Clarence Reid – Blow by Blow

When we talk about Miami Soul the younger generation may think of the surname Stone as relating to Joss and the work that Betty Wright did with her on her debut album. Us older ‘teenagers’ will think of Henry Stone. One could say that this Stone was the foundation of what was to become known worldwide as the Miami Sound. Henry Stone gave his name to several labels, collaborating with James Brown to create the Brown Stone label with Jerry Williams Jr aka. Swamp Dogg to form Stone Dogg Records and more recently with (Benny) Latimore to create Latstone Records. However, most successful was the Alston label with Steve Alaimo; Alston being a mix of Alaimo and Stone. The label was formed in 1968 and the two partners quickly signed a distribution deal with Atlantic/Atco. The first two albums belonged to the rising star, Betty Wright and the man who, probably, created far more than anyone else the bricks and mortar with which Miami Soul and funk was built, Clarence Reid. Reid has been likened to David Bowie and George Clinton, due to him having his very own alter ego, Blowfly. However, creatively he is closer to the aforementioned Jerry Williams Jr, aka Swamp Dogg. As well as recording under his own name his recordings as Blowfly were x-rated but shared the same streak of humour as Williams. As with Jerry Williams he has also seemed at his creative and soulful best when he has written for female artists, most famously Betty Wright and Gwen McCrae.
Clarence Reid was born in Cochran, Georgia on Valentine’s Day 1945 and as a boy worked in the cotton fields. He passed the time by singing dirty parodies of popular songs. For example, “Do the Twist” becoming “Suck My D#ck” and when his grandmother heard what he was doing she exclaimed,

“You’re a disgrace to the human race, and no better than a Blowfly!

What the young Clarence didn’t realize was that his throwaway childish word play would become a full ‘blown’ musical genre decades later that would lyrically follow his lead and musically sample the funky rhythms he was creating in Miami. As far back as 1965 Reid recorded what was arguably the first acknowledged rap song, “Rap Dirty” in which our hero was a truck driver on a coast to coast journey where he fought the Ku Klux Klan. The song didn’t get a release in the States until 1976 which meant that it had been over taken by other contenders for the tile and although Reid himself questioned whether or not he should be acknowledged as the founder of Rap he is the first rapper to be banned after an Alabama record store was raided for selling “Porno Freak.” He was also sued by the President of ASCAP for recording “What a Difference a Lay Makes.” Blowfly’s music has been sampled by many rappers. As Clarence Reid his “Nobody But You Babe” from 1969 was sampled by Augustus Pablo for “East Of The River Nile” in 1977, KRS-One on “Ova Here” in 2002, The Last Emperor on “Here We Are” in 2003, DMX’s “We In Here”, 2006 and The Heavies for “Coleen” in 2007. Other Blowfly tracks included “Shittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” and “Hole Man”. By 1963 he was part of a vocal group in Miami called The Delmiras on the Selma label which also had Paul Kelly as the lead singer. Clarence began singing at local venues where he met many of the people he would work with throughout his career and in 1964 he found a job stacking records in the TK Records warehouse run by Henry Stone. It wasn’t long before Reid joined the Deep City label as well as starting up his own label, Reid. His material also began to be released on Buddy Killen’s Dial imprint. His early original material contained elements of other influences as in “I Refuse To Give Up” released on Dial in 1964 that echoed The Impressions with a falsetto lead by Reid and a bass vocal behind him. “Somebody Will” from the same period was pure Joe Tex and included a Tex like Rap. “Tired Blood” released on Deep City in 1967 was more Joe Tex style music. Reid was finding his feet in the rising Miami scene and went to the Deep City subsidiary, Tay-Ster which released his first Album, “Nobody But You Babe” but when nothing happened on the sales front Reid and his collaborator Willie Clarke decided to turn to Henry Stone. By the late 60’s he was beginning to settle into more commitment with Henry Stone and in August, 1968 Betty Wright released her debut Alston single “Girls Can’t Do What The Guys Do” which reached Number 15 on the R&B Chart as well as a healthy Number 33 on the National Pop Chart. An album by Betty Wright, “My First Time Around” followed in September, 1968 on the Atco label. Around the same time Clarence Reid discovered Della Humphrey at a school talent show and she subsequently recorded “Don’t Make the Good Girls Go Bad” also in 1968 when she was only 12 years old. Reid had originally written the song for Betty Wright as a follow up to “Girls Can’t Do What the Guys Do”. Along with co-producer Jackie Corbitt, the couple got the single released on the Philadelphia based Arctic Records. Two more Della Humphrey singles were released on the Arctic label: “Girls Have Feelings” and “Let’s Wait Until Dark” but they failed to chart and no long term investment in Miami music by the Philly based organization happened and nothing else was recorded on Della although Reid had originally intended to have her record “Rockin’ Chair” which would go on to be a hit for Gwen McCrae in 1975. Where Della Humphrey missed out Betty Wright was soon to succeed in becoming the Queen of Miami Soul thanks partly to the creative input of Clarence Reid. Almost all the songs on Betty’s debut set were originals written by Clarence Reid and/or Willie Clarke. Reid also played piano on the album. His own album “Nobody But You Babe” was repackaged as “Dancing With Nobody But You Babe” and released on Alston in 1969 where it gained him the success that had previously eluded him. As well as a slew of originals the album also included versions of Edwin Starr’s 25 Miles”, The Miracles “Shop Around” and The Impressions “I’ve Been Trying”. A Jerry Williams Jr composition, “Send Me Back My Money was also included while the title track “Nobody But You Babe” owed a massive debt to The Isley Brothers “It’s Your Thing”. The track was issued as a single and reached the Number 40 position Popwise as well as Number 7 on the R&B Chart in April, 1969. The follow up, however, “I’m Gonna Tear You a New Heart” only reached Number 120 on the National Chart despite being a solid Funky Soul sound. Reid was making ripples with this new material but it would remain in the shadow of the work he was creating for Betty Wright who was certainly the biggest star on the Alston label. Her follow up, “He’s Bad, Bad, Bad” only just dinted the National Chart and failed to register on the R&B Chart whilst her third single, “Pure Love” only sneaked in to the R&B Top 40 in the summer of 1970. 1971’s “I Love the Way You Love” was another near miss but then in November, 1971 it all changed with the success of the song that would make Betty Wright into a Soul superstar, “Clean Up Woman”. The single reached the Number 5 position on the National Pop Chart and made Number 2 on the R&B chart. Her debut album also included “Funny How Love Grows Cold” cut by The Tiger Dolls and The Enquires, a rarity on the Northern Soul scene. That year Clarence Reid really arrived and as well as supplying the bulk of Betty Wright’s output he branched out with other funky sounds such as “Mr. Hot Stuff” by The Hot Stuffs on Alston in 1971. Written by Reid and Willie Clarke and owing a debt to that year’s hot number from Stax, Jean Knight’s “Mr Big Stuff”. On the Cat label James Knight And The Butlers released “Funky Cat” in the same year. James Knight And The Butlers were the main funk outfit in Miami at that time, consisting of James Knight on lead vocals and guitar, Robert “Blind” Jackson on drums, Arnold “Hoss” Albury on keyboards, Dwight Jones on saxophone, Tim Brown on brass and Napoleon Reed on bass. As a unit they played on the majority of Clarence Reid’s early output.
Reid was also partly responsible for bringing on another future superstar of the Miami music scene, Harry Wayne Casey. In 1972 H.W. Casey was sweeping floors and packing records for Henry Stone, a path once trod by Reid. Casey met Richard Finch a young bassist and part time recording engineer. Stone gave the two youngsters time to mess around in the studio and in 1973 Casey attended Clarence Reid’s wedding reception in January, 1973 where Reid introduced him to a music form called Junkanoo that had started in the Bahamas. It wasn’t long before Casey took the abbreviation ‘KC’ and formed his own Sunshine Band.
Another Soul giant who also owed a massive debt to Clarence Reid was Gwen McCrae. In 1967 Gwen and her husband George were seen by Betty Wright and Willie Clarke singing in a local club which led to an introduction to Henry Stone who was now busy putting together his operation. Their debut was “Three Hearts In A Tangle”, (“Three Coins In A Fountain”?) in 1969 then in 1970 she cut “Like Yesterday Our Love Is Gone” written by Clarence Reid and Willie Clarke. Gwen’s solo material was released through Columbia but in 1973 when her contract with Columbia wasn’t renewed she signed to the Cat label where Clarence Reid co-wrote her debut single “He Keeps Something Groovy Goin’ On”. 1973 also saw the original version of “90% Of Me Is You” by Vanessa Kendrick issued on Glades, later re-cut on Gwen McCrae and “Don’t Be Surprised” by Lynne Williams released on Suncut. 1973 was also the year that Clarence Reid unleashed his alter ego Blowfly on the world and released the first full-length Blowfly album, “The Weird World of Blowfly” on the TK subsidiary Weird World. “Screwdriver” 1972 and “I’m Afraid Of The Dark” by Johnny K were both issued on Drive in 1973 and were also written by Clarence Reid and Willie Clark but it was the material he cut on Gwen McCrae that pushed his songwriting further forward.In 1973 Clarence Reid’s second album for Alston “Running Water” was released and opened with the funky “Living Together Is Keeping Us Apart”. “Love Who You Can” reflected Stephen Stills “Love The One You’re With” whilst “The Truth” was reminiscent of “Rumours” by British group Hot Chocolate. In April, 1974 another Reid co-composition, “It’s Worth The Hurt” reached Number 66 on the R&B Chart for Gwen McCrae. In May, 1974, “Rock Your Baby”, turned her husband George McCrae into an International star and helped to put the Miami sound on the World map selling over 16 million singles. The track had been written by Casey (KC) and Finch and had been earmarked for Gwen. All was not lost though and the following year Gwen McCrae reached Number 1 with the Grammy nominated “Rockin’ Chair” which reached Number 1 R&B and Number 9 on the Pop Chart. It was another success for Clarence Reid and Willie Clarke as was Jimmy Bo Horne’s “Don’t Worry Bout It” in 1975 written by Clarence Reid and Harry Wayne Casey. He also returned to work with Betty Wright cutting the single “Ooola La”. On Glade Clarence Reid cashed in on the Jaws phenomenon with “Super Jaws” by the group Seven Seas as well as his own “Baptize Me In Your Love” on Alston. Gwen McCrae followed “Rockin’ Chair” with “Love Insurance” in September, 1975 and “Cradle Of Love” released in March, 1976 both written and produced by Reid. Her Album “Something So Right” was released towards the end 1976 and included more Clarence Reid delights including the single “Damn Right It’s Good” backed with “Love Without Sex”. Elements of Reid’s Blowfly alter ego were evident if subdued. Reid’s final album, “On The Job” was released in 1976 and contained such great tracks as the infectious “Come On With It” as well “Mr Smith’s Wife”, giving a nod to Billy Paul’s massive “Me And Mrs Jones” and the uptempo “The Best Part Of A Man”. “It Ain’t Where You Been” was recorded by Latimore on Glades 1976 and staying funky he cut “Miami” on Mr Notorious also in 1976 with Willie Clarke. This group consisted of Robert Moore on lead vocals, Warren “Roach” Thompson on guitar, Andrew “Wolf” Curran on guitar, Willie Jackson and James Allen Johnson on bass, Bobby Williams on keyboard, Freddie Scott on drums and Jesus Gonzales on Congas. In 1977 Clarence Reid changed his style and wrote and produced “Jazz Freak” for Paulette Reaves on Blue Candle. “Beggin’ by James T came out on Reid’s own World label in 1978 and “Freak In, Freak Out” by organist Timmy Thomas was cut on the TK label the same year. The glory days of Miami Soul and Funk were soon to fall foul to the emerging Disco sound even though the sound had been embraced to a degree by the Sunshine State but Clarence Reid has remained popular both through the material he had been responsible for in the past, combined with the Rap generation being eager to embrace Blowfly. In 1988 he recorded new material for an album, “Blowfly For President” and then in 1991 joined forces with Fishbone and Flea, the bassist from Red Hot Chili Peppers, for “Shake Your Thang”. This resulted in a series of live shows at Club Lingerie in Hollywood and a series of tours well into the new millennium. In 2004, as Blowfly, Clarence Reid recorded “Fahrenheit 69” and in 2008 Clarence Reid played in front of the biggest crowd of his career. While many of his contemporaries have maintained careers based on past glories Clarence Reid has continued releasing original material. Part of his longevity is surprisingly down to clean living! For even if Blowfly is just plain nasty, Clarence Reid is a devout Christian.

“I never drink, never smoke, and I never use drugs. I may go to hell, but it won’t be for those things!”