In 1970 the Southern soul music maverick Jerry Williams, Jr. made the most radical move of his career. Frustrated with music business politics Williams reinvented himself as Swamp Dogg, an irreverent anti-hero smashing the conventions of commercial R&B music. Swamp Dogg’s debut release Total Destruction to Your Mind featured a post-apocalyptic take on the Muscle Shoals’ sound, with lyrics inspired by the revolutionary politics and psychedelic drugs of the late ‘60s. The music on Total Destruction to Your Mind stood worlds apart from the formulaic pop tunes Williams started cutting in 1954 under the name Little Jerry, and Swamp Dogg hasn’t looked back since.
But the music business wasn’t ready for Swamp Dogg, nor was the rest of America. His bizarre album titles and wild cover art turned the average consumer off, while his subversive lyrics earned him a spot on Richard Nixon’s infamous enemies list. Swamp Dogg was not deterred. He seemed to relish operating from the margins of the music business, consequently becoming one of the quintessential outsider figures in American music.
Now, nearly fifty years after his debut release, Swamp Dogg stands on the precipice of another radical reinvention. His latest creation is titled Love, Loss, and Auto-Tune a nine song collection featuring production by Poliça’s Ryan Olson. Love, Loss, and AutoTune finds Swamp Dogg’s bluesy southern soul colliding head-on with 21st Century electronic music production techniques.
The reference to Auto-Tune in the title is not incidental, the album’s sound is built around Swamp Dogg’s experimentation with the ubiquitous vocal processor. While Auto-Tune has become a fixture of the modern pop music landscape, this is Swamp Dogg’s first major exploration of the device. “Every time I listen to some new music that everybody thinks is the greatest thing since hot biscuits, it's full of Auto-Tune,” Swamp Dogg says. His use of Auto-Tune technology is not gratuitous. Like Kanye West on 808s & Heartbreak, Swamp Dogg utilizes the cold digital tone of Auto-Tune to convey a sense of emotional detachment during the album’s most anguished moments.
According to Ryan Olson, Swamp Dogg’s initial attempts at using Auto-Tune were a bit rough around the edges. So Olson called up Justin Vernon to rework the digital effects on Swamp Dogg’s vocal tracks. That process reflects Olson’s own role as producer on Love, Loss, and Auto-Tune. “I went into the studio and laid down the vocals and the rhythms, then I sent those tracks off to Ryan to let him do whatever he wanted,” Swamp Dogg says of the remote collaboration.
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