The last time I saw Rudy Ray Moore, two years ago at a revival screening of his 1976 film The Human Tornado, we spoke about the first time I saw him, 25 years earlier at an inner city nightclub when he was performing as part of Aunt Esther’s Watch It Sucker Revue, a touring show starring Moore, LaWanda Page (aka “Aunt Esther” of TV’s Sanford & Son), Wildman Steve and Blowfly. While reminiscing, Moore suddenly turned melancholy and began shaking his head. “Everybody’s gone now,” he lamented. “Only me and Blowfly left. All the others are dead and buried.”
On October 19th, comedian/actor/singer/entrepreneur Rudy Ray Moore joined the others, passing away at age 81 due to complications from diabetes. Known best by the name of a character he portrayed on record, film and in nightclubs—Dolemite—Moore’s death represents the end of an era, the Chitlin Circuit days of roadhouses and inner city nightclubs, places where respectable citizens just didn’t go.
Born in Fort Smith, Arkansas, in 1927, Moore caught the performing bug at age 15 and soon worked his way through the ranks of low level show biz by exhibiting a number of talents, from dancing and singing to eventually, in the late '50s, stand-up comedy. While his Rhythm & Blues recordings are quite respectable (check out the fine Norton Records compilation Hully Gully Fever), the comedy scene is where Moore finally made his mark, becoming known in the 1970s as “The King Of Party Records.” The history of “race records,” as recordings produced for the African-American market had been called since the 1920s, is filled with risqué and double entendre-permeated blues, jump and jive tunes; in the mid-1950s, jazzman Walter “Dootsie” Williams began releasing what were termed “Party Records” on his Dootone and Dooto record labels. Redd Foxx was their best selling comedian, and more “blue” comics followed, including Mantan Moreland, Pigmeat Markham, Hattie Noel, Scatman Crothers, and, in 1959, Moore’s first album, Below The Belt [check out http://www.shockingimages.com/dolemite/albums for a complete discography]. These records were intended to be played at parties where copious amounts of liquor were served and ganga would be smoked. This generation had been raised on radio, but these brazen recordings, while quaint by todays standards, were banned by broadcasters.
By the late 1960s, Moore was signifyin’ on stage, enacting the brag and insult tradition known on ghetto streets as The Toast or The Dozens, the precursor of rap. These tall tales and “yer mama” styled taunts have their roots in the world of pimps, hustlers, cons, winos, and dope fiends, the players that populated the Blaxploitation films of the 1970s, along with the writings of Iceberg Slim, Donald Goines, Chester Himes, and Joseph Nazel. Moore took the rhyming, jiving tales from street corners, barrooms and barbershops, brought them into the nightclub, and made them his own. Folk tales like The Signifyin’ Monkey and Shine & The Titanic were delivered in his inimitable raw, rude style. The “fuck” in the ubiquitous motherfucker was spit out like a venomous taunt, with a nastiness so violent and vile it nearly slices your throat like a shiv. Rudy’s greatest hit was based on tales he'd heard told by a wino named Rico of a legend called “Dolemite.”
“Dolemite’s the name and fuckin’ up motherfuckers is my game...”
“....I've swimmed across muddy rivers and ain't never got wet
Mountains has fell on me and I ain't dead yet.
I fucked an elephant and dared her to mutter,
I can look up a bull's ass and tell you the price of butter.
I fucked another elephant down to a coon.
Even fucked the same damn cow that jumped over the
[read Rudy’s original rhymes at http://www.dolemite.com]
Relaxed censorship laws in the ’70s gave rise to unabashed entertainment; sex, violence and profanity became prominent in all the arts. Even still, when Rudy Ray Moore released his first XXX-rated LP Eat Out More Often in 1970, it was usually sold from under-the-counter, and never in record stores frequented by white customers. Commencing with the epic Dolemite, the album was an underground bestseller in America’s ghettos. Moore released a string of 18 sex and scatologically charged LP's, cassettes and 8-tracks on the LA-based Kent Records (including This Pussy Belongs To Me, the recently reissued Dolemite For President, Dolemite Is Another Crazy Nigger and Close Encounters Of The Sex Kind), as well as producing albums by Lady Reed, Jimmy Lynch and cross-dressing comics Mr. Billie McAllister and Jerry “The Fairy Godmother” Walker. The raunchy Laff Records label [http://rassoodock.com/data-pages/laff_records.html] capitalized on the mainstream success of Richard Pryor, along with Skillet & Leroy and LaWanda Page (tagged by Redd Foxx to join his Sanford & Son series), but Moore’s records and those of Party comedians like Blowfly, Richard & Willie, Cha Cha Hogan, Baroness Bobo, et al., were rarely sold outside the Black community.
Rudy expanded his audience by hustling ninety-thousand dollars to produce and star in Dolemite, a film stocked with as much kung fu action and ghetto fabulousness as visible boom mics and atrocious acting. Eluding the suburban crossover appeal that propelled Black action films like Shaft and Superfly into commercial hits, Dolemite proved popular with urban audiences, so much so that Moore was able to parlay its success into four more films during the decade: The Human Tornado, Petey Wheatstraw: The Devil’s Son-In-Law, Disco Godfather (featuring Rudy Ray as a crime fightin', angel dust bustin' DJ!), and the AIP produced Monkey Hu$tle. While firmly set in the “so bad they’re good” realm of cinema, these films purvey an endearing charm abetted by a bold surreality; all are available on DVD, including a lavish seven-disc boxed set which includes his more recent direct-to-video flix. Grindhouse movie fans will love the pimped-out '70s stylings, the wah-wah infused soundtracks, and the no-budget locations (could LA look any uglier?). Petey Wheatstraw is my personal favorite, a lunatic tale of a gunned-down hustler who makes a pact with the devil to be returned to earth and avenge his death—but only if he marries Lucifer’s butt-ugly daughter. The hyperkinetic orgy scene alone is worth the price of admission. Rudy and crew would never be mistaken for Shakespearean actors, but who gives, as Rudy would say, a rat soup eatin’ motherfucker’s ass when it’s this much fun?
Moore finally got recognition beyond the fringe through the world of hip hop. Luther Campbell, Dr. Dre, Big Daddy Kane are all fans, and the influence of Blaxploitation is pervasive. In the ’90s, after forty years of performing almost exclusively for Black audiences, Moore attracted diverse crowds, appearing at as many film festivals and theaters as he did clubs; he’s easy to find on YouTube and the web. BET and Def Jam comedy, et al, have brought uncensored, raw humor out of the nightclubs and into the living rooms. Rudy Ray is gone but his recordings and films are preserved to keep the tales of Dolemite and his friends alive forever, motherfuckers. I ain’t lyin’!
It takes a nation of millions to hold back Brother Cleve.