By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
The transformation from Clarence Reid into Blowfly is the Clark Kent/Superman metamorphosis gone kinky. First there's the costume. Then comes the laugh. Aahhhaooohhhahh! And the extended middle finger. And the act.
"He'd sit at the piano and write his songs and do what he did," recalls erstwhile TK owner and music-business legend Henry Stone. "We were sitting around, and I heard him playing a song called `(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay.' Except he was singing, `Shittin' on the dock of the bay.' I said, `Go upstairs and put that on tape.' That's how Blowfly started."
That's how Blowfly's first album may have come about, but the character had been in the cocoon for years. "In 1963 I created a swing-beat shuffle called `Odd Balls,' with a rap," says Reid. "One of Henry Stone's producers heard it and told me, `I thought you could sing. What's all that talking?' They didn't know what to do with it." Four or five years later, when Blowfly was cutting his first album, there was some extra time at the end of the record, so he added "Odd Balls," the story of a couple of beatniks doing the nasty in the woods and how difficult it was to tell the man from the woman. "We did it to fill space," Reid remembers. "And it was the song that became a 45, and it was a big jukebox hit."
In 1968 Reid wrote a song for a little girl he occasionally baby-sat. Her name was Betty Wright; the song, titled "Girls Can't Do What the Guys Do," concerned dualistic perceptions of gender relations, how a promiscuous man is considered macho and a promiscuous woman is considered a slut. It went to the Top 40 on the pop charts. In 1971 Reid wrote a song for one of his sisters. Wright recorded the tune instead, and "Clean Up Woman" soared to the Top 10.
While Reid the songwriter is completely original in his work, many of Blowfly's tunes were like "Dock of the Bay" and "Lady" - pop hits whose lyrics were twisted into hilarious, bawdy scenarios. ("I wrote a Christmas song," says Blowfly. "`The Little Drummer Boy': `I'm going to fuck you in your rump-pa-pum-pum.'") Not everyone found the bastardizations amusing. When a popular song called "What a Difference a Day Makes" was transformed into "What a Difference a Lay Makes," someone at TK was excited about the track and mailed a copy to Larry Flynt, who featured it in Hustler. A man named Stanley Adams failed to see the humor. Adams had written the original "Day" version. The way Reid tells the story, Adams went to a party where a guest mentioned Blowfly's take on his tune, which had been obtained since the Hustler article. "Someone said that I'd covered his song," says Reid. "He said, `Let's hear it.' All these old ladies in mink coats there and Blowfly stuff comes on. Somebody said I nearly killed the guy."
Adams happened to be president of ASCAP at the time. Reid says that Adams took legal action for copyright infringement, and, after a brief hearing, a judge decided Adams was owed an apology and the court was owed costs. Henry Stone pulled the record off the market. "Adams was a pretty powerful man," recalls Stone. "We settled."
But one less Blowfly tune on the market didn't mean the ride had ended. Reid's abundant talents - songwriting, producing, singing, playing piano - kept the material coming at a steady clip. Through it all, he had a special financial relationship with Stone, which Reid says was almost communistic. "Everything that came in went into a TK account. Then whenever I needed anything, TK paid for it," says Reid.
"He always needed advances, and he lived on that," Henry Stone recalls of his arrangement with Reid. "So if he earned $50,000 in royalties, and had drawn $60,000, he would be ten grand in the hole. Or the other way around. It was a good way of someone not getting a big chunk of money at once and blowing it. It's the same at every record company. If someone got in tax trouble or something, we'd give them the big money to pay for it."
Reid didn't think much about tax trouble or other financial matters. He saw the formula for success as simple - when the company needed money, someone would write a hit song. But as the Seventies ended, TK was in need of more money than one or two hits could generate. Disco's success had provoked many labels to overship records, sending out a million units, believing they had a platinum hit. When retailers shipped back 990,000 unsold copies, the label was left with a huge debt and piles of useless vinyl. Bankruptcy loomed. In a belated effort to jump on the disco bandwagon, CBS Records almost purchased TK for $17.5 million. But in the summer of 1979, before the deal was closed, someone at the company suddenly realized disco was dead. TK finally went to Morris Levy, who specialized in buying troubled companies with strong catalogues. The death of TK, Reid says, left him with one pair of shoes and not much else.