It was Dante Carfagna who first suggested that we compile all the records from Miami’s first black-owned record company: Deep City. At the time, the 40-year chain of title was a bit unclear, but we kept seeing the same three names on every record: Johnny Pearsall, Willie Clarke, and Clarence Reid. With Pearsall dead and Clarke in the wind, Clarence would be our first point of contact.
My first encounter with Clarence Reid came during the 2005 edition of SXSW, in the green room of Emo’s. I’d brought print outs of 45 labels baring the Deep City, Lloyd, and Reid imprints, and he thumbed through them slowly while I asked a series of extremely specific questions. Who owns the rights? When was the last time you talked to Willie? Who were the Delmiras? I prattled on for a few minutes before Clarence stopped me and told a story about his experience in the music business:
If you get fucked up the ass by a dinosaur once, you blame the dinosaur. But if you get fucked up the ass by a dinosaur again? Boy, that’s your own goddamn fault.
Reid had been burned many times in his career; Sold off his publishing at a low point in the ‘80s, his masters in the early ‘90s. About the only thing he had left was the mask and cape he donned to perform under his alter-ego Blowfly. That night he had little interest in my schpiel about how we could resuscitate his career. He had songs to sing about rappin’ dirty and shittin’ on the dock of the bay.
Numero did finally track down Willie Clarke, and the first Deep City came out in 2006 sans any Clarence Reid songs. Most of the masters, as it would turn out, were sold to Dial and Jamie-Guyden. But there were publishing royalties due. Not much, but some. Our first check to him was around $350. He called up a few days after receiving it to tell me something I’ve since heard dozens of times, but which still gnaws at me:
This is the first royalty check I’ve gotten in my entire life. I got advances, I got cars. But no one ever bothered to tell me where I was at. Thanks for that. Now I’m going to watch jai alai. Fuck you later.
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