about? So what to make of this one? Well, it may have been intended as some sort of concept piece aimed at American society’s prevailing hypocrisy, or perhaps it was just an opportunity for one really ticked off man to try to get some things off his chest. In the end it probably didn’t really matter since the results were pretty awe inspiring. Hard to imagine any other soul act being willing to address societal issues as straightforwardly as Swamp … The liner notes were also a hoot – ‘I owe all my present success to a very dear person, someone who stuck by me when things were really bad, and has never made a motion to harm me or my talents in any way. A person whom I love, worship and admire beyond and shadow of a doubt – ME!!”
– One of soul’s lost classic performances, Swamp seldom sounded as possessed as on ‘Total Destruction To Your Mind‘, turning in a crazed, horn-propelled rocker. The lyric somehow managed to be thought provoking and completely nonsensical (kind of like his recording career) in the span of two and a half minutes. Always loved the last section where he apparently ran out of lyrics and steam and just started scatting. Even though it was a strange song, Canyon tapped it as the lead-off (and instantly obscure) single.
– Kicked along by an instantly mesmerizing keyboard figure, ‘Synthetic World‘ was a beautiful, breezy little number with some great lyrics that were half love story and half ecological warning. The performance was even more amazing when you recognize the song was recorded in 1970 …
– I don’t have a clue what the clumsily titled ‘Dust Your Head Color Red‘ was about ( “Sparkle your insides pink with pleasure …” ) course Swamp Dogg may not have known either. Musically the song was a pedestrian blues-ballad. Not bad, but it simply could not compete with the rest of the album.
– As much as I loved the Joe South original, hearing Swamp Dogg cover ‘Redneck‘ was a major treat. South’s performance was great, but he just couldn’t compete with someone on the receiving end of such treatment. If you’re looking for a cutting edge commentary on racial intolerance, good luck finding a better performance. Shame the song faded out so early.
– Sporting a great Steve Cropper-styled guitar figure, ‘If I Die Tomorrow (I’ve Lived Tonight)‘ found Swamp trying to channel Otis Redding. Swamp’s getting rowdy here and he gets it right when he sings ‘feeling twisted’ !
– Perhaps not the subtlest commentary on prejudicial attitudes, but I have to admit that I crack a smile very time I hear ‘I Was Born Blue‘. You can literally hear the pain and frustration flowing out of the guy …
– Side two started out with a wild slice of funk in ‘Sal-a-Faster‘. Great example of Dogg’s nonsensical lyrics which managed to combine rabbits, getting trashed and self-promotion in under three minutes.
– Set to an old school, blues vibe, ‘The World Beyond‘ was one of the weirdest anti-nuclear Armageddon songs you’ve ever heard. Hard to believe it was written by Bobby Goldsboro.
– The album’s second Joe South cover, his version of ‘There Are Not My People‘ was serviceable, but wasn’t a major improvement on the original – though it was funny to hear him sing ‘naked’ as ‘neekid’. Canyon tapped this track as the second single.
– Co-written with Gary US Bonds, ‘Everything You’ll Ever Need‘ was probably the album’s weakest track. A plodding mid-tempo number, there just wasn’t much to this one.
– Today a song like ‘The Baby Is Mine‘ wouldn’t even begin to raise an eyebrow, but in 1970 the story of an illegitimate father trying to retain access to his offspring was startling. Musically it was a nice, old school soul effort that faded out just as Swamp was starting to get steamed up.
– The second collaboration with Gary Bonds and one of Swamp’s better known tracks, ‘Mama’s Baby, Daddy’s Maybe‘ was a tasty Chicago-styled blues vamp. What saved the song from being forgettable were Swamp’s hysterical lyrics describing a husband’s worries and attempts to explain away potential marital indiscretions. Canyon tapped this one as the album’s third single.
Elsewhere Canyon tapped the album for three singles:
– 1970’s ‘Mama’s Baby, Daddy’s Maybe’ b/w ‘Sal-a-Faster’ (Canyon catalog number #30)
– 1970’s ‘Total Destruction To Your Mind’ b/w ‘Synthetic World’ (Canyon catalog number #54)
– 1971’s ‘These Are Not My People’ b/w ‘I Was Born Blue’ (Canyon catalog number )
In an era where everything is hyped to the point of being meaningless, this is one of those rare exceptions where the hype is justified.
A true overlooked soul classic. Well worth looking for.