The Gospel According to Blowfly
Clarence Reid was the world's nastiest proto-rapper and soul's greatest songwriter
by Andy Frane
Originally published in Wax Poetics Issue 14, Fall 2005.
“For this next song I need a big fat bitch to come up here,” says Blowfly halfway through his set in Long Beach. Standing onstage in his BF-emblazoned, Mexican-wrestling-style sparkling gold superhero outfit, the sixty-year-old veteran of the chitlin circuit scanned the crowd. He spotted a cute, chubby Black girl who hauled her big frame onstage, and the band launched into “Too Fat to Fuck.” The girl started shaking her fat ass and juggling her tits in delight, basically having the time of her life, while Blowfly crooned to her through his mask, “You’re too fat to fuck, all you can do is suck…”
This is the Weird World of Blowfly, where everything is so hilariously offensive that somehow nothing’s offensive. At that show in Long Beach, when I first met him face to face, the first thing he said to me was, “Frane? What kind of name is that for a cracker?” Then he asked if he could jack off on my shoe onstage. Blowfly is the world’s nastiest soul man, the originator of the mic-in-one-hand-dick-in-the-other stance, the first guy to make a hot chorus from the phrase “shake ya ass,” and the twisted comedic genius behind such cuts as “Spread Your Cheeks” and “Can I Come in Your Mouth”—and that was just his side gig. Under his real name, Clarence Reid, he was one of most prolific writer-producers for Henry Stone’s Alston and TK labels, co-creating most of Betty Wright’s hits and helping shape the Miami funk sound. Some of his best compositions ended up on his own profanity-free solo records—funky Southern soul gems recorded under his Christian name.
Blowfly also happens to be the first hard-core rapper ever on wax. In the days when Wonder Mike was intoning “skid-a-lee bee-bop a-we rock a-scooby doo” and kicking his story about eating bad food at a friend’s house, Blowfly was dropping lines like “I pulled out my dick and broke the bartender’s glass, and said, ‘All you motherfuckers can’t kick my ass,’” and spitting outrageous tales about smoking weed, ditching cops, and running over the Ku Klux Klan with his truck. The song was “Blowfly’s Rapp,” often referred to as “Rapp Dirty” (which ironically is the title of the clean version). It featured an all-original funk groove built around a monster bass line and a staccato “heh ha heh ha-ha” vocal hook that predated Melle Mel’s “The Message” by years. Blowfly followed with other funk-rap bangers and even made an Egyptian Lover–style electro track called “Electronic Pussy Sucker” (containing the brilliant line “I give better head than Pac-Man”). He went on to inspire your favorite rappers and get covered by Ol’ Dirty Bastard. In other words, Blowfly ain’t no stress, he’s the muthafuckin’ “Indo Smoke.”
These days, Blowfly lives in Florida with his mom and still cashes his checks at the liquor store. I recently spent two weeks on tour with his crazy ass, an experience that could easily be an article in itself (though not in a classy magazine like this). The interview began at our hotel in Berkeley, while he was looking through my record crate. I handed him a Kurtis Blow record and asked…
You know this guy?
Oh yeah. I had a little war with him—you know, a war of words. We was at 20 Grand in Detroit. He was good, but he thought he was the star ’cause he was headlining. And the band was sayin’ you need to do somethin’ about this arrogant son of a bitch Kurtis Blow. He was talkin’ ’bout, “Blowfly, you wanna blow something, blow this dick, blah blah blah.” I came out there and said: “I wanna tell you ’bout a guy that swear he can rap / Talk all kinda shit like his nigger lips got the clap / The name of this guy all y’all know / The faggots call him darling but you know him as Kurtis Blow / He think he good, he think he it / But compared to this dick he ain’t shit / ’Cause his ass can’t take what his ears receive / I come on his mind and make him weak in the knees!” Kurtis Blow was a rappin’ motherfucker, though. My favorite from him was “The Breaks,” ’cause that shit is true. People say, “Why did this shit happen to me?” That’s the breaks!
Did you battle Dolemite?
Plenty times. He’d get onstage talkin’ about, “I was doin’ rap and been through with it before these other guys knew what to do with it.” I said, “Rudy, tell the truth. You don’t rap on your shit, you talk. That’s not rap.”
Who are your favorite artists?
Smokey Robinson is my favorite writer. One of my favorite singers was gay—Freddie Mercury from Queen. Oh, he could sing! He could hit them notes. And Mick Jagger. And James Brown—all he said was “Please, Please, Please” and the White girls would throw their panties at him. Easiest song to write: “Baby I did you wrong, you took my love and now you’re gone, please don’t go.” That’s the whole song! But you can hear him begging the bitch to stay. That’s still his best number.
Is it true that King Records owner Syd Nathan stole James Brown from Henry Stone back in the ’50s?
Nobody would fuck with Syd Nathan. People said Frank Sinatra was with the mob, but Syd Nathan could make a phone call and rocks would fall out of the sky. When James Brown came to him, Syd didn’t want him, ’cause Syd thought James was the meanest little bastard he’d ever seen—and he was. James is a genius, but he’s a genius who’s an asshole a lot of the time. So Henry took him and recorded “Please, Please, Please” and took him to Leonard and Phil Chess at Chess Records. Then Dick Clark told Syd Nathan he’d made the biggest mistake of his life, so Syd called Leonard and said, “How would you like to meet God in the next twenty-four hours?” And they tore up the contract and sent the nigga back to him.
What’s your favorite song that you’ve written, for yourself or for someone else?
My favorite song I’ve written I ended up doing as Clarence Reid, “There’ll Come a Day.”
I’ve been listening to the Clarence Reid album Running Water, and you were singing about some deep stuff, like, “Why do people fear the truth…” Do you feel like you didn’t get a chance to put out much serious Clarence Reid material so you did the dirty stuff more and more?
Yeah, exactly, and Blowfly took over. And the other thing was the way it worked at TK Records; if we wanted to record a song, we had to try to get musicians to come to the session, but with Blowfly, all we had to do was say, “Blowfly is having a session tomorrow at 11:30,” and ninety motherfuckers would show up!
I keep hearing that you’re really a devout Christian. You don’t see a conflict between being a nasty motherfucker and being Christian?
Ain’t nothing nastier than the Bible. Noah got fucked by his son while he was sleeping. You could take all the dirty songs I made and it’s not as nasty and violent as the Bible. But see, Satan don’t like nasty shit. He likes clean shit that he can fuck up. If you sacrifice three virgins to Satan, and you fuck two of them first, he’ll torture your ass. He don’t want hoes and sluts, he wants virgins. Luke from the 2 Live Crew is a friend of mine. I told him, “Don’t look for Satan in the strip club, you’ll find him in the church.” People think Satan can’t enter the church, but God said Satan cannot enter a church that is blessed by a righteous person—and a lot of y’all ass is not righteous! And even if it’s blessed by a righteous person, Satan can enter if he’s invited. All it takes is one priest.
Have you talked to Satan?
Oh yeah. I call him Ungawa. That’s his name. And I told him, “You don’t want me, I make dirty records.” He don’t want dirty motherfuckers. Satan doesn’t want to go back to Hell. His one wish is to turn Heaven into Hell and get revenge on God for kickin’ his ass. Preachers don’t know what they’re talking about. They’re up there hollerin’ and screamin’. Jesus never hollered and screamed—there was lightning and shit comin’ out the sky, and he just lay there and said, “Peace, be still.” And preachers say you have to die to get into heaven. I tell ’em there’s three people got into heaven that didn’t die. They can’t even name them: Enoch, Elijah, and Moses. Preachers don’t know their own Bible. I’m a sinner—I’m the world’s baddest nigger—and I know all the psalms, but they gotta look for their Bible to tell me shit. They only know the 23rd Psalm, which everybody knows, the Lord’s Prayer. But for every dirty song I did, I learned a psalm. [rattles off some as evidence] You don’t want me to be a preacher, trust me.
’Cause I would tell the truth. ’Cause I would still have sex with girls I’m not married to, and I would still watch dirty movies on the Playboy Channel. You wanna scare motherfuckers in church, tell ’em the truth. When you get to Hell, it’s worse than anything you can imagine. But no matter how bad it is, it’s the last time you gonna see it that good, because every sixth hour of every sixth night it gets six times worse. And in Hell you got a synthetic flesh that’s more sensitive than this flesh is.
You got Deion Sanders, Natalie Cole, and all these people on the religious network. But what were they doing when they were making $900 million? They didn’t have time for that. You got MC Hammer with his sixteen illegitimate kids he had by those eighteen dancers he had—and he’s a preacher! The God I know, if he bless you with millions of dollars, he don’t want you waitin’ till you’re broke to crawl your ass back to the church. [picks up a Prince record] This is another one who says, “Now I better give my life to God.”
Yeah, I heard Prince is all clean now and he doesn’t like people cursing or anything.
You know, I saw Prince backstage in Venezuela when Controversy came out. I said, “There’s no controversy; you like dick!” And Bill Cosby, he’s always on TV criticizin’ people for being nasty. Y’all don’t know how freaky Bill Cosby is.
When you were seven years old in Georgia, your grandfather died and you had to quit school to work on the farm. How did you get from plowing the fields to the music business?
I started hitchhiking from Georgia to West Palm Beach, Florida. Usually rednecks would pick me up and I’d start singing shit like, “I’m jerkin’ my dick over you…” [to the tune of the country song “I’m Walking the Floor Over You”] just to fuck with ’em. They’d say, “You’re a disgusting little bastard—sing another one!” and slip me some money. By the time I got to West Palm Beach, I must have had a hundred-something dollars in my pocket. I started working at Morrison’s Cafeteria making $25 a week, and in my spare time I would go Hunter’s Music for jukebox records. Hunter’s Music was the one jukebox place in Florida. I was real familiar with the records and Mr. Hunter offered me a job. I was always walking around singing my own songs and Mr. Hunter told me: “I want you to leave here. You’re talented. There ain’t nothing here in Palm Beach. Go to Miami and look up Henry Stone and Dick Clark.” He paid me for three weeks work and I went to Miami. I looked up Henry Stone and Dick Clark and they put my ass in the warehouse stacking records just like I was doing before. But I would record in the two-track studio and then go to the pressing plant and do work, so they would press up a few 45s for me. And then I would go to the nightclub and get the DJ to play it. They’d say, “How much you sellin’ these for?” And I’d say a dollar. They’d say, “That’s too much.” And I’d say, “Fuck you, then don’t buy the shit.” And they’d buy it.
What was the first record you put out like that?
I did a song called “Odd Balls” in the early ’60s, about gay hippies.
So it was totally self-released; it wasn’t on a label?
I just made up a label. Reid’s World of Music or some shit.
Do you still have a copy?
Oh no. I wish I could find one. But a few years ago I was playing in Vegas with Fishbone and this redneck come up to me backstage talkin’ ’bout, “Boy, I got your first record.” I said, “Don’t fuckin’ tell me your Ku Klux Klan ass got ‘Odd Balls’!” He said, “Yes, I got two daughters in Europe and they think you’re somethin’ special. Me, I think you’re just a scumbag nigger, but my daughters wanted me to get your autograph.” So I put on there: “From Blowfly to my sweet ladies, with love. Do me a favor, stick a corncob up your daddy’s ass.” He never did smile, but he gave me $300.
So you were working for Henry Stone and releasing your own 45s. What happened next?
Jack Taylor, Big Maybelle’s producer, heard about me and came down from New York. My family was doin’ bad. I was in the music business, but I didn’t have no money. Jack Taylor didn’t ask me to sign shit or anything. He just said, “What does your family need?” He was a gangster and a drug dealer, but I trusted him. He took me back with him and I wrote songs for Big Maybelle, like “Candy,” which was a big hit, and “Better Days Are Coming” [for Wesley Paige].
And I worked with ? and the Mysterians. On “96 Tears,” I helped them with the arrangement, told them to put the seventh in the bass, which is a blues thing. They were good guys. The song went number one and they ended up sending me a check, which they didn’t have to do. But my name didn’t go on any of that New York stuff, ’cause they figured I was under contract with Dick Clark and Henry Stone. Later they come to find out I wasn’t under contract.
So you started putting out those Clarence Reid 45s on the Dial and Wand labels in New York.
But Henry called and said if I came back, he’d build a studio. So I went back to Miami and he built a four-track studio, but still it wasn’t too much different. I could record, but they wouldn’t put shit out. I should have kicked ass and raised hell and “Nobody But You, Babe” would have come out in 1965 instead of 1969.
What happened with that?
I wrote “Nobody But You, Babe.” I went to a studio, but I didn’t have no money, so Frank, the owner, said, “Just give me a piece of the song.” But Henry Stone wouldn’t put it out. Then in ’69, the Isley Brothers came out with “It’s Your Thing.”
It’s very similar. Plus, in yours, the chorus starts out “I’m doin’ my thing…”
And then Henry says, “Okay, we got to put out your song.” We cut it in Miami and then went to Memphis and put the Memphis Horns on it and Joey Murcia playin’ guitar. That motherfucker could play! And the third week after being out it hit the top ten. I tried to explain to Ron Isley and them, but they said, “You stole it from us, we’re gonna sue.” And I wanted to counter-sue, but Henry didn’t want me to because their manager once saved him from drownin’ or some shit. Then later they wanted me to open their show and God knows I needed the money, but I said, “Fuck Ronald and all his brothers.” I never forgave them for that.
Willie Clarke was one of your main writing partners, and one of the biggest songs you wrote together was “Clean Up Woman” for Betty Wright.
I originally wrote it as a dirty song: “A clean-up woman is a woman who / Fuck all the guys you other bitches leave behind…” I’d write my songs on the old grand piano upstairs [at TK]. I started with the bass line—if you notice, all my songs are about the bass line—and the guitar came from “Soul Man.” [hums the famous guitar lick written by Isaac Hayes] I figured it out on the piano, but it was too busy, so I changed it to just “A-F-A-G-F, A-F-A-G-F” and we got Little Beaver to play it on guitar. He was the hardest motherfucker to get to play. I’d have to go to the drug dealer and get big bags of coke and weed to get him in the studio, and I didn’t even do drugs myself. I’d have to get hoes to suck his dick in the studio. So I started using other people like Snoopy Dean and Clay Cropper.
You wrote a lot for Gwen McCrae, too.
She was so down in the dumps ’cause she had caught her husband [George McCrae] with a White girl. And I’d say, “Come on, let’s go cut this shit” and say somethin’ to make her laugh, like, “What? It was a White girl? We gonna take a butt plug to his ass!” And she sang her ass off.
Yeah, “Rockin’ Chair” is a classic.
And if you want to know how old that song is, if you ever find an old Clarence Reid record, “When My Daddy Rode the West,” from the ’60s, on the backside is “Rockin Chair.”
Gwen McCrae said you would go out in a rainstorm and come back with a hit song.
Oh yes. I used to love to do that, and she was the only one who knew. I ended up in court and the judge asked me, “How does someone who never drink and never use drugs hit a tree, with no other cars involved, going eighty miles per hour?” I said, “I was writing a song.” I had the worst driving record in the world.
Yeah, I heard you lost your license in 1974 for driving your car through the wall of the TK studio.
Yes, that’s true. There was some water on the brakes and the car didn’t stop. I went right through the wall. They had to get me out with a blowtorch.
And there was a session going on?
Yeah, I think KC [and the Sunshine Band] or somebody was in there.
How did you find KC?
This little gay boy used to hang around the studio. He’d stand around and say, “You need your car washed?” He’d wash my car and I’d go to give him money, and he’d say, “No, no, just let me come in the studio sometime.” And he was good. I kept tellin’ Henry to record him. I took KC in the studio and recorded “Sound Your Funky Horn.” Henry said, “We doin’ this to shut your nigger ass up. If this record don’t sell, we kickin’ his faggot ass outta here.” So if that record hadn’t made the charts there wouldn’t have been no [sings] “That’s the way (uh huh, uh huh)….”
Do you think you’re one of the people that created disco?
Yeah, I called it the walking beat. Dum-dum-dum-dum. I’m part Sioux Indian and that’s a Sioux beat. Back in those days, the saying that niggas could out-dance Whites was true, but I noticed whenever you played a strong walking beat, the White girls could dance to it. Later on it became the disco beat. Then the ’80s came and they didn’t need the walking beat no more, because the White girls and White boys done learned how to dance.
I think you’ve been sampled by literally every top producer on the West Coast. I know you got paid for a few things, but I’m sure most of the time you don’t even know about it.
Songs are like kids; they come out of your body and most of them aren’t worth a shit, but they’re yours. Just imagine you do a song, you might make $500 off of it. Then this motherfucker comes along, samples your shit, goes platinum, and is all up on the TV on the beach with girls and shit. They sample us because we used live musicians and they use machines. A machine won’t be buttfuckin’ some bitch and [not] get there on time. It won’t ask for more money. It won’t show up high on drugs. But a machine can’t play it like a musician.
Andy Frane, better known as DJ Frane, is the producer of the albums Hi Dusty Stranger, Journey to the Planet of the Birds, Electric Garden of Delights, and Frane’s Fantastic Boatride. He recorded a song with Blowfly called “Butt Naked Freaks from Outer Space.” Visit him on his website.
Selected Discography of Clarence Reid
Images courtesy of DJ Renato in Los Angeles. Special thanks Chris Griffiths.
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