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Courtesy Shaun Dickerson
Clarence “Blowfly” Reid (left) and Shaun Dickerson
Saturday, June 8, 2013
Before 2 Live Crew’s “Me So Horny”; before Tyler the Creator’s Mountain Dew commercial and practically every verse on his new album, “Wolf”; before any number of X-rated rappers made laughter and offense, there was Clarence “Blowfly” Reid.
The 74-year-old Reid co-wrote and produced such 1970s hits and essentials as Gwen McRae’s “Rockin’ Chair,” Betty Wright’s “Cleanup Woman” and KC & The Sunshine Band’s “Sound Your Funky Horn.” He could sing a mean number himself. His recordings of “Nobody But You” and “Masterpiece” are underappreciated funk/soul classics.
But for years, the Blowfly alter ego — politically incorrect in regards to practically every topic imaginable — has been the thing that keeps the Miami-based Reid working.
And in a harmonic convergence — triangulating Miami, Roanoke, and Austin, Texas — the Blowfly show hits Martin’s Downtown Bar & Grill on Sunday. Reid is scheduled to headline a triple-bill that includes Stevie D & Joneski and The Bastards of Fate.
Cape and all
Reid’s bassist, Shaun Dickerson, is a former Roanoke resident who played with The Wading Girl and Jesse Ray Carter Trio before moving to Austin. Among his many musical adventures in Texas was a one-off Blowfly gig that led to him joining Reid’s band. Once his friend Stephen “Stevie D.” Davies, formerly of Illbotz, learned about his new job, Dickerson moved to get a Roanoke show on the itinerary.
“Stevie D. was just an old-school Blowfly fan,” Dickerson said. “He’s got Blowfly albums. … [laughs] It was just the whole idea of making Stevie D. happy. I knew he would s--- his pants.”
If he does, Blowfly will probably make a rap about it.
When Davies was growing up, he wanted to be like Weird Al Yankovic, but “just a little dirtier,” he wrote in an email.
“Then I discovered Blowfly a little later in life, and thought that’s exactly who I wanted to be at one time,” he wrote. “One thing I really loved about Blowfly is that he can actually sing! Dude’s got soul! The stuff he put out as Clarence Reid is perfect classic R&B. And he was the first dirty rapper!”
To be sure, Dickerson said that Reid, even at an advanced age, is still a creative force who brings great energy onstage while interacting with the audience in typically hilarious ways.
“He goes all out,” Dickerson said. “He doesn’t hold anything back. … You want to be down front, because he’ll ask you questions, he’ll dig and he’ll sing to you, and he’ll write songs about you. It’s fun, and he really gets out there and goes crazy, screaming and yelling.”
And he does it all in his own superhero costume, complete with a cape.
Right off the bat in a riotous 40-minute conversation with Reid, he was using rapper Kurtis Blow’s last name in a most unseemly way. Blow, nee Kurtis Walker, was the first rapper on a major record label and the first to have a gold record, with his single “The Breaks.”
But Reid claims that he made the first rap recording, “Rapp Dirty” (later recorded in an even dirtier version as “Blowfly’s Rapp”), in the early 1960s, when Blow and other rappers were “in diapers.”
He had commercial success with such novelties and song parodies, even though he had to release them on his own label. The majors wouldn’t touch a guy whose parodies include “Sh-----g on the Dock of the Bay.”
Coming up in Georgia, where he said that he “loved those hillbillies,” Reid parodied Ernest Tubb and Grandpa Jones songs, thinking he would anger them but cracking them up instead. We can’t print either the titles or rhymes of those songs, but they took the hokum tradition one nasty step further.
He also parodied such songs as Chubby Checker’s “The Twist,” to which his grandmother responded that he was “a disgrace to the black race, to the human race, and you ain’t no better than a blowfly,” he remembered.
Her comment hurt his feelings at first, but he appropriated “Blowfly” as a nickname. That youthful goofiness would stick with him after he moved to Miami and became a fixture in the Southern soul scene. And it helped save him when times got so tough that he signed over his royalty rights. For a man whose music was sampled by Ice Cube, Beyonce, KRS-One, DMX, Jurassic 5 and Wu Tang Clan among many others, it was a costly short-term decision.
For example, Beyonce’s “Upgrade U,” which sampled “Girls Can’t Do What The Guys Do,” could have been worth a relative mint for Reid.
In the 2010 documentary, “The Weird World of Blowfly,” Reid said he doesn’t like to talk about it, because it makes him angry.
“I didn’t want to hear [‘Upgrade U’],” he said in the documentary. “I don’t want nothin’ to do with it. Part of your life story goes in a matter of months.”
The documentary includes segments with rap icons such as Chuck D. and Ice T, who are fans, as well as Reid’s daughter, Tracy Reid, the 1998 Women’s National Basketball Association rookie of the year.
Blowfly said that when his daughter was playing pro ball, she met Pat Riley of the NBA’s Miami Heat. He knew of her father and wondered if Clarence Reid should sing the national anthem before a Heat game. Tracy Reid replied: “I don’t know if you want to do that or not. Did you know my daddy Clarence Reid is also Blowfly?”
Judging from the unprintable “The Star Spangled Banner” parody that Blowfly sang at the tail end of that story, his daughter was wise to warn away Riley. It makes Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Borat” version at the 2005 Salem rodeo sound like a children’s singalong.
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