For three months I tried to schedule this interview but he’d either cancel, fail to show up, or send an excuse through his manager, Tom. So when we finally sat down at the Miami Jai Alai one morning last week, I was keen on not letting him drift away. (At least physically.)
Who is Clarence Reid?
He is credited with co-writing and/or arranging more than 220 songs since 1963 for mostly Miami independent record labels. He also released over 30 albums, singles, or EPs of his own. This makes him arguably the most prominent and prolific contributor to Miami’s 60s and 70s soul music scene.
Reid’s back story begins in Cochran, a rural town spread across 4.2 square miles in the belly of the State of Georgia.
When I was about 6 years old, all the blacks up there, they had this thing that if you’re black you’re supposed to listen to the blues like B.B. King and all of that stuff.
I didn’t like blues. Everything is wrong.
The corn don’t roll, the hen don’t lay… I didn’t like it.
I liked the hillbilly music. I would get [that music] and change them around in my own stuff.
Shittin’ in the morning sun / I’ll be shittin’ till the evening come / watching my turds fall in / then I take them back out again. [parody of Otis Redding classic]
…the blacks [would say]…, you’re disgusting’…, but the white people loved it.
He performed around Cochran and he says the white folks ate it up. He’d get paid for it too, sometimes coming home with as much as 90 or 100 dollars or about 10xs what some of the workers were making in the rural fields.
On the road again / Just can’t wait to get on the road again / the Hershey highway means ass, where all the turds have ever been / I can’t wait to get on the road again. [parody of Willie Nelson classic]
When his grandmother found out how he made the money, she was incensed:
You’re a disgrace to the black race and you ain’t no better than a blow fly.
And I said, ‘what the heck is a blow fly?’
A blow fly is a black and red and green insect, they lay eggs on dead things, they turn into maggots, she’d say.
And so BlowFly was born. (More on that later.)
The interview continues.
When Reid first moved to Miami, he hooked up with a number of local music people: Willie Clarke of Deep City Records, Henry Stone of Tone Distributors (and later TK Productions). In 1963 he recorded Like White on Rice on Stone’s DADE Label, a ballad that was been described as ‘a strong vocal performance backed with a pumping piano and some fine horns’ by at least one soul music enthusiast I found through my research.
In 1969, Reid had his biggest hit, Nobody But You Babe [ALSTON]. The song peaked nationally at #7 on the R&B charts. But after that, commercial success as a frontman (at least as “Clarence Reid”) was hard to come by. Yet he continued to thrive in the songwriting field.
He wrote early hits for Betty Wright, KC and the Sunshine Band, and Gwen McCrae, a trio of artists that dominated the Miami R&B/soul/early disco scene from 1968-1974.
Back in the day, … the wife would tell her daddy, hey daddy, you want me to rock you in my rockin’ chair?
Yeah.. That [song] means fucking.
This thought process is a good segue into what inspired Reid to don a mask and a cape and create an alter ego known as BlowFly. Reid’s Blowfly was a foul-mouth performer of parodied songs like the Otis Redding or Willie Nelson classics mentioned above. He is considered the original dirty rapper predating the likes of Miami’s own 2 Live Crew by more than a decade.
As BlowFly, he released Rap Dirty in 1971, considered the first ever dirty rap recording, and continued with a string of albums throughout the 70s and 80s. They were called ‘party records’ back then because they were only played at house parties. The records were sold clandestinely behind the counter at select record shops because of the profanity not only in the lyrics and song titles but also the cover art which often featured topless women. (BlowFly was featured in the 2010 documentary, The Weird World of Blowfly.)
Yet despite all the profane, misogynist-like rap songs he recorded as BlowFly, Clarence Reid had a deep respect for women. He wanted them to be strong. He appreciated them, protected them, pedestal-ed them. He manifested these emotions in a kinder gentler way through his other compositions.
About the Miami Soul classic Girls Can’t Do What the Guys Can Do (and Still be a Lady) [Betty Wright, ALSTON, 1969]
.. I couldn’t understand. If you had 5 women at 1 time, you was a lover or a Casanova. But if your sister dated two guys, she was a whore. I just couldn’t understand it. So I came up with that record,. …That was big on the charts, top 10.
Or about Don’t Make the Good Girls Go Bad [Della Humphrey, ARCTIC, 1968]
People used to say about this girl or that girl… ‘she’s a whore’ and everything…, I would get mad, ‘you all made her that way’. I remember this boy would take his sister with him on dates. Then he’d say I’ll be right back and had guys give him money to leave his sister there so they can bang her. This was in Georgia back then…All the girls, they weren’t bad, [the guys] would make them go bad. .. that’s when I came up with that song.
I ask him if he’s still in touch with any of the singers he composed for. No, he says, with a little bit of bitterness.
Someone tells them, you’re big enough to go on your own now. What they don’t understand is that I created stuff from scratch. I don’t care how good the other manager was, if you can’t create shit, you’re gone. That’s the way it was.
But Reid doesn’t really have any regrets. In fact, he doesn’t even give me a chance to ask him about regrets. He’s already onto the next topic, a song he wrote that was sung by Vanessa Kendrick.
How can I do what’s right / When what I need is wrong / how can I follow the rules of love / when love won’t let me be strong.
Then he parodies Christmas carols.
Silent night / holy night / your p#ssy’s so loose / were it once so tight.
Then he asks me my astrological sign and then dazzles with a dirty song about being a Libra. He turns around and serenades a woman having a Coke next to us. This is Clarence Reid a/k/a BlowFly and its the show of the day at the Miami Jai Alai.
The previous week at the Ricochet Lounge in Midtown Miami he said he performed in front of a packed house as BlowFly. (I saw him play at The Stage earlier this year. He can still work a crowd.)
At the end of this month he’s headed to Vancouver, Los Angeles, and Portland. He says the crowds are diverse. Young, old, black, white, ‘even the Spanish’ line up to see him perform these days. And one thing is certain…
When they come to my show, they leave happy.
Copyright © 2012 Long Play Miami