The It’s All Good collection on Ace reviewed by Mark Raison.
In 1971 Swamp Dogg triumphantly rode a giant white rat on the cover of Rat On! to an unimpressed public. Before then, as plain Jerry Williams (or variations of) he flitted between record labels cutting a string of 45s with varying degrees of commercial failure. Even now, still working hard, he largely evades the soul radar.
It’s All Good gathers a selection of his singles (from both eras) and a couple of unissued tracks to give a handy introduction or another chapter, depending where one joins us, to his story. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of northern soul will be familiar, over-familiar perhaps, with ‘If You Ask Me (Because I Love You)’ recorded as Little Jerry Williams in 1966, which opens proceedings here. It’s a good song, no question, but I’d love to meet the person responsible for the production and the recording. It’s so bad I always thought it was down to badly pressed bootlegs but Kent’s expert mastering still can’t rescue it. The backing vocals sound like they were recorded a bathroom, the majority of the band were next door with a microphone pressed to the wall, and Jerry was stood in a vast gymnasium with only the drummer for company. This is more a mystery when you hear the earlier ‘Baby You’re My Everything’, also cut for Calla Records, where the production and arrangement work beautifully to compliment Williams’ soulful yearning. Also on a soul tip is ‘Baby Bunny (Sugar Honey)’, far more graceful than the horrific title suggests, and his reading of ‘Oh Lord, What Are You Doing To Me?’ is a stop-what-you’re-doing three minutes.
Throughout the rest of the 60s tracks Williams tries his hand writing exuberant Little Richard style rockers, dance fad numbers, soul shakers and anything else to bring in a buck. It’s all enjoyable but in truth had little to elevate him above hundreds of similar acts at the time. Not that that bothers us now and he does possess a distinctive voice, somewhere south of a down home Jackie Wilson, and the jazzy swing of the offbeat ‘The 1965 King Size Nicotine Blues’ had a uniqueness that might’ve caught on had it not been stuck as a flipside. For the enterprising club DJ ‘It’s All Good’ gives a nudge in the direction of a handful of other possibilities.
Creating the larger than life persona of Swamp Dogg didn’t provide label stability but it did secure a more distinctive character. With his tongue often planted in his cheek, there’s loads of humour in ‘Wife Sitter’, where with a Joe Tex cackle, he mocks ‘Why should I get a wife? As long as you got one, I’ll use yours’ and the bizarre ‘Right Arm For Your Love’ (‘Bop-shoo-bop, Baby I’d chop, off my right arm for your love’). His disposition to giving albums silly titles and being photographed in shorts with rats, maggots and dustbins overshadow some seriously good music. The mellow southern soul groove and eyebrow raising lyrics of 1975’s ‘Did I Come Back Too Soon (Or Stay Away Too Long)’ being a prime example. As cheating songs go, this one has an unexpected twist. Let’s just say his lady was not found with another man.
Although covering the years until 1989, there’s only one track from that decade – so fear not, and that’s tucked at the end, track twenty four. What precedes it, as the title so accurately states, is – and you know this is coming – all good.