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Clarence Reid, AKA Blowfly in THE WEIRD WORLD OF BLOWFLY (Photo: Variance Films)

Written & Directed & Produced by Jonathan Furmanski
Released by Variance Films
USA. 89 min. Not rated

The Weird World of Blowfly is the earthy, living history of the roots of rap through the ribald and bemused perspective of a septuagenarian veteran of the music business. With over two dozen raunchy, groundbreaking albums since the late 1960s under his belt, Clarence “Blowfly” Reid is first seen recording another rhythmic and comic discourse on the interactions of male and female genitals, but now his lyrics have to be printed out in large print for him to read, he limps from an old stage injury, and he’s more likely to grouse about needing money than partying down.

His spangled costume references Superfly (1972), as if the Blaxploitation character were a superhero, but it was his grandmother who nicknamed him “Blowfly” for his antics. While picking cotton in Georgia in the 1940s, he was poking sarcastic fun at the white bread country music favored by his overseers, rewording them with obscene parodies. (Picture a scamp of a boy turning Ernest Tubb’s “I’m Walking the Floor Over You” into “I’m Jerking My Dick Over You”). Not only did his white bosses unexpectedly laugh at his jive, they tipped him better for performing than picking, which inspired him to try his luck with the Miami music scene, where his mother lived.

For all the attention to the Southern soul music of Memphis and Muscle Shoals, “the Miami Sound” has been neglected for its sexy rhythm and blues, and Reid became a prime force as a writer and producer for R & B hits, including Reid-discovery Betty Wright’s “Clean Up Woman” (1972) and Gwen McCrae’s “Rockin’ Chair” (1975), which crossed over to the pop charts and sold millions. Producers and executives of the small Miami labels, particularly TK Records, testify to Reid’s influence and impact, and ruefully note that it was his funky party songs for KC & the Sunshine Band that led to the disco music that first fueled, then sunk, the fortunes of these independents. Sadly, there are too brief clips and snippets from this fertile musical period, probably because in later years a down-on-his-luck Reid had to sell off all his music rights for a pittance, years before they would prove popular for samples by artists, such as Ice Cube, Wu Tang Clan, and Beyoncé. (Her “Upgrade U” sampled his 1968 Betty Wright hit “Girls Can’t Do What the Guys Do”).

But he had never stopped performing scatological parodies of hits to entertain his colleagues (think Sam & Dave’s classic “Soul Man” becoming “Hole Man”). He first used his Blowfly persona to release these bawdy versions separately from his “clean” career. The documentary doesn’t detail the ASCAP’s legal efforts to stop him in the 1970’s, which is too bad, because it was a forerunner of later music publishers’ suits against rappers, who, with deeper pockets, were able to successfully fight back—2 Live Crew won the U.S. Supreme Court case Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music (1994) for the right to sell their lewd parody of “Pretty Woman.” But it was these legal difficulties that set Reid off to write his own catchy, and racially defiant, dirty songs, resulting in what the film insists, over and over again, is “the first rap song,” “Rap Dirty,” originally recorded in 1965, but released on a full-length party record in 1978 and still his “greatest hit.” Reid’s defense of profane lyrics while talking to his mother about the “dirty” parts of the Bible reminded me of the first time I heard underground records, like his and Redd Foxx’s, in the basement of the girl next door, who also introduced me to those same Bible passages.

All this background, along with photographs and wry biographical insights from his ex-wife, ex-girlfriend, and somewhat-estranged adult children, is interwoven while debut director Jonathan Furmanski tags along on tour and at home over two years. Very like Sacha Gervasi’s Anvil! The Story Of Anvil (2009), he documents the struggles for a legend to make any money for medical expenses in small clubs and from new records, then the highs of being heralded by aficionados, including Jello Biafra. When a German band plucks him as the opening act for their throngs of delighted, new young European fans, Reid proves that a raucous Blowfly show is just plain, good ole dirty fun. Nora Lee Mandel
September 16, 2011



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