The Ballad of Jamison Smoothdog
Jason Nark | Philadelphia Daily News | December 2014
THE BALLAD OF Jamison Smoothdog began in a South Philly housing project, where a wiry scrapper took that name and cut through the city’s streets like a switchblade with nothing more than a guitar and a voice honed hard by Winston reds.
Stories about the Dog’s days as the alpha male of the South Street music scene have stuck around far longer than his songs. Records were stuffed away in attic corners, melted in his family’s house fire, or lost by people who’d already forgotten them. On the Web, where a sliver of something can be found on just about anyone, there are no Smoothdog songs to be heard nor vintage performances from the J.C. Dobbs roadhouse to watch.
What remains is a fog of fact and fiction, an urban legend about an enigmatic, fiery frontman who was hard on his guitars, his friends, lovers and lyrics, and on many nights way too hard on his liver.
“He wasn’t great but he was too good to be forgotten,” said Bob Fuentes, who was once Smoothdog’s unofficial manager.
When his life’s coda played out on Sept. 20, 2001, on his living-room couch in Northeast Philly, Jamison Smoothdog was mostly just James J. Hendrick again, a 53-year-old antiques-and-collectibles dealer, a former Marine debilitated by a stroke and type 1 diabetes, still loving music more than anything or anyone besides his beloved mom, Millie.
But Smoothdog himself once said he didn’t “believe a song should ever be finished,” and he has experienced a strange encore online, a steady push for recognition by some who believe he wrote the Southern rock anthem “Can’t You See,” a hit for the Marshall Tucker Band and Waylon Jennings in the 1970s and a tune you might hear on “American Idol” on any given night or onstage at Tootsie’s in Nashville.
Can’t you see, oh, can’t you see
What that woman, Lord, she been doin’ to me
Can’t you see, can’t you see
What that woman, she been doin’ to me
Writer bio: Jason Nark, a South Jersey native and graduate of Rutgers-Camden University, wrote for the Camden Courier-Post before joining the Philadelphia Daily News in 2008.