Clarence Reid was the name spinning at 45 revolutions per minute as a co-writer of classic made-in-Miami ’70s soul records by Betty Wright (Clean Up Woman), Gwen McRae (Rockin’ Chair) and KC and the Sunshine Band (Sound Your Funky Horn.)
The songs have endured, but that Clarence Reid, an important behind-the-scenes figure in the Miami music scene of the late 1950s through mid 1970s, is not the persona The Weird World of Blowfly celebrates.
Instead, director Jon Furmanski and Tom Bowkar attempt to make a case for Reid’s raunchy alter ego Blowfly as the self-proclaimed originator of rap thanks to his 1965 cult recording Rapp Dirty.
To some extent Reid’s braggadocio isn’t entirely unfounded. When Reid, now pushing 70, created the scatological vulgarian Blowfly in 1971 as the public face for his raps, he largely abandoned his mainstream R&B career to record a string of X-rated “party records.” The genre was so named because these LPs were filled with extreme language and crude parodies of then popular songs, not unlike the sort of material Miami rappers 2 Live Crew would turn out almost 20 years later. In Blowfly’s blue world Otis Redding’s Sitting on the Dock of the Bay gains a strategically placed letter ‘h.’ You might hate yourself for chuckling at his reinterpretation in Furmanski’s well-meaning, but ultimately depressing and unfocused, film homage.
Weird World of Blowfly picks up the story decades later after Reid had sold his songwriting royalties in 2003 for a pittance, a grievous mistake given that his music has been sampled by artists including Beyoncé. Reduced to also-ran status and struggling, Blowfly, who still dresses in his alter ego’s mask and cape, picks up gigs when he can at the urging of fanboy Bowkar (also his drummer and manager) with whom the prickly entertainer often clashes, usually over ridiculous things. Backstage, Blowfly blows up when Bowkar places his pizza box on the (gasp!) seat cushion of a chair. Reid also spouts denouncements of African Americans and contemporary music, and he seems to have little time for family or friends, though his ex-wife and children appear on camera to say kind things about the crusty dude.
With scant footage from his heyday, the documentary settles on numerous shots of Reid alone in hotel rooms, picking at fast food and rapping dirty words at ever dwindling crowds on a hoped-for comeback tour.
The heavy air of depression breaks only briefly when we meet Reid’s mother, with whom he’s close. She says his first naughty word came at 9 months, and the story — true or not — is a warm moment and a welcome break from the monotony.
Instead of an in-depth account of Reid’s role in the evolution of popular music, Weird World, perhaps hampered by its obvious low budget, fails to make audiences see in Blowfly what Bowkar does and quickly becomes a tedious, repetitive string of scenes of subpar performances, temper tantrums and the mounting frustrations of Bowkar, who expected to see some return on his investment.
Miami sound legend "Blowfly", aka Clarence Reid, wears his costume. Photo: Patrick Farrell/Miami Herald