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The American alligator is a frightening looking creature. Their low-slung bodies covered in scaly armor looks almost prehistoric. While their crocodile cousins have teeth that are visible even when their mouths are closed making them even more intimidating, the alligator isn’t averse to opening his jaws to let you see for yourself the weapons of mass destruction housed within his head… just in the event you wanted to question its capabilities in that regard.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the jaws themselves are stronger than whatever vice you have in your workshop, capable of exerting 3,000 pounds per square inch of force (by comparison a human has maybe 200 psi in their jaws) when biting into whatever unfortunate soul finds themselves in their clutches.

Because they can run on land (surprisingly quick too in short spurts), and swim on and under water as well as being particularly adept at leaping out at you from concealment when they want a quick snack, this makes them a particularly menacing adversary.

Lunch Break
Though human deaths from alligators are not a common occurrence, averaging just about one every three years over the past century in America, the risk of it, or at least the terror inducing chance of it happening if you wander too close to a body of water in its home environs, is enough to make some residents of the Gulf Coast region move to Kansas where the only thing they have to worry about is a stray tornado taking them to a land inhabited by witches, flying monkeys, talking scarecrows and cowardly lions, who at least won’t bite your legs off (unless that was in the unrated Director’s Cut of The Wizard Of Oz that I somehow missed seeing).

Unlike crocodiles, which are much more voracious predators not averse to knocking on your door and abducting you for dinner even if you RSVP’d a firm “No, I Can’t Make It” when they asked you over for a meal, alligators are much more picky about their dining companions… err… about their dinner. They generally avoid humans because humans aren’t very tasty and people’s friends seem to object over being served as the main course, even if they were wading around carelessly in swamp infested regions in spite of the many signs warning against such reckless idiotic behavior. They also have to contend with the unfortunate fact that humans have been known to mass produce alligator skin belts, wallets and ugly boots in retaliation for the occasional meal a gator makes of a wayward person.

So you can certainly see why alligators tend to pass on the people platters at their weekly cocktail parties.

Homo sapiens are much less fastidious about their eating habits than alligators seem to be however. They prefer things such as cheese doodles made with no actual cheese but plenty of orange radioactive space dust… or flavored ice, which is merely brightly colored sugar used to catch your eye and distract you from the fact you’ve just paid good money for a cup full of sweetened frozen tap water… and the always popular fast food menus which offer free heart-attacks with every bag of triple cheeseburgers sold.

So considering that humans will eat anything and are still worried about alligators eating them, I suppose it only stands to reason that turnabout is fair play and do it to them before they can do it to you had to start somewhere.

Apparently that “somewhere” is found in the fine cuisine of Florida and Louisiana where Alligator Meat is something of a delicacy, not to mention the title of our main dish today.

It Tastes Like Chicken… No Really, It Does!
I don’t know where Joe Swift was originally from, he’s been the most mysterious figure we’ve covered to date so far… a nasal voiced baritone with a sense of humor and solid writing skills who hooked up with Johnny Otis for a number of sides in 1948, one of which marked the first national hit Otis was associated with, before Swift disappeared off the face of the earth… when he was eaten by an alligator…


Actually I don’t know, he might’ve been. It’d explain his otherwise inexplicable vanishing act following his flurry of releases (this is the fourth in the past seven months) during rock’s early years. While not all of his records have been good, they’ve all been interesting and whether you can attribute that more to Otis, who backs him here as well, or Swift himself, who is the credited songwriter for all of his material, he did make himself a welcome presence on the scene for awhile.

The total lack of any biographical information regarding him means it’s open to conjecture and outright speculation, so let’s float out the totally unsubstantiated possibility that he might’ve been familiar with the regional gastronomical habits of the Southeast (don’t go adding that to Wikipedia though!) and use that completely made up “fact” to suggest why he chose such an unusual topic for his final release on Exclusive Records.

It probably isn’t any more outlandish than the truth, because this record is just sort of bizarre any way you look at it.

Well… Chicken That’s A Little Bit Fishy
Songwriters mine many different fields of human behavior for subject matter for their compositions. Usually they revolve around interpersonal relationships of some kind – lust, love, whistful longing, broken-hearts, jealousy, revenge or even rough dirty sex. Sometimes all in the same song.

There’ve been plenty of songs about food and drink though too and you could undoubtedly make a pretty decent menu out of Catfish, Beans And Cornbread and Collard Greens served by master chefs Levi Stubbs, Joe Morris and ScHoolboy Q.

Or maybe a breakfast of Ham N Eggs and Grits at the roadside inn run by A Tribe Called Quest and James Brown. If you’d like a little Gin & with your Juice, ask your waiters Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre, they’ll be happy to oblige.

Deserts are always nice and Marvin & Johnny are serving up Cherry Pie while The Ikettes are offering Peaches N’ Cream if you’re so inclined. Provided you have a designated driver Amos Milburn behind the bar recommends One Bourbon, One Scotch And One Beer, and though we don’t allow smoking in our restaurant, Otis Redding’s out on the deck having Cigarettes & Coffee.

Joe Swift’s menu though consists of Alligator Meat, which somehow doesn’t quite conjure up the same home cooked nourishment of those others meals. Which is why it’s an odd entrée to serve up in search of a good review for a bite to eat on Yelp!, or in search of a hit record for that matter.

The horns that make for the appetizer here are a little cold. They don’t taste bad, but you wonder why the waitress wandered around the restaurant with them for the last five years before delivering them to your table. By now they’re out of season. Luckily Devonia Williams as always serves up her piano as the perfect garnish while Maxwell Davis’s tenor sax comes highly recommended as a side dish. You could eat this part of the meal with no complaints and be pretty well nourished by it.

But unfortunately the main dish is left to Swift, who sounds as if he’s ordering alligator meat out of spite because a gator chomped off his nose, kind of like the one who got away with Captain Hook’s hand (or was that a crocodile?… oh well, take it up with the game warden). So we’re left with Swift’s nasally tone sounding more off-putting than ever and unlike past records where the lyrics were worth sitting through whatever means of subpar delivery he gave you, here the meat is chewy and lacking any spices.

Which brings us to the question we’d like to ask the maître d’: Just what is the POINT of a song about Alligator Meat anyway?


Back To The Swamp
I assume it was meant to be humorous, maybe a little shocking for those not used to eating such meals. But beyond the surprise about seeing it on the menu, maybe giving everyone at the table a taste should someone be bold enough to order it, there’s nothing else to be said about it, at least not by Swift in this song.

He rhymes “meat” with “all reet”, sort of a lift out of Lester Young’s hipsters dictionary (though Prez would’ve made it “all reetaroonie” most likely, depending on how much weed he inhaled that morning).

But aside from that minor complaint about the unimaginative rhyming scheme, Swift’s not detailing anything else of note about the meal to make us want to order it. He’s not pushing it on curious customers by saying how flavorful it really is, or what cuts of meat are best (the tenderloin from the tail, BTW, in case you’re wondering). He’s not laying out the many ways it can be served, in fried nuggets for the kids, made into stews, chili and sausage for gumbo. Your grilled gator fillets, or alligator ribs which may be the most popular form of the meat. He’s merely doing the least expected of someone earning minimum wage as a server who will likely be fired by next week at no loss to the restaurant.

The possibilities he had with the unusual topic however were plentiful. He could’ve made this humorous, saying that with ribs you never know WHO might be mixed in with it… your Grandma who vanished last week while cutting flowers along the riverbank… your drunk neighbor who went fishing and fell in… maybe the escaped con who thought no posse would be dimwitted enough to chase him through the swamp.

He could’ve detailed how the gators are caught in this pre-gator farm-only era, back when men were men… with one arm and an empty boot.

The song was ripe for a twist ending too, something about if you order one you better eat IT before it eats YOU!

But Swift does none of this, maybe he was too busy stuffing his face with gator burgers to think of better couplets. Maybe he felt the unique idea itself was all he needed.

Or maybe he knew his time was running short and he wasn’t going to waste it talking about reptiles any more than he had to. So he just chants along in a sing-songy cadence that sounds during the chorus like something to teach children so as they’re not petrified of finding an alligator floating in their bathtub or laying in wait under their bed at night.

The music itself is decent enough once it gets going, but nothing special outside of Davis’s brief solo and even that comes only after being forced to eat an undercooked intro comprised of all of the horns that we’ve already gotten tired of sending back to the kitchen when dining out on other songs.

When Swift returns he merely repeats the same instructions about adding salt and taking a big bite. At this point you’re looking around for a golf course to let him drive a tee shot into a water hazard on the back nine and go wading in looking for it. That’s the big bite you’re really hoping for by the end of this.

Joe Swift burgers, served with fries and cole slaw.


(Visit the Artist page of Joe Swift for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)

Spontaneous Lunacy has reviewed other versions of this song you may be interested in:
Charlie Singleton (January, 1951)