For the past four decades, Williams has been best known as Swamp Dogg, the gonzo Southern soul singer-songwriter who, at his best, approaches the wild-eyed visionary showmanship of Sly Stone, Bootsy Collins, and Frank Zappa, while also summoning the down-to-earth class-consciousness of country music.
This is a collection that celebrates American storytellers, guardians of their ethnic traditions that range from blues to Cajun to Mexican corridos, traditional New Orleans jazz, Dixieland, jug band music, sacred steel, and 1960s folk and protest music. Somehow it all hangs together, one big story about North and Central America and its people.
Too often, the blues are treated like a section of the Library of Congress; concerns over preservation and authenticity have mingled with an obscurity fetish among listeners to create the notion that the blues have already happened. But Reed and Hamlet press forward with the evolution of their own style of music. They’ve even adopted a new genre terminology: “kudzu boogie,” a more collaborative and layered sound than traditional Hill Country blues. Still driving and every bit as slide-focused as Hill Country blues, kudzu boogie is marked by a crafted density that the traditional model of bluesman-and-backups doesn’t provide for.
Even at (a spry) sixty-one and in admitted decline, this nearly anonymous rock & roll superstar does no doubt have fans, comely and lithe girls enamored by the literate fellow with the appearance of a non-virginal garden gnome who occasionally uses profanity (and flying knives) to punctuate his songs and conversation.
In the Oxford American’s Summer issue, Padgett Powell travels with the Beth McKee Band to Bradley’s Country Store in Tallahassee (“A Sausage Run with the Band”). Here, McKee and her husband, drummer Juan Perez, talk about their music and their expeditions with Powell down the back roads of Florida.