You think you know someone. Clarence Reid is a name whose work is scattered through my record collection. Born in Cochran, Georgia in 1939, from the mid-60s he cut a host of 45s for different labels – Dial, Wand, Tay-ster etc - including the funk classic “Nobody But You Babe” in 1969 as well as working behind the scenes to write and produce for Miami based labels cutting commercially successful records on Betty Wright, Gwen McCrae, KC & The Sunshine Band and countless other small releases on obscure labels. Even for only his rhythm and soul thumper “I’m Your Yes Man” and Jimmy Bo Horne’s sublime 1967 northern glider, “I Can’t Speak”, both co-written with Willie Clarke, he’s earned his spurs in my book. Incidentally, a copy of “I Can’t Speak” on Dade sold for $3746 last month.
It was after pulling a 1985 Kent Records compilation from the shelf, The Soul Of A Man, that I realised I only knew half the story. Clarence Reid’s, “Part Of Your Love”, from his Wand period opens side one. It’s a heart-wringing deep soul track about an affair with a married woman – proper, classy soul music - and my eyes then scanned Ady Croasdell’s liner notes. “His main source of income since the mid-70s had been recording porn covers of soul hits under the pseudonym Blowfly”. Porn covers of soul hits? What the? How had I missed this?
And it’s true; whole albums of the stuff all through the 70s and beyond; popular songs of the day rewritten with X-rated lyrics and performed by a man in a mysterious superhero outfit. Blowfly’s 1971 debut LP, The Weird World Of Blowfly, includes “Shitting Off The Dock Of The Bay” and “Spermy Night In Georgia”; At The Movies tells how “Superfly, keeps his head between chick’s thighs”; 1977’s Blowfly’s Disco Party features “What A Difference A Lay Makes” and Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes “Bad Luck” reworked as, well, you can guess. Not everyone’s cup of tea but if you were a kid at school, a stoned teenager, or heard this stuff at a house party it’d raise a chuckle. The disco tracks and especially his early rap records like “Rapp Dirty”/”Blowfly’s Rap” in fact have more to offer than juvenile humour. Blowfly and the Sugarhill Gang can argue the toss over who made the first rap record (it’s difficult to be precise) but “Rapp Dirty” goes to places “Rapper’s Delight” would not have dreamed.
Filmmaker Jonathan Furmanski caught some of the story in The Weird World of Blowfly in 2008 when he followed Reid and his manager Tom Bowker touring America and Europe attempting to raise the profile of the Blowfly “brand” (argh!) and get his career back on track. It doesn’t always make for comfortable viewing with Reid/Blowfly encouraged to shock (he doesn’t actually need much encouragement to be fair) rather than simply entertain and into coerced into unfamiliar musical areas in an attempt to introduce him to a younger audience. Seeing a 69 year old man with an arthritic knee wearing a glittery wrestler’s mask performing lewd songs to a handful of drunks in a late night bar isn’t perhaps the most dignified way to make a living but need’s must. Although Blowfly records have been heavily sampled and have appeared on smashes by the likes of Beyonce, he doesn’t have a pot to piss in, having sold all his rights to his songs and future royalties to pay off mounting debts. “A million dollars tomorrow ain’t worth a damn if you can’t get two hundred dollars to live off today,” he says with a mixture of pragmatism and regret.
The film also features interviews with friends, family, folk he’s worked with and even Ice-T and Chuck D pop up to talk about Blowfly being a hip-hop influence and one of the original rappers (Blowfly might tell you he was the first but he’s not caught claiming that on camera here). There’s a nice part where Clarence Reid gets to perform in Miami as himself for the first time since 1972 but it’s his alter-ego that draws the most attention and we soon see him encouraged by his manager to record the charmless “Mummie Fucker”.
The Weird World of Blowfly left me with a whole jumble of emotions, as did Clarence Reid who has some “interesting” views of women and black people. It’s not a feel-good movie, there’s no redemption, no happy ending, it’s no Searching For Sugarman, but it is real and does portray something of the struggle of musicians – even ones with countless records behind them - trying to make a living. Bet Blowfly wishes he had a box of that Jimmy Bo Horne single under his bed.
Here's the film.