Miami Music Legend and Hip-Hop Pioneer Clarence Reid, AKA Blowfly, Dies at 76

2016 started off a little sour – like when Jack Daniels goes bad and tastes sugary — just awful. To have Lemmy’s passing followed so closely by David Bowie’s was too much for folks with progressive musical tastes.

But to find out on an otherwise pleasant Sunday afternoon that another legend — a musical pioneer and a man whose work was for a very long time synonymous with Miami has passed… well, it’s too much. Even if he had entered hospice care with terminal liver cancer a few days prior. It's too much and too soon.

Everything that could be said about Clarence Reid, AKA Blowfly, has already been said. His upbringing singing nasty songs to thoroughly amused white farmers and getting his nickname from his grandma is the stuff of legend. But then Reid relocated to South Florida and began a long and modestly successful career with Henry Stone and TK Records.

Reid the musician was a powerhouse. As a writer, he was intuitive of the personalities of the folks he wrote for, and as a singer in his own right, he leaves behind a sizable catalog filled with tracks that should’ve gotten much more national exposure.

Clarence Reid was not a handsome man, but his charisma and persona were infectious. After he drifted into relative obscurity in the '90s, it would be the albums that he recorded as Blowfly that would keep him on the radar of pedantic record nerds and snobby connoisseurs.

Before “Uncle” Tom Bowker “rediscovered” him while on assignment for this publication and put a band together for him to perform with, it was a real kick to introduce the ’Fly to folks who thought they knew hip-hop and funk. Even to this day, there are many who are recalcitrant concerning his place in rap history.

But the facts are there, and before Miami became a cartoon of cocaine cowboys and pastel-colored suits, before Overtown was completely destroyed by the 95, Miami had a vibrant and well-oiled musical community composed of then-rising Latin sounds, funk, R&B, soul, and jazz. Reid cemented his legacy in that era.

And while it is perfectly OK and great that his legacy will live on largely in part to his work as Blowfly, I implore you to look up his other work, even if it’s just to better appreciate his dueling personalities.

Personally, my Blowfly story isn’t one concerning debauch and nastiness; it’s of Reid bringing the moment back. When Tom — who was with Reid right up until his last breath — got married, he had only been with the ’Fly for a short while, and everybody was nervous about him singing at the wedding. The ceremony was officiated by another legend of music, Carlton “King” Coleman (1932 – 2010) and the poor King might’ve been all mashed potatoes upstairs that day because he bungled up Tom’s wife’s name for a solid minute, and when you realize her name has only three letters, that’s a whole lotta messing up.

Reid made the wedding about love and the couple again with a simple tune. Accompanied by keyboards, he made everybody relax and forget the cringe-worthy incident. That was Reid, and while Jonathan Furmanski’s 2010 documentary, The Weird World of Blowfly, paints a picture of varying textures, he was always a good-natured guy, even if he got a little ornery with age.

It’s a sad day indeed. The upcoming 77 Rusty Trombones, Blowfly's final posthumous album, will unknowingly carry a bitter taste honey won’t be able to mask. No one can escape cancer when it wants to win. Not Clarence Reid, not Blowfly.

He would’ve been 77 years old this coming February 14.

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