Jim Stafford’s debut album sported four Top 40 hits both in 1973 and ’74. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you now look at the man and his music, he became more known for his novelty, somewhat goofy tunes from this and other albums and his comedic persona and acting than for his straight forward songs.
I say unfortunately in part because the Eloise, Florida singer/songwriter created some fantastic swamp rock songs very briefly on this lone album and one later non-album single ‘Jasper’ that wouldn’t have sounded too out of place on a Tony Joe White or Joe South album.
If Stafford had continued onward down this dirt road path and concentrated more on creating swamp rock tunes, then he might’ve possibly been as revered as White and the recently departed South are today. Even country guitarist/singer Jerry Reed would have to figure in there somewhere, since his early hits were somewhat swampy.
For most of the album, which was reissued in 2008 by RPM Records, it’s a four-man band set up. Richard Bennett, superb session lead guitarist, serves up some tasty, chunky lead licks on the whole album — adding the perfect grit, spit, dust, and wah-wah to the music. Stafford himself, along with Bennett, adds some fine acoustic guitar to the album as well. I recommend that you listen to Stafford’s country-rock swampy songs here first and then his novelty tunes — which are also found elsewhere on the album.
Jim’s first and best hit single, the hauntingly mysterious “Swamp Witch” is as fine a song as you’re gonna hear in this genre. He really sets a mood here by painting vivid pictures with the lyrics in his tale of Blackwater Hattie of the Black Bayou — putting you right in those Delta swamps and bayous of Florida and the deep South.
“The Last Chant” continues on where “Swamp Witch” left off, telling of the mysteries of the swamp as a living entity, and how man’s creeping development and clueless tourists were even then encroaching on the area. In his version, the swamp might just have the last word and have them move on out instead. “Spiders and Snakes” was his biggest, catchiest, and best known hit — a No. 3 single — and it’s pretty funky, too. Speaking of funky, the album’s up-tempo lead off track “L.A. Mama” is funk-key! This swamp comes to Hollywood, with some nice slide guitar — kind of like Creedence-lite. I could see Tom Petty effectively covering this song.
As for the novelty tunes here, they are definitely goofy and funny depending on your sense of humor, but they are also the most dated material here. “I Ain’t Sharin’ Sharon” sounds like Tiny Tim drunk on a Saturday night in a vaudeville club. The countryish “Wildwood Weed,” another Top 40 pop hit, is the comical tale of a couple of good ol’ boys out in the country sampling a ‘weed’ all the time (marijuana in disguise if you didn’t already know), and a government man who shows up and burns away all of their wildwood weed. As he drives away, they’re still smiling, though, as they sit on their sack of seeds.
The initially confused sexual identity song “My Girl Bill,” a catchy novelty tune presented in a country shuffle that also became a pop hit, is still pretty silly. Strangely enough, Stafford sounds a lot like Jon Spencer’s Blues Explosion on “Nifty Fifties Blues” — in a goofy silly mood, anyway.
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