Now Listening: Swamp Dogg Teams Up with John Prine

The R&B trailblazer’s new album, Sorry You Couldn’t Make It, draws on a lifetime’s worth of influences—and invites an all-star cast to sing along

Photo: David-McMurry

It’s been more than fifty years since Jerry Williams, Jr.—better known as Swamp Dogg—began building his name as an R&B musician, garnering a cult following for songs as catchy as they are deep. But for all his critical acclaim as a pioneering rhythm and blues singer, songwriter, and producer, Williams’s biggest commercial hit was a country song: “(Don’t Take Her) She’s All I Got” climbed the country charts when Johnny Paycheck released the song in 1971, and it went on to be recorded by Conway Twitty, George Jones, and Tanya Tucker. Williams himself even released a Nashville-recorded country album in 1981—a move the Portsmouth, Virginia-born musician says was a natural one. 

“I was raised up on country music,” he once told Nashville Scene. “The only black music I heard was on jukeboxes in service stations. If you take away the horns from most of my recording, you’ve really got somewhat of a country version.”

Swamp Dogg’s latest effort, Sorry You Couldn’t Make It, draws on those influences—with plenty of soul mixed in for good measure. Recorded in Nashville, the album features guest appearances from a genre-blind cast of top talent, from Justin Vernon of Bon Iver to acclaimed singer-songwriter and former Rilo Kiley frontwoman Jenny Lewis. “Memories,” one of the album’s standout tracks, is a duet with country and folk legend John Prine. It’s not the first time the two trailblazers have crossed paths—Swamp Dogg’s 1972 Cuffed, Collared, and Tagged opened with a cover of Prine’s “Sam Stone”—and the easy pace and clever, wistful lyrics on “Memories” will make fans of either artist wonder why they haven’t collaborated more often in the last fifty years. 

Stream “Memories” below, and look out for Sorry You Couldn’t Make It out this Friday, March 6, and available for preorder now