Photo by Derrick Turner Blowfly, unmasked at last
Saturday, March 6, 2010
The Monterey Club, Fort Lauderdale
"We're all going down with the ship, at least I get to hang with the string section" -- Tom Bowker
The night was odd from the get-go. First, the show was billed as the first clean gig in 30 years for Clarence Reid, better known by his foul-mouthed alter ego, Blowfly. A band, complete with a horn section and back-up singers, was purportedly assembled to jam out some of Clarence's soul classics. Although I was supposed to be on Tom Bowker's list -- Bowker became the legendary Miami-based soul singer/dirty rapper's longtime manager/drummer after interviewing him for New Times Miami in 2003 -- but the man working the Monterey Club's door told me that there was no list and that the venue was waiting for the man to "grace us with his presence."
Additionally, openers the Jacuzzi Boys didn't make the trip, and someone named Maria Marocka was supposed to be performing instead. But she never hit the stage either. It was the right kind of build up for an event as monumental and bizarre as this Blowfly de-masking himself after 30 years. That is a big, weird, deal.
Veteran two-bass groove rockers Mr. Entertainment and the Pookiesmackers eventually plugged in, and broke the musical drought. Meanwhile, the crowd was still abuzz concerning the whereabouts of Clarence Reid and his manager. The rest of the band had arrived, but still no sight of the main men. Mr. E and band finished up their set and packed up their gear, only to bring their drums back out shortly afterwards to loan to the lacking main act. At about midnight, a member of Reid's band said "the whole thing started with Tom getting lost in the mall and dropping a phone in the gutter."
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Just as the borrowed drum kit was set up, Tom Bowker finally came storming in the door. Determined, he began directing, cursing, and hauling in equipment. At some point Clarence Reid must have slipped in, because all of a sudden he was lounging with a baseball cap pulled down low over his face on a velvet loveseat in the back of the room, surrounded by a small entourage.
By about 1 a.m., with 40 or so curious people remained in the room, the band took the stage. Before a single note was played, Bowker grabbed the mic and told us that we could "tell the other 75 people that should've been here what they missed." Then he introduced "Clarence Reid's protégé" Thunder, a broad young man, neatly groomed, in a fine-looking tan and blue suit. He began singing a couple of Reid's hits with smooth, soulful delivery. Aside from the obvious discomfort in his face, he did a pretty good job.
Thunder's third song brought Reid to the stage, and he was in fine, albeit not-so-clean form. His inability or unwillingness to keep the shit-talking Blowfly persona at bay, inspired futile exorcisms from Bowker. This was supposed to be a Clarence Reid gig, remember? By the fourth song, "Chickenhawk," any hope for prudence was left behind, and the band found their groove. The song is a dirty funk jam that finds its way into Blowfly sets regularly.
After the song came the first bit of audience interaction: Clarence called a lady to the stage, took her by the hand, and said "I fucked somebody who looked just like you last night." From there the set rolled into another filthy jam. In between infectiously danceable bouts of sexed-up retro soul, Bowker would fill us in on the history. In a tone that almost sounded offended, he'd say things like "Did you know that Clarence invented KC and the Sunshine Band?".
The show eventually came to a close with the chant-along "Rapp Dirty," which Bowker informed us was the first rap song, recorded in 1964. After the song finished, Bowker bid us goodnight by passionately reminding us that he'd brought us one of the greatest entertainers on the planet and informed us that all proceeds from merch go to helping him see his daughter again. Then he dropped the mic. It hit the stage. Boom. It was over.
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Personal Bias: During one of his sweatier jams, Clarence got right up in my face as he sang. I smelled him. He smelled all right.
Random Detail: Clarence's face was the only thing that didn't smell like maple syrup. What was the deal with that?
By the Way: The Weird World of Blowfly, a documentary telling Clarence Reid's story, will premiere at SXSW's Film Festival this coming Saturday.