Swamp Dogg, Wolf Moon, Raw Spitt... names created by one of soul music’s most colourful characters, Jerry Williams Jr, to provide alter egos for, respectively, himself, Tyrone Thomas and the subject of the CD on offer here, Charlie Whitehead. Charlie - so much nicer to refer to him thus than “Spitt” - was mentored by Williams throughout his comparatively short, seven-year recording career and just as, for a period, he hid behind an alias, so shadowy was the information available on the man, that instant commendation must go to Tony Rounce, who has managed to spin exhaustive liner notes from sparse threads. From the archive collection of Blues & Soul magazine, Tony unearthed maybe the only article written on our man and that, as he says, appeared to have been based on a press release but we do get to know the birthplace of Charles Lee Whitehead - Franklin, VA - and the date: 12 September, 1942.
Passing through a group called the Rocking Charmers and biding his time on the Norfolk, VA, music scene, it seems likely that Charlie’s first brush with the then-billed Little Jerry [Williams] would have been locally, Williams having been born in Portsmouth, VA, just two months to the day prior to Charlie. However, while Williams upped sticks in 1961, settling in Philadelphia, from where he commuted regularly to New York, Charlie waited until 1968 for his own move to the Big Apple, by which time Williams was working in the city, at Musicor as, in his words [told to In The Basement in 1998]: “...artist, producer, writer and anything else [Art Talmadge, Musicor boss] could think of for a grand slam of $100 per week before deductions.” Although it was actually Charlie Foxx - of the sister/brother act, Inez & Charlie Foxx - who took Whitehead to Musicor’s R&B subsidiary label, Dynamo, also the Foxx’s label home, pressure of other work put Foxx’s intention to record Whitehead on hold and, instead, the label placed such duties in the hands of the ubiquitous Williams. More than just a musical marriage, the pair quickly became friends and, literally, soul-mates. They also clicked as songwriters, often working with Gary “US” Bonds and, although there are few Williams-Whitehead collaborations on the particular CD here, songs such as She Didn’t Know (She Kept On Talking), a hit for Dee Dee Warwick and Doris Duke’s If She’s Your Wife (Whom Am I) will need no introduction to soul fans.
Charlie Whitehead’s stay at Dynamo lasted just one single before Williams was on the move, taking Charlie - always signed to Williams’ production company rather than any specific label - along with him, ultimately, thanks to Wally Roker picking up on the already-made but oft turned down “I’m A Loser” album by Doris Duke, turning up on Roker’s Canyon label. For that and making his first appearance as Swamp Dogg, Williams delivered his own groundbreaking ! “Total Destruction To Your Mind Set” and, by way of an extension, tracks 1-11 of the CD here, Raw Spitt’s eponymous set, issued as Canyon LP 7710. “I decided to record Charlie Whitehead as Raw Spitt,” Williams told In The Basement. “I was trying to put together a situation like you see today with Prince and the New Power Generation, back to what George Clinton did with Parliament and Funkadelic. I had so many ideas and thoughts that I wanted to convey and unleash on the world that I knew I couldn’t do it all as Swamp Dogg, so what came about was Raw Spitt - with two t’s, naturally...This was going to be like ‘The Swamp Dogg Experience’.
It was all kind of political and sometimes a wee bit spiritual with the nerve to ask ‘is there really a God’ all wrapped up in funk but we never got quite to that point...” They certainly made sure they made statements - just hit on the black pride sentiment of Call Me Nigger, mixing the same with political overtones on Who Do They Think They Are and bemoaning inequality on Excuses. All these tracks come from the “Raw Spitt” album but airplay at the time was limited and Canyon as a label was a spent force.
Charlie Whitehead and Swamp Dogg moved on, trying another stab with the album’s lead track, Songs To Sing, by placing it with United Artists before hooking up with Miami’s Henry Stone for another short-lived venture, the Stone Dogg label and the dropping of the Raw Spitt name. Two (of three) Stone Dogg recordings feature here, most notably Predicament #3, a magnificently mournful piece complaining of police-motivated racial prejudice. Charlie became “Charles” for that offering and “The Amazing Charlie Whitehead” for I Finally Found Myself Something To Sing About.
The latter part of this CD is taken up with a venture for Swamp Dogg’s next home, the BASF-distributed Fungus label and a mixed set of vocals and instrumentals credited to Charlie Whitehead & the Swamp Dogg Band. It was another case of ill-timing, Fungus was being wound down but Charlie did finally have his chart days - for fourteen weeks debuting Billboard R&B on 17 May 1975 with Love Being Your Fool on Island Records. Seemingly, Charlie’s last recording venture came about at Broadway Sound Studios in Muscle Shoals, where he cut the 1977 Wizard-released album “Whitehead At Yellowstone” under the umbrella of Jerry Williams’ Atomic Art Productions.
A most satisfactory set, it was however another that fell by the wayside and, although Tony’s liners suggest his voice may well have subsequently featured on advertising jingles, neither the name of Charlie Whitehead nor Raw Spitt has reappeared with newly-recorded material on the racks. All the more reason why this CD is a most important release.
By David Cole