Blowfly, otherwise known as Clarence Reid, is more than just the world's first recorded rapper, a smooth-singing soul crooner, and a sex prophet for profit. He is living proof of Miami's global relevance to the world of music.
And there are not many people who know Blowfly as well as manager, drummer, and number-one fan Tom Bowker. He has both traveled the world with Mr. Fly as a touring musician and incurred his wrath over pizza.
So in preparation for this weekend's Save the Funky House Party, here are Blowfly's top ten contributions to music, according to Bowker.
10. His Crazy-Ass Sense of Humor
"Nobody was fucking in music," says Bowker. "Certainly, in comedy, you had party records. But Blowfly was the first to mix humor and music in a way that wasn't a stuffy white dude thing. We got the funk. Laughter was the idea. When they recorded the music, they were literally having a party, getting loose, and having fun at TK Records in Hialeah. It wasn't just dirty jokes in the basement. It was dancing and getting laid."
9. His Filthy Influence
"Millions of people listened to hs records. So many rappers' parents had these albums and played them and ordered their kids out when all they wanted to do was listen, and of course, that made them want to listen even more. I've had so many rappers tell me this exact story, whether it's Snoop or Devin the Dude, a good dozen rappers have told me about how they used to hide the Blowfly under their Jackson 5, but they would always get busted. My parents didn't have cool records like that, but I did sneak my dad's Playboys so I understand completely."
8. The Whole Deep City Thing
"Clarence Reid bounced around South Florida until he found a home here in Miami with Willie Clarke and Johnny Pearsall and they started their own little universe down here," Bowker explains. "Clarence basically groomed Betty Wright along with Willie and wrote all her songs. He also worked with Helene Smith, and of course he also wrote his own really good songs. The dividends paid off almost exactly 40 years later with the Numero Group's re-issue of all the Deep City material, the Deep City movie, and now Henry Stone's movie. It's not because there's nothing worth documenting. And that's why we sold out the Gusman Theater. Even people who don't know Clarence can understand that "First black- owned record label in the state of Florida" is important historically."
7. The Man's Voice Is Incredible
"You've got to listen to the range of recordings from his lifetime. Who else can match that?" Bowker points out. "Those first early singles on Wand, Scepter, Dade, he hit notes so high you'd have to take a ball-peen hammer and hit yourself in the nuts to even think of hitting those notes. Forget his genius as a songwriter and performer, as a singer, he's incredible. Now he's older and his voice is more raw, he sounds like he gargles with sandpaper, but he makes that work too. He's managed to transform from an Al Green-style crooner to more gutbucket than Howlin' Wolf. But his beautiful voice from the '60s and '70s, that's what makes the Blowfly records so funny, singing sweet songs about 'girl let me cum in your mouth.'"
6. A Born Motherfuckin' Performer
"Blowfly, Clarence Reid is basically one of the greatest performers who ever lived. He has all the charisma in the world. To this day, 25-year-old girls love to sit on his lap and swoon all over him. He tells them the nastiest shit, and they love him for it. He connects with people on a visceral level. Clarence has a kind of charisma that barely exists anymore. The way he looks at you when he tells you these things, you believe him."
5. Superhuman Endurance
"He is of another time, but he is timeless. He manages to make things that mattered to him in the '60s matter to people in 2014. He has that universal quality to him. He sings about universal themes, like love and sex and dirty shit. These things always will be. There will always be love and sex and dirty shit. Clarence doesn't have to try; he just is. Yes, he's of an older time and lives in this one, but he sings and writes about subjects that will never get old."
See also: Rap's Ten Best Songs About Big Butts
4. Moving With the Times
"When you have Blowfly playing 'Ed Sullivan Show' and all the guests are coming on the show completely foul and dirty, it's great," Bowker says. "It's like running all of '60s and '70s pop culture through that ride at Epcot on a conveyor belt. All of his interpretations of what's happening in the world, even through the '80s with 'Electronic Pussy Sucker' and all the early Atari and Commodore 64 shit. Last year, we did a dance track with Sleazy McQueen out of Orlando. We did a house song that uses a disco beat. Weird World of Blowfly dropped in 1973, he recorded his first version of 'Rapp Dirty' in 1964, so he moves ahead of the times all the time, but also right along with them."
3. Split Persona
"Clarence has an amazing ability to throw anchor between himself and Blowfly. The two characters argue on "Blowfly's Convoy" in one of the most amazing meltdowns in music history, but nobody understood that. His mom didn't even know he was Blowfly for the first seven years. If you can survive getting tattled on by your family to your mom, that's incredible. He set up two completely distinct and very successful personas that have lasted four and five decades each. That's amazing, man. How do you keep up that charade? Last time we were in Zurich, they still didn't know, and we set up a show with Blowfly and Clarence Reid, and we sold that shit out hard. There was a line around the club. And then when the promoter found out he was both guys, he went crazy! He couldn't believe it."
Photo by Heidi Calvert
"Blowfly and Clarence are incredible songwriters. His melody is always through the bass line. It's very distinctive. You can hear it on Betty Wright's 'Cleanup Woman," on his own "Nobody but You Babe," on "Rapp Dirty." And he wrote so many lyrics in a woman's voice for female singers. When he would get stuck, he would just turn on soap opera The Young and the Restless. And some of those songs are way more fucked up than any Blowfly stuff. Take "The Babysitter," for instance. Betty Wright puts all the blame on the babysitter, and not the husband that would fuck a young teenage girl. He also wrote for George McCrae and Jimmy Bo Horne, and KC's 'Sound Your Funky Horn.' Clarence has a chameleon-like ability to write for anybody."
"Blowfly is the greatest character Clarence Reid ever created. I've been with him 12 years now, and I can say the world needs more laughter. Is there anyone funnier than Blowfly? Sure, there are people on his level, like Paul Mooney. I outsnapped Paul Mooney twice, and that was one of my great achievements as a white man. Paul is one of the funniest people on Earth, mostly on an intellectual level. And Clarence has intellectual humor too, even though he plays dumb, but the reality is he's a genius, and he goes for the gut. Blowfly humor is very guttural humor. And at his best, he makes this completely ridiculous thing that's beautiful."
Crossfade's Top Blogs
Blowfly's Save the Funky House Party. With Kool Keith, Otto von Schirach, and others. Presented by Strutter USA and Alternative MIA. Saturday, November 8. Churchill's Pub, 5501 NE Second Ave., Miami. The show starts at 9 p.m., and tickets cost $15 plus fees via brownpapertickets.com. Ages 18 and up. Call 305-757-1807, or visit churchillspub.com.
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