The history of rap music seems to have been well documented and while there have been a few claims to its origins, one story that had never seemingly been told until now was the history of Blowfly. Clarence Reid, one of the most well known pioneers of the Miami Soul music scene in the ’60s, writing such hits as Betty Wright’s “Clean Up Woman” and Gwen McCrae’s “Rockin’ Chair,” and then later writing hits for KC and the Sunshine Band, has become more well known for his alternate personality, Blowfly. Starting not as a music act, but as an act of rebellion, Clarence sang crude, sexually deviant versions of beloved songs in an attempt to anger the owners of the farm he worked on. Later, Reid developed this personality into an underground sensation that has influenced the likes of Public Enemy, Ice-T, and The Dead Kennedys, and continues to influence musical acts today. Taking his persona’s name from his grandmother who told him that his lyrics were “nastier than a blowfly,” Blowfly has produced albums with names such as “Porno Freak,” “X Rated” and “Electronic Banana,” which are filled with even wilder song titles.
“The Weird World of Blowfly,” directed by Jonathan Furmanski, is a documentary that follows Reid and his manager and band drummer Tom Bowker through two years of touring, interviews and attempts to try and revive a career that has unfortunately become only a thing of legend. A mixture of talking head interviews with Reid’s colleagues from the early soul days, famous faces of hip-hop and punk, and Reid’s own family along with concert footage over a year long International tour from 2008 to 2009. We’re presented with a look at an artist who has given a lot to audiences but, as is sadly sometimes the case, has fallen on harder times. At age 69, suffering from arthritic knees (as we find from a visit to the doctor’s office, punctuated by Reid hilariously serenading the secretary taking his information), Reid seems to take touring in stride, only frustrated by any slowing down on the schedule or by not having a place to store his pizza backstage.
For those like myself, who are unfamiliar with Clarence Reid and Blowfly, he’s quite the character, dressing in a blue sparkling shirt and pants highlighted by yellow outlines and crested with a Superman-like BF on his chest, sporting a cape and mask and spitting lyrics ranging from sexual encounters to run-ins with KKK members. His most famous song, the one that seems to pinpoint the creation of rap music as it’s known today is “Rap Dirty,” a lyrical story about Blowfly’s journey through Alabama encountering women and rednecks. “Blowfly,” for fans of musical history, is an eye opening insight to a man who has given so much and unfortunately fallen into the cracks of history. By today’s standards it’s easy to be dismissive of someone substituting the lyrics of “The Dock of the Bay” with ‘Shitting on the dock of the bay, watching my great big turds float away,” but to be a black man in 1971, dressed in an outrageous super hero outfit and producing that song on a record and performing it in concert, is nothing short of ballsy. And to hear the affection in talking about Blowfly’s records from Ice-T, Chuck D and Jello Biafra, it’s clear that he’s not just another gimmicky act.
While the majority of screen time is spent with Reid and Bowker on tour, playing small West Coast venues and then on to a few larger European ones with thousands of sometimes unappreciative youths, very little screen time is given to Reid’s personal life. Not addressing his children until later in the film, we get a picture of a man who has been distant to his relationships due to divorce and his musical career. His children, however, do have positive things to say about Reid, but I would have loved to be given a deeper look into more of the man and less of the legend. It’s quite easy to understand the shock value of dirty lyrics but I would have loved a sense of the man that made that legend. What few candid moments are spent in discussion with Reid seem to reiterate earlier histories and never open the doors to what truly makes the man such an enigma.
For any fan of soul and hip-hop music history, “The Weird World of Blowfly” is an engaging, if sometimes shallow, look at a man that time has forgotten. A man who, through dozens of albums since the ’60s, has made a contribution to musical history and deserves to have a spotlight shone on his talents and, more importantly, his carefree attitude. It’s important that directors like Furmanski continue to open audiences eyes to musical history that can oftentimes go forgotten, and especially so when they present a crotchety, but completely lovable, character like Clarence Reid.