July 24, 2024

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Swamp Dogg as one of the most eccentric and influential cult figures in Blues, Soul & American music։ Video, Photo

Over the course of his seven-decade long career, the Virginia-born, Los Angeles based artist, songwriter and producer Swamp Dogg has firmly established himself as one of the most eccentric and influential cult figures in American music, exploring R&B, soul, and country music over the course of more than two dozen albums. His first album with Oh Boy Records, featuring guest appearances by Margo Price, Jenny Lewis, Vernon Reid, and Justin Vernon!

The feature-length documentary Swamp Dogg Gets His Pool Painted premiered at SXSW on March 8th, and on March 14th he performed at Luck Reunion. Produced by Ryan Olson (Poliça, Gayngs) and recorded with an all-star band including Noam Pikelny, Sierra Hull, Jerry Douglas, Chris Scruggs, Billy Contreras, and Kenny Vaughan, the 12-song collection is a riotous blend of past and present, mixing the sacred and the profane in typical Swamp Dogg fashion as it blurs the lines between folk, roots, country, blues, and soul.

Special guests like Margo Price, Vernon Reid, Jenny Lewis, Justin Vernon, and The Cactus Blossoms all add to the excitement, but it’s ultimately the 81-year-old Swamp Dogg’s delivery—sly and playful and full of genuine joy and ache—that steals the show.

Not a lot of people talk about the true origins of bluegrass music, but it came from Black people. The banjo, the washtub, all that stuff started with African-Americans. We were playing it before it even had a name. I’m trying to touch on every kind of music I grew up loving and listening to. This is my way of letting people know that I’m not just a soul singer or whatever they think I am. I’m so much more.

Born Jerry Williams, Jr., Swamp Dogg first encountered bluegrass music on the radio growing up in Portsmouth, VA, in the 1940s. Though he would go on to spend much of the ’50’s and ’60s immersed in the world of soul, funk, and R&B—both as an artist and as a A&R man/producer working with the likes of Patti LaBelle, The Commodores, and The Drifters—roots music would remain an important fixture in his life. “I loved George Jones, Flatt & Scruggs, all of it,” he explains. “One of my songs even went all the way to #2 on the country chart when Johnny Paycheck recorded it.”

Blackgrass marks a full circle moment for Swamp Dogg, who as far back as the early 1970s was covering tunes like John Prine’s “Sam Stone,” an act of veneration that Prine would later return by appearing on Swamp Dogg’s widely acclaimed 2020 record, Sorry You Couldn’t Make It. Those performances turned out to be some of Prine’s final recordings before his death, making Blackgrass’s release on Prine’s Oh Boy label all the more poignant.

“It means a hell of a lot to put this record out on the label that John started,” Swamp Dogg reflects. “He wrote some of the greatest songs of all time, songs that could make you dance inside. He was like a pastor on Sunday, getting you to think about what’s going on in the world and how we should be coping with it. I always want to give thanks to John.”