An exclusive chat with the modern day king of Auto-Tune
“When I wake up in the morning and I’m alive, I jump out the motherfuckin’ bed and say – Hallelujah, God didn’t get me today!” Swamp Dogg, the alter ego of producer, songwriter, performer and label head Jerry Williams, Jr. starts the interview with a whoop and a chuckle.
The quirky, outspoken, persona he’s cultivated as Swamp Dogg comes through in his conversation. He shifts rapidly from topic to topic, punctuating his dialogue with free-wheeling side trips. Ask one question and he’s off and running.
The title of his recently released album, I Need A Job…So I Can Buy More Auto-Tune, is a comment on the music industry. It’s a business that has given him a career that provides his bread and butter, but often keeps him at arm’s length.
“I’ve been using Auto-Tune for a long time on artists I produce, mostly rappers. I like what it does to the voice. It can make it sound like you can almost sing a song you really can’t. You hear the playback and think, ‘That ain’t that bad.’ Without Auto-Tune, you sound like a monster on a slab. I used it on my album Love, Loss and Auto-Tune. I chose that title to keep the critics off me. Instead of letting some member of the press discover I use it and asking, ‘Who the fuck is he, at his age, to be sounding like some soul legend?’ I try not to leave the critics any room to talk about what I should have done, or should not have done, and I like it anyway. It adds a lot of possibilities to what I’m doing. Auto-Tune enabled me to get played in clubs that would not dare touch my shit. Because of that particular feature, I have a sound that helps me get exposed. I do whatever I have to do to get exposure and get as many streams and downloads and hits as I possibly can.
“I Need A Job got 200,960 streams in the first seven days of its release. It doesn’t translate into money,or royalties, but it’s a money saver too. You don’t have to have all that product – LPs, CDs – stacked up in your warehouse or garage, ‘cause it didn’t do anything for the public. Now you get the opinion of the public before you put too much money into the shit. It’s all different in the biz today. This generation is a generation removed from the one that Swamp Dogg is in, but Swamp Dogg is still out there. Swamp Dogg is very personal to me, if you listen to one cut and go on to the next cut, you may say, ‘It don’t seem like these songs have anything to do with each other, in any way.’ I like all kinds of music from the late 40s, the 50s and a tad of the early 60s, so I put it all together on my records – country, soul, R&B. Nobody really knows what will sell, or what won’t, so I put it all on there and let the public decide.”
Williams/Dogg wrote, produced and recorded I Need A Job just before the COVID shutdown. Since then, it’s been a trying time. “You can sum it up in two words – ‘No work!’ I had work lined up, recording and performing, but it all got canceled out. Looks like it’s coming back together right now, so I may be getting out of the house around August or September. I have my recording and mastering studio in my home.
“The album was done in my home studio, The Dogg House. I used local LA musicians. I haven’t done anything since COVID. Everybody in the world was scared to death, including me. I had some artists at my house last night for a get together and they still had masks on. Nobody knows what to do.
“On my albums, I always do the rhythms first, live as one unit, playing together. That’s where I get a tremendous amount of my ideas. One of the musicians may hit something new and I say, ‘Wow, yes, let’s keep that.’ I use live bass and electronic drums tuned to sound like real drums. The room is not set up for a drum kit, but I have everything else I need to make it sound like I want to sound. I got two horn men that sound like there’s ten of them, ‘cause of the way they voice the horns. I come up with the arrangements and they play them out for me, the way they like to play it. I let them add anything that feels better to them.”
With the exception of the Joe Tex cover, “Show Me,” all the songs on the album were written just before the recording happened. “I write new stuff for every project, but I never know what I’m going to do. I made a country album in Nashville, Sorry I Couldn’t Make It. It was as country as I could make it, without making a fool of myself, or trying to be the next Charley Pride. We got more Black country artists now than we ever had and they’re being allowed to get out there and do shows and draw an audience. Country music’s changed a lot for the good. Charley Pride had to make it with the help of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. On this one, I did a Joe Tex song. I always try to get one song in an album by one of my heroes, something I’m crazy about, but I won’t do it unless I can do it almost as well as they did it. ‘Show Me’ is a little slower, but I wanted to do it that way.”
AUDIO: Joe Tex “Show Me”
As promised, the tracks on I Need A Job, are stylistically diverse. The title track kicks things off with a blues drenched R&B arrangement, with sizzling horns, a popping bass line and smooth female backing vocals underlining Dogg’s lead vocal. He starts adlibbing toward the end of the track, talking to a prospective employer about the tribulations of an underemployed musician. “Are you hiring today? Uh, what can I do? I’m a musician, but I can do all kind of things other than that. I can carry bricks and planks and stuff like that. I don’t need no PhD for that. I just need a job.”
“Cheatin in the Daylight” blends country and soul with Dogg’s honky tonk piano supporting his duet with Chicago hit maker and soul legend Willie Clayton. Dogg gives us a suave bit of Memphis soul on “She Got That Fire,” a sizzling, love song that includes a spoken segment with a humorous list of all the things Dogg will do to please his honey. He puts Auto-Tune to work on “Full Time Woman,” a humorous take on a dysfunctional relationship. A deep funk backbeat and fierce horn accents dance around his processed vocal, as he describes a full-time woman with part time ways. The song ends with him promising to please her by building her a new house, moving in her mother and hiring maids. The record is another impressive showcase of Dogg’s unique fusion of styles and his sardonic humor.
Williams said the Swamp Dogg character was originally born out of necessity. “Dogg comes from my anxiety and depression and my work with my psychiatrists. I was always trying to have more steam than steam did, but I didn’t know who I was. Jerry Williams got lost like a son of a bitch, so I created Swamp Dogg to go and find him. Trying to explain why I became Swamp Dogg and who Swamp Dogg is, are two of my biggest challenges. I didn’t turn into something else, like a Marvel comic hero, I just had to have someone strong enough to pull Jerry Williams through and help Jerry get his shit together and that’s Swamp Dogg in a nutshell, or some kind shell.”
At this point he paused, then concluded. “I forgot what I was saying. I’m slowing down, or maybe I’m dying. That’d be great end for your interview. You can say, ‘I was on the phone with him when he died.’”
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