As I walked up the steps of The Promontory, I could already that this was going to be a different kind of show. The Promontory’s concert venue breathed an air of sophistication, with tables line up and facing the stage. It felt fitting for a man like Jerry Williams, Jr., the man known to the world as Swamp Dogg. He is an undeniable legend with a career spanning back to the fifties under his original moniker “Little Jerry Williams”, a new found prominence as Swamp Dogg in the 70s that resulted in baffling album covers and subversive lyrics that landed him on Nixon’s infamous enemies list. There is just something special about the man and this evening showed that.
Swamp Dogg didn’t have an opener. There wasn’t an any extra pomp and circumstance. From the second his band started playing to the final moments of the night, Swamp Dogg’s show was about the music, his band (which included Sam Trump for the evening, who received a ton of praise from Williams throughout the night) and the man himself. Coming to the stage dressed in the most vibrant red suit, a cane at his side and a large folder full of lyrics and , Swamp Dogg glowed under the Promontory’s lights. After a few audio missteps, where he joked about the size of the crowd (“We have to entertain these 30 people”) and his band not knowing what key the song was in, Swamp Dogg jumped right in for a excellent set of Swamp Dogg hits.
The night ran like many of the old school R&B and pure soul shows that I’ve had the opportunity to see. An emphasis on jams and discussion and completely atypical set structure that breathes life into the audience instead of letting slide into predictability. While his latest release, Love, Loss, and Auto-Tune on Joyful Noise Recordings, has been playing nonstop on my record player, I’m glad the Swamp Dogg chose to play some of his more recognizable songs. “Synthetic World”, “Got to Get a Message to You”, and more. I would have loved to hear “I’ll Pretend” or “Lonely”, but having him do his thing on the fly felt all the more natural. There was one shining moment during the evening’s closer “I was Born Blue” where the auto-tuned glitchiness came through.
During an insanely elongated version of “Sam Stone”, a John Prine cover, Swamp Dogg come down off the stage (completely unassisted from the cane he initial had) and proceeded to shake every single person’s hand in the room. In between shakes, he’d exclaim “Sammy!”, giving the song another jolt of life as he purposefully wandered around the room. Fans politely asked for autographs of albums and Swamp Dogg, with a full smile on his face obliged. To some this deviation from a typical onstage performance might seem weird or awkward, but the thought never entered my min. In the moment it was an absolute honor and magical. His presence carries a sort of history that is often missing even from legendary acts, enhancing his every move.
Throughout the night, Swamp Dogg would joke with the crowd in between and sometimes in the middle of songs. Every moment between him and the crowd was so instantaneous, like a call and response that had been practiced before. But it was truly Swamp Dogg’s quick wittedness that was in charge. “How do I sound?” he would ask. “Just like Swamp Dogg!” yelled back an enthusiastic fan. “I was trying to avoid that,” he would respond, eliciting a gratifying chuckle from everyone in the room.
During that long “Sam Stone” rendition, in what can only be described as an impassioned rant/monologue/plea, Swamp Dogg spoke about soldiers returning from service, their mental health, and homeless. A few songs later, in a much less somber moment during “Loverman”, Swamp Dogg lamented about the things that come with age (wait for it): your dick getting smaller, your balls getting bigger, and the intricate differences between erectile dysfunction medications (“Viagra just works”). Later on I would realize his daughter was listening in all the while, a clear example of how open he is and ready to entertain his crowds no matter what.
The night unfortunately had a hard exit, one that Swamp Dogg abided to despite the crowd yearning for more. He stepped off the stage, his daughter in tow, as the left the room as fans crowded around to speak with him one more time before the end of the evening. Early on in the set, after a riotous ovation from the crowd, Swamp Dogg mumbled under his breathe “I appreciate that… I needed that.” It was a moment that seemed to be fully realized at the end of the show, where everyone felt as genuinely appreciative of one another and enamored with what hey just experienced.
All photos by Julian Ramirez