Swamp Dogg has been trying to make a country album for a long time. “All my life,” he says. Although the 76-year-old singer-songwriter is best known for his oddball R&B, country music has been an integral part of his musical foundation ever since he stayed up late at night as a kid growing up in Portsmouth, Virginia listening to the country radio station. Early in his career, his originals became hits for country singers like Johnny Paycheck, and he regularly recorded songs written by country-leaning singer-songwriters like Mickey Newbury and John Prine. In the 1980s, he recorded a score of country originals with titles like “Wifebeater” and “He Don’t Like Country Music (And He Hates Little Kids),” but the songs were relegated to an obscure compilation and never heard by most.
So after the comparative success of last year’s electronic soul offering Love, Loss and Auto-Tune, Swamp Dogg realized it was time to do what he had never done before: release an entire album of country songs. “I look at time, and I look at my age and all that bullshit, and I thought, ‘Man, I better do that before time closes in on my ass,’” he tells Rolling Stone. “There’s still so many things that I want to do.”
Over the past year, Swamp Dogg (birth name Jerry Williams) has been at work on his latest album at a series of studios in Los Angeles and Nashville with a slew of collaborators, including longtime friend John Prine. “John’s a funny motherfucker,” says the singer. “And where I tend to not be as country as I want to be, John Prine brings it home.” The duo spent a day recording in Nashville over the past year, cutting several songs, including a duet on Prine’s “Sam Stone” (which Swamp Dogg famously covered in 1972) and a new Swamp Dogg original called “Memories Don’t Leave Like People Do.”
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Swamp Dogg is still working out the details of his as-yet-untitled country record, which is expected to be released later this year. Justin Vernon and Ryan Olson (Polica) are once again contributing production, and Swamp Dogg is working with a number of new collaborators. “We’ve got a co-producer, and a co-co-producer, and a co-co-co producer, and a co-co-co-co-co producer,” says Swamp.
Swamp says he still isn’t done promoting Love, Loss and Auto-Tune, but he’s excited about finally getting the chance to fully delve into his country influences. “I’ve been in that water before, just not as deep,” he says. “Some songs are brand new. Some are old as hell. But when I wrote them, I just wasn’t ready to do something with it. Well, I actually was ready to do something with it, but it was a matter of nobody was ready to do anything with me.”
Asked if he was surprised by the country-leaning material he found himself writing over the past few years, Swamp Dogg says, “I couldn’t have been shocked, I wrote the motherfuckers.”
For Swamp Dogg, the only difference between whether one of his songs could be classified as r&b or country was often a mere matter of instrumentation. “If I write something that’s real country, I’ll add four of five horns or shit like that, and it ceases to be country,” says the singer-songwriter. “But for this album, we just went in and did some country.”