Like a fly to the honies
Gettin’ dirty downtown with the original nasty rapper, Blowfly
As his band bumped and chikked through a familiar funk beat last Wednesday, 73-year-old Clarence Reid donned a sequined mask and matching cape next to a pool table in the makeshift backstage area at the Towne Lounge.
Reid wrote the song “Chicken Yellow,” in 1975, though most people would probably recognize it as Neneh Cherry’s “Buffalo Stance” (1988). Drummer Tom Bowker announced this as the man himself, transformation complete, shuffled and strutted to take his place front and center.
“And he never saw a penny! Let’s get some reparations for the Blowfly!” Bowker yelled as the band segued into another oft-sampled riff and the crowd of mostly 20-somethings complied with Blowfly’s simple, sung demand: “Shake your ass!”
Blowfly has been Reid’s alter ego since 1971, when he released the legendary (and legendarily dirty) party record The Weird World of Blowfly. The low-rent comic book costume and moniker were meant to disguise his identity as a successful soul/R&B songwriter and performer who collaborated with the likes of Sam and Dave, Betty Wright and Joe Tex. Forty years on, though still revered for the straighter songs written as Reid, the XXX-rated Blowfly is the better known persona.
Blowfly has been sampled by dozens of artists, influenced thousands and is, according to some, the father of rap music. Weird World predates the Sugarhill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight—the first rap album to hit the mainstream—by more than half a decade. Though Blowfly has never stopped working and has recorded nearly 30 albums, poor management, music-business chicanery and uncredited theft have left him uncompensated and largely unknown.
Which brings us back to the Towne Lounge last week, and the rare chance to see a living legend at eye-level. Though a far cry from The Apollo, the Lounge was a perfect venue for a Blowfly show. It’s old school, earthy and a touch on the seedy side, just like the man himself. And though he was playing for only a few dozen people, Blowfly didn’t hold back.
Age hasn’t slowed the ’Fly down. He’s whip smart and his voice is as strong as ever, even better now imbued with a soulful old-man’s rasp. He interacted with the audience, cracking jokes and lavishing some women with over-the-top lasciviousness. The CN&R’s own photo intern—Melanie MacTavish—was personally serenaded with a filthy version of the soul classic “You are Everything.”
For all that people have taken from him, Blowfly has borrowed a bit back in the form of satirical send-ups. These included takes on Michael Jackson (“Ben” and a version of “Beat It” that Weird Al couldn’t sing without bursting into flames), The Clash (“Should I Stay or Should I Go”) and R. Kelly (“I Believe I Can Fly”). Things would get out of hand fast if I mentioned the titles or lyrics of Blowfly’s versions, but if you just rhyme something with slang terms for anatomy, sex acts or wanton women you’re likely on the right track. He even reworks one of his old classics as Reid (“Chicken Hawk”) into the Blow-flied “Dirty Chicken.”
“You girls know what a chicken hawk is?” he asked some women down front before kicking off the song with a squawk and a dance. “Y’all are chickens … and a chicken hawk eat and fucks you chickens!”
Blowfly’s set lasted more than an hour, in which time he related lyrical details about copulating with everyone and everything from Condoleezza Rice to Godzilla. The man has stamina.
He saved some of the best for last, including a hilarious song called “Blowfly’s ABCs” and one of his biggest hits, “Dirty Rapp.” The crowd never stopped dancing and laughing and the sex-crazed septuagenarian never skipped a beat. The band, complete with three-piece horn section, was tighter than a … well, that can also be left to the imagination.
Here’s to hoping the Blowfly buzzes back soon. In the meantime, check out the excellent 2010 documentary The Weird World of Blowfly.