Dirty Mind: Celebrating the Weird World of Blowfly and the late Clarence Reid

By on January 18, 2016

If American music ever had a real life Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, it was Clarence Reid, the R&B genius who created some of the coolest grooves of the disco era and the craziest and most lascivious music of the ’70s under the name Blowfly. And we lost both of his personas on Sunday morning. (Watch The Weird World of Blowfly now on Night Flight Plus).

(This post has to be marked NSFW for the language and nudity, but we appreciate that you’re readin’ Night Flight at work, so keep it up!)

Under his own name, Clarence Reid was one of the great behind-the-scenes men of soul and funk in the 1960s and ’70s, writing and producing major R&B hits, helping establish the record business in Miami, and even scoring a few minor hits of his own as a vocalist.

But after hours, Reid transformed himself into Blowfly, his wild, sex-obsessed altar-ego who turned all kinds of popular tunes into down-and-dirty documents of freaky desires and filthy doings, as well as penning originals that celebrated every perversion you can imagine (and a few you might not).

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Blowfly became an underground star, releasing outrageous party records that were as crazed as anything Rudy Ray Moore ever pressed into vinyl — AND you could dance to them.

While Clarence Reid was well known to soul obsessives and record collectors for his mainstream work, it was Blowfly who won a sizable cult following for his funky celebrations of the perverse, and long after Reid’s career faded from public view, Blowfly refused to go away quietly, still playing shows and cutting new albums well into the 21st Century.

However, the weird world of Blowfly finally shut down over the weekend, as liver cancer claimed Clarence Reid on Sunday, January 17. He was 76 years old.

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Clarence Reid was born on February 14, 1939 in Cochran, Georgia. Reid claimed that he first began making money from his music when he was less than ten years old; while working on a farm, he would make up dirty lyrics to popular country songs of the day, and passers-by were so amused by them that they’d pay the tyke to hear him make fun of hillbilly hits.

By the ’60s, Reid was living in Miami, Florida and had made his way into the record business, releasing his first single, “There’ll Come A Day,” on Dial Records in 1964. Reid co-wrote the song as well as singing it, and in 1969, he released an album though Atco Records, Dancin’ With Nobody But You, Babe (the title song had made its way onto the R&B singles charts).

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Reid had made a valuable friend in local music mogul Henry Stone, and though Reid’s album for Atco failed to sell outside the South, he recorded a steady stream of singles for Stone’s company Alston Records through the ’70s.

Reid also became a songwriter and producer for Stone, and when the dawn of the disco era came in the mid-1970s, Reid helped Stone define the sound on his new label, TK Records.

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Reid helped write and produce “Clean Up Woman” and “Let Me Be Your Lovemaker” for Betty Wright and “Rockin’ Chair” for Gwen McCrae, and Reid persuaded Stone to record two guys who were low-level TK employees, Harry Wayne Casey and Richard Finch; their band became KC and the Sunshine Band, and their string of disco hits, with Reid lending them production and songwriting support, would help define the Miami disco sound and made Stone a very rich man, at least for a while.

Reid also served as a writer and producer for such R&B legends as Sam & Dave, Irma Thomas, and Bobby Byrd.

However, while Reid was becoming a successful man in the music biz, the little boy who liked to startle people with dirty songs still lingered inside him, and in 1971 he debuted his perverse other self, Blowfly.

His debut album The Weird World of Blowfly (released on Reid’s own Weird World label) sounded loose and lively, like a party record that was actually recorded at a well-oiled bash, and featured Reid and a handful of musicians ambling through rude parodies of tunes like “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” (“Shittin’ Off the Dock of the Day”), “Soul Man” (“Hole Man”), and “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” (“My Baby Keeps Farting in my Face”) while the audience laughed loud and long.

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It didn’t hurt that Reid had a strong voice and an inspired sense of phrasing that made his songs sound soulful even at their most ridiculous, and just as word of mouth made Redd Foxx’s adults-only records underground sensations in the ’50s and ’60s, Blowfly’s albums – which initially didn’t identify Reid and pictured him surrounded by naked women while he was decked out in a spangled superhero getup – racked up impressive sales without a bit of airplay.

As word about him spread, Blowfly’s records of the late ’70s and early ’80s gained a level of professional polish that rivaled Reid’s legit work, and by 1980, the album Blowfly’s Party actually managed to crack the R&B albums chart (topping out at #26) and the Top 200 albums survey (peaking at #82), meaning Blowfly wasn’t a secret anymore.

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Blowfly’s Party became of Reid’s most popular recordings on the basis of a single, “Rapp Dirty,” and Reid was adamant that he had invented rap music, claiming he debuted the song “Blowfly’s Rap” in 1965.

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While no hard evidence exists to back this up (and the song’s CB radio lingo didn’t come into common usage until the mid-70s), Blowfly’s wild storytelling and Reid’s knack for a lean, minimal groove certainly made him a major inspiration to a generation of hip-hop artists.

Ice-T and Chuck D of Public Enemy are both fans who talked about Blowfly’s influence in the 2010 documentary The Weird World of Blowfly, and Snoop Dogg invited Blowfly to appear on his YouTube show GGN News Network, where they joined forces on the R. Kelly parody “I Believe My Dick Can Fly.”

Reid’s music has been sampled by such artists as the Wu-Tang Clan, Common, Mobb Deep, DJ Shadow, Jurassic 5, DJ Quik, and many others.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Fishbone were also serious Blowfly fans; Flea appeared in one of Blowfly’s music videos, and Fishbone occasionally took Blowfly on the road as their opening act.

While being sampled by some of hip-hop’s finest might have been a feather in his cap, it also became a sore spot for Reid later in his life.

After the end of the disco era, TK Records went out of business, and Reid’s career as a songwriter and producer began to dry up.

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In 2003, needing cash to pay off a serious tax bill, Reid sold off all of his publishing rights at a fire sale price. To add insult to injury, three years after the sale went through, Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s “Upgrade U” featured a prominent sample from Betty Wright’s “Girls Can’t Do What The Guys Do,” written by Reid, and as Beyoncé’s album B’Day went triple-platinum, Reid had to watch someone else collect the royalty checks for his songwriting.

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But if Reid was having troubles, Blowfly refused to give up. In the new millennium, Tom Bowker, a longtime Blowfly fan who was also a drummer and writer, took Reid under his wing and became both his manager and bandleader, determined to see Blowfly get the attention he deserved.

Bowker helped Blowfly score a deal with Alternative Tentacles Records (run by former Dead Kennedys lead singer Jello Biafra, long an admirer of Blowfly’s absurd humor), and with the release of 2004’s Fahrenheit 69 and 2006’s Blowfly’s Punk Rock Party, a new generation of fans began to hear about Florida’s genius of smut funk.

The film The Weird World of Blowfly made a case for Blowfly’s importance while also revealing how the music biz failed to make good for Clarence Reid, as well as the challenges of being on the road with a sometimes prickly man close to 70 years of age with a bum knee and a mind of his own, despite Bowker’s obvious belief in his friend’s talents.

In the end, Blowfly ended up eclipsing Clarence Reid in the public eye, and while most of his lost wealth and respect in the industry came from his work under his given name, it was Blowfly who made headlines in the music press when liver cancer claimed Reid only a few days after he entered hospice care.

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And while Reid is dead, fittingly Blowfly isn’t done just yet – his final album, 77 Rusty Trombones, is slated for release in February, which Bowker described in a message to the press before Reid’s death as “easily his best album since the early 80s, and a fitting epitaph for one of the great performers of all time.”

If Blowfly once sang “I Believe My Dick Can Fly,” it looks like he’s taking his bird on a victory lap before being grounded for good.

Watch The Weird World of Blowfly on Night Flight Plus!

About Mark Deming

Mark Deming was born and raised in Michigan, and has been writing about music and film since the early 1980s. Deming's work has appeared on All Music Guide and All Movie Guide, as well as in Ugly Things, Resonance, Detroit Metro Times, Chicago New City, Phoenix New Times, and American Garage; in addition, he once met Leonard Cohen and Captain Kangaroo on the same day.