It's tough to tell when Clarence Reid is yanking your chain. An interview with the famous South Florida soul/disco songwriter and producer — who'll turn 58 on Valentine's Day, when he headlines the Pimp 'N' Players Ball at Ybor's Green Room — immediately devolves into a rapid-fire volley of laughter, lyrics, anecdotes and apocrypha. Regarding the taller tales, involving everyone from James Brown to Old Blue Eyes, Reid will warn you straight up to check your facts before you print anything. (As if one could just call up Sinatra's estate and verify whether or not a young, ballsy African-American kid ever threw the crooner's own wallet at him and called him a motherfucker when he was in Miami.)
One thing that's easy to believe, however, is that long before Clarence Reid had an R&B hit in 1969 with "Nobody But You Babe" or cowrote Betty Wright's platinum '72 smash "Clean Up Woman," his raunchy alter ego, Blowfly, was gradually perfecting the art of the filthy sex-rap send-up.
"Actually, Blowfly was first," confirms Reid.
As a youngster in Georgia, Reid says he went to work early to provide for his family, and blotted out long hours of labor by making up childishly dirty alternate lyrics to the popular tunes of the day. In fact, his own grandmother gave him his nickname, when she overheard him and pronounced him as nasty as the carrion-eating insect.
"My grandmother hated it. The black people hated it. And the white girls loved it," he says with a laugh, "so I kept doing different stuff."
He soon left home and made his way to South Florida, entertaining and soliciting donations from those who picked him up hitchhiking by performing his perverted versions. A series of odd jobs and a boss who overheard his talents led him to gospel/R&B recording mogul Henry Stone, and jobs in Stone's warehouse and studio.
During off hours, Reid recorded his first proper composition in '62, a gender-bending dig at hippies called "Odd Balls." It was followed three years later by "Rap Dirty," a song many consider the first rap track — though it wasn't widely noticed until shortly after the Sugarhill Gang released their groundbreaking "Rapper's Delight" in 1979.
"Then they did some research, found out Blowfly went back to '62, '63," he says, "when they still called it soul-talkin'."
Reid doesn't claim to be the grandfather of hip-hop, taking pains to recognize stuff like Tex Williams' rhythmically spoken '40s country hit "Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)" and the fluid, sexy rhymes of '50s and '60s late-night pop and soul DJs. He definitely presaged 2 Live Crew, Lil' Kim and the like by decades, however. And he built a huge cult following over the next 20 years, getting seriously sex-funk-nasty as Blowfly, while Clarence Reid enjoyed mainstream status as both an in-house production and songwriting asset at Stone's disco/funk/R&B label TK Records, and an occasional hit-making performer.
Though it's been more than four years since his last album, Blowfly still enjoys a busy performance schedule. New generations of young fans also continue to discover his scatological parodies and provocative raunch-rhymes in cycles, thanks to various compilations and anthologies of his often-offensive catalog.
"I got a lot of shit on the Internet," says Reid. "Kids look at the title, see 'Can I Come in Your Mouth,' or something, and you know, they've got to check it out."
Contact Music Critic Scott Harrell at 813-248-8888, ext. 109, or by e-mail at [email protected].