Fly Off the Wall
The sun is setting on the recent seventeenth annual Fort Lauderdale Blues Festival and funk legend/rap innovator Clarence Reid, a.k.a. Blowfly, is pacing backstage. The tall, lithe, 58-year-old Reid has spent the afternoon waiting for Solomon Burke, the 400-pound, 62-year-old King of Rock and Soul. Burke, who is headlining the festival, is allegedly interested in recording one of Reid's songs. At 6:15 p.m., Burke pulls up in a Lincoln Town Car. After holding court from the passenger seat for a few minutes, he bellows: "Where's Blowfly?!"
Reid ambles over to Burke's car in a hip-swinging stride that defines the term "pimp walk." The two men shake hands through the car window.
"You got a song for me?" Burke inquires.
"Nah, man, I'm just here to ..."
"Blowfly!" Chris Chavez, Reid's short, slender, thirtyish guitarist, pokes him in the ribs. "Sing the song you wrote for Solomon!"
"Oh, right!" He closes his eyes and belts out a gorgeous tune about computer love. Burke's eyes grow large as Reid's sweet tenor makes downloading "your sexy software" seem as pure as driven snow.
"Shut up!" Burke yells. His eyes dart back and forth, fearful of eavesdroppers and would-be musical thieves. "Who's your publisher? We're gonna be partners!"
Reid stammers. His eyes are glazed. His Cat In The Hat rubber face reads at once flattered and astonished. He and Burke are on a trip in the wayback machine -- back to a time where hits were traded like baseball cards between friends. Times like Reid's heyday as a staff writer for Hialeah's TK records in the Seventies. Back in the polyester days, Reid and his partner Willie Clarke created the disco/soul "Miami Sound" by writing gold and platinum hits, most notably Betty Wright's "Clean Up Woman" and Gwen McRae's "Rockin' Chair."
After the show Reid stops at the gate and sighs. He's ready to go home to Carol City. But Chavez is deep in conversation with Carl "Kilmo" Pacillo, the dark-bearded hippie who owns Alligator Alley, a tiny blues bar in Oakland Park. Kilmo nearly wet his pants when Chavez handed him the flyer for the show. "Clarence Reid?!" he sputters. "I'm a huge fan! We're having a jam down the street with some of the musicians from the festival! I'd do anything if you'd sit in! The Blues Society might not like it, but fuck them!"
Thirty minutes later Reid and Chavez are sitting at Alligator Alley. This will be Blowfly's first South Florida appearance in more than twenty years. Tonight he's wearing an "Eat Me" Alligator Alley T-shirt instead of his trademark gold mask and purple cape. Instead of the capacity crowds of rabid funk fans that pack his sporadic European and U.S. dates, 50 half-interested Blues Society baby boomers are scattered through the bar. They have no idea what's about to hit them.
Blowfly takes the mike as Chavez teaches Taylor's rhythm section a few tunes. "Good evening, cocksuckers and motherfuckers! You wanna know what kind of man I am? Well, baby -- I'm a hole man." Chavez vamps the intro to Sam & Dave's hit "Soul Man" and Blowfly perverts it. "Got what I got/By fucking a nasty bitch/Woulda been better off/Sticking my dick in a ditch."
Reid found he had a knack for goofing on lyrics while searching for ways to speed up childhood hours spent in the cotton fields of Georgia. At age fourteen he found work at Henry Stone's Tone Distribution in downtown Miami, packing records for shipment in the warehouse. Stone sensed his raw talent and sent him to Miami's Criteria Studios for seasoning. There a band of session players developed, Clarence Reid and the Delmiras, that released a string of singles in the mid-Sixties on a variety of national R&B labels, most of which were distributed by Tone. When Stone heard a song he particularly liked, he'd cherry-pick it for his own Alston label. This strategy worked to perfection in 1969, when Reid had a top ten R&B hit with "Nobody But You Babe." Reid quit the warehouse and became a mainstay on the chitlin circuit, opening for greats such as James Brown, Johnny Taylor, and Sam & Dave. With the success of "Nobody But You Babe," he began pressing Blowfly records on his own imprint, Clarence Reid Inc. In between songs at "Clarence Reid" gigs, he'd delight the audience with a dirty "Blowfly" parody or two.
Reid's day job as a songwriter for Stone's production company kept him out of harm's way and extremely busy. While employed as a songsmith, Reid continued to release both solo material on Alston and self-released Blowfly singles. He kept up that backbreaking pace until 1973, when Stone happened upon him plunking out a spoof song on an out-of-tune piano in his office. "I heard that and told Clarence to go upstairs and into the studio immediately," Stone, a Colonel Sanders lookalike, chuckles while holding court in front of his wall of gold records at his Grove Isle penthouse.
One four-hour, live-to-tape session later, Blowfly's debut, The Weird World of Blowfly, was completed. The cover art featured him standing on a trashcan and holding a rubber chicken while wearing a ghetto Halloween costume: a yellow rubber mask with antennae, yellow wings, tightie-whities, black pantyhose, knee-high white stockings, and a black superhero jersey emblazoned with a gold lamé "BF."
The Weird World of Blowfly was an underground sensation sold exclusively under the counter to thousands of freaky fans. Along with Rudy Ray "Dolemite" Moore and Redd Foxx, Blowfly became synonymous with the term "party record." By the time sessions commenced for his second album, Blowfly on TV, Reid had more help than he needed. "The word got out and every nasty motherfucker around started showing up for the sessions. I'd have nine guitar players! What am I supposed to do with nine guitar players?" Blowfly on TV's art featured three topless Nubian queens. This started the Blowfly tradition of displaying naked women on his album covers.
In 1978 Blowfly released Porno Freak. The title track is arguably the first modern rap song. Reid kicks it off rapping over a solitary thumping bass drum: "While sittin' home playing with my prick/I decided to take in a flick/Only dirty movies turn me on/Like Deep Throat and The Devil In Miss Jones/I've been called a genius/I've been called a bastard/But I'm known around the world as the nasty rapper ..."
In 1981, he returned home from touring to discover the disco backlash had claimed a victim: TK's doors were shut and Reid was out of both a day job and a record label. Miami record promoter Bo Crane signed Blowfly to his fledgling Pandisc label, starting a relationship that has spanned eight albums and 22 years.
In 1990 Blowfly's semiregular gig at Hollywood, California's Club Lingerie resulted in The Twisted World of Blowfly, a documentary and soundtrack album featuring his Club Lingerie band, which included Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and half of Fishbone. "This little freaky ass came up to me and said 'Hi, I'm Flea, nice to meet ya,'" Reid reminisces. "I'd never heard of him or Fishbone. I don't live in the real world. I'm in my own little world."
Twisted upped Blowfly's hipness factor tenfold. "Flea's friends like Henry Rollins and the Butthole Surfers would show up to the Lingerie gigs," Crane relates in between meetings at Pandisc's office space in north Miami-Dade. "And they'd be in the audience with Blowfly's hard-core funk fans."
So why hasn't he played his hometown, where he achieved all of his fame and notoriety, in more than two decades?
"I didn't have a band before. But now I do, so I can put a curse on you and every guy who's gonna read this article." His voice drops to a loud whisper as he warns: "If, after reading this story, you don't immediately buy a ticket and come to my show ... the only way you'll ever be able to get hard is by looking at a picture of Michael Jackson's nurse!" Reid rolls back his eyes and unleashes a sinister cackle that would make Dracula run back to his coffin. "You got everything? Good. Now start preparing for the rest of your life and beat it!"
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