There was one performer who carved an identity out of the party-record genre, managing to last well into the '80s and influencing a wealth of subsequent artists: Blowfly.
Blowfly, who will be at the Hi-Tone Thursday, July 21st, is the uber-foul-mouthed, hit-parodying, wrestling-masked and cape-adorned alter-ego of Clarence Reid. While Blowfly's recorded output is arguably the longest-running dirty joke in recent pop-cultural history, Reid's accomplishments as a producer, performer, and songwriter are nothing short of legendary. Perhaps one of the defining forces behind what would become "the Miami Sound," Reid briefly charted with several original songs before penning tracks for other artists, like Betty Wright's super-smash "Clean Up Woman" and Gwen McRae's "Rockin' Chair."
As the nom de nasty Blowfly, Reid mixed the XXX-rated with the completely absurd. Bastardizing popular hits long before Weird Al, Blowfly's randy renderings include "Hole Man," "I Believe My Dick Can Fly," and "Shittin' on the Dock of the Bay." Constants in the Blowfly agenda are his maniacal laugh (which introduces many songs), his faux-wrestling get-up, and his extended, and frighteningly long, middle fingers. The first proper Blowfly album, The Weird World of Blowfly, was released in 1971, and the output was relatively steady until 1988.
Like the Last Poets, Gil-Scott Heron, and other prescient purveyors of urban rhyming set to a beat, Blowfly is regarded by many as the very first rapper. That "first rapper" debate will go on forever, and what Blowfly was doing early on was not technically hip-hop. But, like the names mentioned above, Blowfly was a very strong influence on the style.
And Blowfly albums did have an impact on one strain of hip-hop: The all-out nastiness of Too Short and the 2 Live Crew has an undeniable father in Blowfly. Porno Freak, Blowfly's 1977 album, with its cover that warned "For Immature Adults Only," was unsurprisingly banned by a record store in Alabama, this occurring a good decade before the Crew's As Nasty As They Wanna Be debacle in Florida. The Miami connection between Reid and Luther Campbell's vehicle is far from coincidental, but Blowfly always maintained a stronger good-times vibe, as opposed to the more misogynistic tendencies of 2 Live Crew.
For the first selection of new material since 1988's Blowfly for President, Reid has exhumed his randy pseudonym to make Fahrenheit 69, an album that pairs him with Jello Biafra (referred to as Jello "B Africa" in press materials) and his Alternative Tentacles label. There are some baffling aspects to his return. The cover art spoofs the debut by Bad Brains, with Blowfly hovering in the sky, a lightning bolt bursting from his nether regions and destroying the Capitol building's dome. The album title's dirty take on a movie that's almost a year-and-a-half old is of questionable topicality, and the rehashing of "Blowfly for President" does not benefit from the presence of special guest Afroman, a rapper who is a novelty act for a reason. The honed fluidity of Atmosphere's Slug, who guests on "The Great Debate," is in stark contrast to the Blowfly backroom trash-talk session aesthetic. It works, though, and will probably generate some attention from folks new to the Blowfly experience.
If there is anything that exemplifies the pop-cultural differences between the '70s and the past 15 years, it is what passes for offensive. By today's standards, much of what Blowfly does is tame (and certainly more festive than the under- and overlying themes touted by many mainstream hip-hop artists or by, say, R. Kelly). Those without a capacity for X-rated schoolyard silliness are encouraged to forego this performance. n
Blowfly at the Hi-Tone Thursday, July 21st
FEATURE by ANDREW EARLES