Portsmouth native Jerry “Swamp Dogg” Williams is an American soul and rhythm & blues singer, musician, songwriter and record producer. He’s been described as “one of the great figures of 20th century American music”, and his influence is felt in R&B, hip hop, rock and country music.
(smooth jazzy music)
- One thing about being a dog,
the dog can do almost anything he wanna do.
He'll (dog barks) in the house.
- [Director] Just cause this is PBS,
can you say he'll use the bathroom in the house?
- Oh yeah. (record scratch)
He'll use the bathroom in the house.
You might hit him on his backside with the broom,
but you'll forgive him.
I can go on stage
and I can sing God Bless America for what,
and then do Sam Stone, which makes everybody cry.
♪ I was born blue ♪
- And that's a reason that I'm happy to be a canine.
My mother and my stepfather played
what we would consider a cocktail circuit.
When I was 12, my parents set up a recording date
and I ask him, can I make a record?
♪ Let me introduce myself ♪
- And they said, oh no, you ain't cutting no record.
I cried and ballyhooed.
Somebody said, let him make a record.
I sat down and started playing heart sick,
troublesome, down and out blues.
♪ Hey baby ♪
♪ I'd like to tell you how I feel ♪
- At that time, you get your record played by Jack Holmes,
you had a hit.
Jack put it on and said, "here's a kid, blah, blah, blah".
Phones lit up, and people liked it.
Before I knew it, I was opening for Sam Cook, the Drifters.
And Mechanic Records. They said, we'd like put this out.
My mother got angry.
She didn't understand.
Why are they signing you when I'm the singer?
She took all of the records and just,
and then threw 'em in the trash.
Well, I went and got mine.
I never considered myself leaving Portsmouth for good.
There came a point that Portsmouth left me,
♪ Baby, baby baby, baby ♪
- Bracket called me.
He said, kid, I wanna talk to you.
And I got over to Birdland record shop.
He said, boy, you can't sing.
Why don't you stop trying to sing.
You ain't gonna never be nothing.
I said damn.
That hurt me in my heart.
1970, I gave birth to Swamp Dogg.
It was because people were holding me down,
pushing me down, knocking me down.
And I ain't like that (dog barks).
I was smoking a lot.
Drinking a lot.
Know what, I gotta go to bathroom.
♪ My Ice cream, my coffee, my sugar, my cream ♪
♪ My reason for living, each and every day ♪
♪ If you ever turned your back my life would fade away ♪
I've released at least 25 albums.
When I come out, it's got to be oh Lord, him again.
After I cut "Total Destruction to Your Mind,"
I was getting tension from the FBI.
I thought in the United States, you can write what you feel.
As far as being the worst album cover in the world,
it ranks in the top 10 every year.
And maybe it's me, I don't think it's that bad.
I wanted records, that's why I've cut so many records.
I done cut some of everybody, Patti Labelle, Wilson Pickett,
Ruth Brown, Ray Charles sung one of my songs.
I was the first to cut the Commodores.
And you know, I did Jean Pitney.
This was before they was letting blacks produce white boys.
Gary U.S. Bonds, and that,
we used to all write at my house because we had a piano.
He had this song, "Don't Take Her, She's All I Got."
We got nominated for country Grammy.
We got songwriters of the year.
We got everything.
Then I started going with rap.
I was managing Dr. Dre
when they were The World Class Wrecking Crew.
Kid Rock, he sampled one of my songs
and he went on and sold 17 million.
He might have sold more than that, now.
DMX, 50 Cent, MC Breed, lot of music.
There's a lot of memories
and a hell of a lot of love for these records.
If I can get up, I can show you another one real quick.
(Swamp Dogg grunts)
You can cut those grunts out.
♪ I'll Pretend that your'e gone on vacation ♪
- I kept recording,
but there was nobody interested in Swamp Dogg.
Record companies were afraid of me,
but I was determined.
My last two releases is on Joyful Noise Records.
Ryan Olson and Justin Vernon came up with some great music.
I was trying different sounds and song structures.
It came out good.
This generation is more hip to my stuff
than my generation was.
People had counted me out
because they hadn't seen or heard anything.
♪ I Love you. ♪
♪ And I forgive you ♪
- [Swamp Dogg] It was almost like coming back from the dead.
♪ There's no food on the table ♪
♪ All the furniture is sold ♪
♪ They've given away their pride, now ♪
- The other album is "Sorry You Couldn't Make It."
That's the one where for Swamp Dogg, we went wild,
'cause we were trying to capture some country.
80% of the songs that I've written,
if you break 'em down, they're country songs.
I've been singing country all my life,
but they weren't letting black people in.
That was dead.
My music now is opening up avenues
that I've never really travel
and that's naturally good for me.
Because I want people to have the best of what I can do.
♪ Don't it make you want go home ♪
- Whenever I get up and I feel like
I haven't accomplished anything,
I walk out in my hallway
and I see all the gold records and platinum records.
It gives me a feeling of worth.
I used to get over it with Valium, (chuckles)
but I don't have to do that anymore.
And I don't think anybody figured I would
make it as far as I made it.
I've actually had a chance to live the big life.
I've been all over the world.
It's been fun, and the future looks good.
We still working.
Still got contracts.
Hell, I made a deal yesterday.
I'm gonna always make music.
I'm gonna cut a couple of tracks at my funeral.
That's supposed to be funny.
♪ Don't it make you wanna go home ♪
- That's the story of a Portsmouth boy
who became Swamp Dogg.
Will be Swamp Dogg For remainder of his life.
♪ Don't it make you wanna go home ♪
♪ I wanna go home ♪
♪ I wanna go home ♪
♪ I wanna see my family ♪
♪ I wanna see my friends ♪
♪ I wanna see everybody, oh ♪