Every artist in the music industry owes a nod to thanks to pioneers who were the first to curse on an LP. The world of entertainment would not be the same, if these artists did not push the envelope of censorship. Before Richard Pryor or George Carlin introduced strong language content to mainstream audiences, there were dozens of artists who presented risky material. Lenny Bruce is perhaps best remembered as the emerging artist using this style of comedy. Labels such as Laff Records featured a roster of performers who delivered uncensored jokes and stories on XXX party records. But there was one performer who was the filthiest of them all. And his name was BlowFly!
Born Clarence Reid, he created a persona to separate himself from his regular music career. Some of the classic soul tunes he wrote for other artists include Gwen McCrae’s “Rocking Chair” and Betty Wright’s “Clean Up Woman.” While these songs were successful to his career, Mr. Reid felt that the industry would ostracize him if he performed sexually explicit songs using his actual name. As the mask wearing character BlowFly, his alter ego provided him with complete artistic freedom.
BlowFly’s musical style was a combination of original songs and parodies of hit records of the day. Any Dr. Demento fan can tell you he was not the first to create parody songs. But no one dared to push the boundaries by rewording them with sexually X-rated lyrics. Since releasing his first LP in 1971, he continued to record over 25 albums throughout his career.
I discovered Blowfly during my high school years. Rap music gained popularity with groups like The SugarHill Gang, and GrandMaster Flash and the Furious Five receiving radio airplay. When BlowFly unleashed his song “Rapp Dirty” to the masses, I was amazed at how he exploited this new genre of music. My first thought was “Wait…We can curse on records now?” Explicit songs were not publicly acknowledged in the late 70s, but BlowFly managed to became an underground success. He is credited as the world’s first dirty rapper, and rightfully so. To my knowledge, there has not been a single song released by BlowFly that could be played on the radio. Even by today’s standards, it’s still too raw for the airwaves.
As his career began to wane, he regain popularity after signing with Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles record label in 2005. When he decided to resume touring, I had the opportunity to watch him perform at the Black Cat in Washington, D.C. in 2006. For a man in his late 60’s, his performance was pure energy. Groupies who were young enough to be his granddaughters rushed the stage to dance with him. After all of these years in the business, Blowfly could still seduce the women lyrically with songs he wrote before most of them were born. Dammit -I need to learn how to write songs!What started as a memorable night became an unforgettable one. While hanging out with the band members after the show, they invited me backstage to meet my idol. I was expecting to see a man who was ready for a nap after his energy draining performance. What I observed was a king in his court, continuing to entertain his fans. I’m not sure what time I left that evening, but I do remember not wanting to sleep. Best backstage party EVER!
BlowFly’s career suffered a series of ups and downs. He discussed some of those painful issues in the documentary The Weird World of BlowFly. Selling the rights to his royalties for a pittance frustrates him the most. He was forced to create a KickStarter campaign to save his house from being seized by two banks. His fans were there to support him, and the required amount was successfully raised.
When BlowFly passed away on January 17, 2016, we lost a comedy legend. Fans were notified from his Facebook page when he entered hospice, and he departed two days later. I was fortunate to observe this comedic genius during most of his career. His songwriting style of infusing dirty lyrics with funky beats led the way to the hip-hop and rap scene we have today. In my book of life, he will be remembered as the ultimate unsung comedy hero!