Long before there was 2 Live Crew, N.W.A., or Lil' Kim, there was Blowfly. Known for his penis-shaped costume, raunchy live shows and nasty lyrics (over tight music tracks), Blowfly has been an underground legend since the 1960s. The Triangle will get a taste of the rapper's act when Blowfly, along with musical innovators Fishbone, will headline the Ground Zero Get Down Tour at the Cat's Cradle in Chapel Hill. Also on the bill is radical spoken-word poet and saxophonist Dr. Madd Vibe and Dirty Walt and the Columbus Sanitation. Both Dr. Madd Vibe, who will host the performance, and Dirty Walt are side projects of the L.A.-based Fishbone. The show is drawing rave reviews, despite the fact that Blowfly has never been seen as a critically acclaimed artist.
"The show is bad as a muthafucka," says Blowfly, during a recent phone interview with The Independent, exhibiting his trademark blue humor. "People think we're just gonna come onstage and start pullin' our dicks out, tryin' to fuck their women and shit. Damn, we're all musicians and we do manage to play some good music from time to time."
Blowfly, since recording "Odd Balls" in 1962, has been as nasty as he wanted to be (long before Uncle Luke touched a microphone). This was before rap music existed: People didn't quite know how to take the song, but they kept listening. "People called it 'soul talking' back in those days," he says. "It was popular because a lot of comedians told dirty jokes on stage, but it had never been recorded in the way that I did it." Since then, Blowfly has gone on to record over 40 albums, score a Top 20 hit and write several clean hits for such artists as Sam and Dave, Wilson Pickett, Betty Wright, Millie Jackson, K.C. and the Sunshine Band and Gwen McRae.
Not bad for a man born in very modest beginnings in the Jim Crow rural South.
Blowfly was born Clarence Reid on February 14, 1945, in Cochran, Ga. The oldest of what would turn out to be 18 children, Reid had to quit school at age 9 to tend to his family's farm. "We had like three straight deaths in the family," Blowfly said. "It was like [just] me and my grandmother who was able to plow the field at the time. So me being the oldest, I had to tend to the mule and work the farm."
Reid's sense of humor was evident at an early age. In those days, living in rural Georgia meant associating with white families who weren't friendly with African Americans. Racism never kept Reid from playing with white children, however. "Some of our neighbors were rednecks, and I do mean racist muthafuckas," he says. "But I would tell jokes and I kept them laughing. And I didn't hesitate to tell them muthafuckas about themselves. I would tell them I saw them coming from Klan meetings and they'd look at me like I was crazy. But they liked me because I spoke my mind and I didn't give a fuck."
At age 7, Reid's grandmother caught him singing a dirty version of a popular song. Shaking her head, she looked at him and said, "Boy, you is nastier than a blowfly!"
"I didn't know what the fuck a blowfly was!" he says. "I was just doing what I had always done with music." The name stuck.
A few years later, Reid moved to West Palm Beach, Fla. It was here that he was first noticed for his unusual talent. He was working a job stacking records in a jukebox in a restaurant and, as usual, making up dirty versions to the songs. Songs like Hank Ballard's "Do the Twist" and Dinah Washington's "What A Difference a Day Makes" immediately became "Suck My Dick" and "What a Difference a Lay Makes."
"This guy came to me and told me I needed to be making music in Miami. He gave me cards for two people to check out if I decided to go there. The name on one card was Henry Stone. The other was Dick Clark," he recalls. Reid traveled to Miami and chose Stone, and as they say in the entertainment business, the rest is history.
There's an interesting paradox between Reid and Blowfly, one Reid has handled better than many of his peers: As Blowfly, he's an X-rated rapper who specializes in sexually explicit material and raunchy live shows. As Clarence Reid, he's a staunch Bible-carrying Christian who doesn't drink, smoke or do any kind of drugs. He's also a doting father to his four children, one of whom has Tarheel ties. Tracy Reid, former UNC-Chapel Hill basketball star and WNBA Rookie of the Year for the Charlotte Sting, is Blowfly's youngest child. She now plays for the Miami Sol. "You can't tell Tracy that she doesn't have rap skills," says her father with a laugh. "I just let her believe she's all that because I don't wanna put my baby in check."
To Blowfly, maintaining the balance between the entertainment world and fatherhood and religion has been easy. "The first thing you have to do is be honest with yourself," he says. "If I'm going to hell for saying 'fuck,' you can best believe I won't be going doing all those other things." Both Blowfly and Reid have an ax to grind with the kind of Christians who are quick to chastise others for not having enough faith. "Those muthafuckas should all sit on a giant butt plug," he says. "Most of them don't truly understand what the Bible is saying, and some haven't even read the Bible to begin with. I make an example of those muthafuckas every time they try to approach me with that bullshit."
After nearly 40 years in the business, Blowfly has seen a lot of artists come and go. The recipe for longevity, he says, is keeping an open mind and living right. "You take a guy like Hank Ballard," he says. "As big as The Beatles were in the '60's, they didn't have the song of that decade; Ballard did. But Hank couldn't stop fucking the girls and partying long enough to sustain his career."
"You have to be modernized and not envious. I see all the guys like Eminem and Ol' Dirty Bastard doing my shit and I ain't jealous or envious. I always say you don't have to be a genius to make a million dollars, but you do have to be a genius to keep it."
One aspect of hip hop that rubs Blowfly the wrong way is sampling--over the years, many artists have used his material without bothering to financially compensate him. "I figure I'm owed about a million dollars from people who've sampled my shit," he says. "It's stealing. Plus, talented people don't have to sample."
A good but underrated musician, Blowfly enlists the best players he can find to record his albums, which is how he hooked up with Fishbone. Blowfly first met Angelo Moore and his group a couple of years ago at Club Lingerie in Los Angeles. Since then, he's written songs for Fishbone and appeared on their albums. In return, Fishbone has been Blowfly's performing band. It's a perfect match, he says.
"What I like about Angelo and Fishbone is that they're not afraid to push the envelope, from a musical and lyrical standpoint," he says. "And when we hit Chapel Hill, y'all are gonna see a show that you won't ever forget."
Whether he's wearing his penis suit or not, there's no reason to doubt the man they call Blowfly.