Hanging out with a 1970s cult figure of raunchy R&B “party records” is less fun than one would expect in “The Weird World of Blowfly.” Portraying one year in the life of the titular musician, still touring and toiling at an advanced age, Jonathan Furmanski’s documentary perhaps unintentionally becomes largely about the grind of traveling to play for mostly small audiences when you’re old, tired and crabby. Notably short on archival footage or tracks — presumably because Blowfly no longer owns the rights to his own music — it should nonetheless draw fans in a limited run launched simultaneously with home-format release.
Still, auds (in New York on Sept. 16 and Los Angeles on Sept. 23) might not get what they were hoping for. Miami-based Clarence Reid was a successful recording artist and songwriter in the late 1950s, penning hits for Betty Wright, KC and the Sunshine Band, Gwen McCrae and others. But his own performing career didn’t really take off until the 1971 launch of Blowfly, an outrageously costumed alter ego whose “X-rated” material encompassed both originals and parodies of Top 40 tunes.
Initially sold under the table for fear of prosecution, these discs were popular throughout the Me Decade. But when the ’70s ended, Reid’s label, TK Records, expired along with the disco craze, leaving his career adrift. Things got so bad that in 2003 he sold his entire back catalog and all associated rights for a pittance — a big mistake, as since then his records have been sampled by myriad artists including Beyonce and the Wu-Tang Clan, no doubt hugely profiting someone else.
Freelance music journalist/promoter Tom Bowker met Reid around this time, was appalled he hadn’t had his own band for years, and proposed forming one for him. “Weird World” finds them on the road, 69-year-old star and much younger manager-drummer equally tantrum-prone and frequently at each other’s throats.
It’s a mutual dependency that so far hasn’t paid off in the financial terms that either hoped.
Still, we see a few famous musicians lauding Reid’s influence — some agreeing with his own claim that 1965’s “Rap Dirty” was the first true rap record. Amid some rather ill-attended gigs at home, the act opens for popular German punk band Die Arzte before variably receptive European stadium crowds. Bowker also brokers a recording collaboration between Blowfly and nuevo potty-mouthed novelty musician Otto von Schirach. But working with von Schirach proves difficult, and Reid doesn’t seem to grasp that he needs such associations because many younger listeners have no idea who he is.
Voiced under oft-trying circumstances by an exasperated pro, Blowfly’s once-mindblowing scatological lyrics now just sound like juvenile sniggering, especially since Reid himself is a professed God-fearing man who says he was rarely promiscuous despite his sexually rapacious image. His views on scattered topics, including fellow African-Americans, are not flattering to the singer. Interviews with a former girlfriend, an ex-wife and two grown children underline our impression of him as a loner whose focus on his career and persona left little time for or inclination toward close personal relationships.
Some Blowfly (as well as Clarence Reid) songs are heard; “Booty Butts” and “Porno Freak” are among the few titles printable here. But it’s a big disappointment that we scarcely see or hear — presumably due to copyright/cost issues — Blowfly in his ’70s prime, when he repped a zenith of pimp-adelic soul brother craziness alongside Sun Ra and Rudy Ray Moore’s Dolemite.
Inclusion of such material would have made a big difference in making the docu a happy flashback, rather than a somewhat depressing look at one nostalgia act that won’t, or can’t, quit.
Assembly is adequate.