Many know the story of Blowfly, the Miami-based, septuagenarian who appears in a superhero outfit and performs some of the most ridiculously bawdy raps ever. Blowfly was the nasty rapper before rap even really existed as a commercial art form, and in his latter-day renaissance, he’s been embraced by an amusingly broad cross-section of scenes.
But what fewer Blowfly fans know, though, is that the man behind the cape originally was known by his given name, Clarence Reid. During South Florida’s soul-producing heyday of the ’60s and ’70s, Reid churned out hits as a writer for artists like Betty Wright and Gwen McCrae. As a performer in his own right, too, he sang a number of rare groove hits that ranged from Stax-style R&B in the ’60s to equally brass-drenched funk in the ’70s.
Despite the resurgent popularity of his Blowfly persona, though, Reid rarely — really, rarely — performs as himself. Tomorrow night’s show at the Stage, alongside the Spam All-Stars, marks his first performance as himself in Miami since 2008. In advance of the gig, we caught up with Reid to discuss his early career. Here’s what he had to say.
People know a lot about how you became Blowfly, but not much about your early entry into the music industry. What are some of your earliest memories of playing or writing music?
I started writing songs when I was washing dishes at Morrison’s Cafeteria in West Palm Beach in the late ’50s. I knew James Brown, before he got real famous, and he told me about Henry Stone [founder of TK Records and other influential Miami-based labels]. So I went down to Miami and Henry told me, “Those are good songs, kid,” and he put me in his warehouse at Tone distribution, stacking records. Henry was real busy then, so I went to another record company, Dial in Nashville, and did my first records for them.
Wasn’t nobody writing then down in Miami, so I would trade songs in exchange for studio time at Criteria with Mac Emmerman, the founder of Criteria. Dizzy Reed would trade me my songs for the use of his band, and they played on my stuff.
Who were your favorite artists to work with? I know you loved to work with Gwen McCrae — who else stood out to you with that same level of flexibility and talent?
Betty Wright. She would stop everything and take you 100 percent serious. She was always ready. Helene Smith was one of my favorites too. She also was dead serious.
What were some of your personal favorite original songs from those early days — both those you wrote for others and those you performed yourself?
“Chicken Hawk” is one of mine. We play the hell out of it now! Helene Smith, “Willing and Able” – a Christmas song I wrote — and “A Woman Will Do Wrong.” I love both of those.
Which of your songs do you wish had gotten more attention?
“I Got My Share” [1964, Dial #3018], was a song I wish had done better. [Soul musician] Joe Tex was jealous of it because Buddy Killens, who owned Dial Records in Nashville, was behind it. ”Nobody But You Babe” was a big hit, and cracked the R&B top 10 at number seven in 1969, but the Isley Brothers thought it ripped off “It’s Your Thing” — until I showed them a demo of it I had made in 1964! We had to deal with that mess, and that kept it from being even bigger.
With that in mind, how does it feel to revisit this older material?
It feels great to do my Clarence Reid material. To revisit the ’60s and sing this stuff is awesome. It brings back good memories. All those lyrics are true. “Chicken Hawk” is about my childhood in Georgia, and having to deal with those damn chicken hawks who would eat our chickens!
What are you most excited about in regards to Friday’s performance?
I am most excited about Friday, because I get to launch a female singer in 2012! My girl Cina, who used to sneak into my shows at the Lyric in Overtown when she was 14 — over 40 years ago!
She’s sung backup for Betty Wright and Bobby Stringer, but her voice is just as good as Betty’s and she has all the energy of a 16-year-old still. She’s gonna be doing songs I wrote for Helene Smith and Betty Wright, and maybe one of her own that me and the band are helping her with. And she does hair! So she gets some Clarence Reid tunes, and I get my hair done properly! I’m gonna be looking sharp on Friday night!
When your work as Blowfly started getting more attention, did you worry that it was possibly going to eclipse your work under your real name?
In the ’60s and ’70s, when I did Blowfly, I had to keep Blowfly and Clarence Reid separate, because I didn’t want Clarence going to jail for something Blowfly did. So if Blowfly gets more attention than Clarence, that’s okay! At least that means the police won’t be knocking on the door when I get home!
Clarence Reid. With the Spam All-Stars, 10 p.m. Friday, August 17 at the Stage, 170 NE 38th St., Miami. Admission is $10; age 21 and up. Call 305-576-9577, or visit thestagemiami.com