By Emma Silvers
By Gary Moskowitz
By Alee Karim
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
By Derek Opperman
By Emma Silvers
By Alee Karim
In 1979, James Lemmons wrote and recorded a song called "Disco Slut." He sent the demo to Epic, Columbia, and Motown, hoping that the labels would give him a record deal. The companies, however, proved a bit gun-shy. "They rejected me worse than a ham hock at a bar mitzvah," Lemmons says with a throaty laugh, calling from his home in Ukiah. "One letter said, 'We love your voice, we feel you have good artistic talent, but your words have got to go.'"
You'd think that such encouragement would have persuaded Lemmons to clean up his smutty lyrics and make some new songs. After all, even Miami's legendary Blowfly -- the composer of such raunchy parodies as "Spermy Night in Georgia" -- recorded straight R&B tunes under his real name, Clarence Reid. Redd Foxx, who released over 50 albums of "blue" material throughout his career, made serious bank portraying the irascible junk dealer on Sanford and Son. And Rudy Ray Moore, whose early LPs were only available under record shop counters, became a household name by starring in the blaxploitation classic Dolemite.
But mainstream success wasn't interesting to Lemmons. Instead, for the next 25 years, he concentrated on writing material that would make Howard Stern blush, penning songs like "Nasty Hoochie Booty," "Jacking Off in the Dark," and "Health Food Store Bitches." For most of those 25 years he received absolutely no encouragement whatsoever -- not from his family, his white-bread town, or the raunchy rap stars who sprung up in his wake. Only now has the 47-year-old artist -- who records under the name Lord Nasty -- garnered any recognition.
In the past year, Lemmons has played to steadily increasing crowds throughout San Francisco, moving from the tiny Peacock Lounge and Hemlock Tavern to the more spacious Rickshaw Stop and 12 Galaxies. And after self-releasing his first five CDs, he's now talking to labels about releasing his latest, the enlighteningly titled Baptized in Pussy Juice.
"My mom didn't think I'd get anywhere with it," Lemmons says of his music. "'Don't nobody want to hear that dirty, filthy trash!' Now she says, 'I guess I was wrong.'"
As much as anyone, it was Blowfly who laid the smutty R&B groundwork, and no one wanted to hear his dirty, filthy trash either. Hell, when the singer crooned "What a Difference a Lay Makes," he was sued by the author of the original tune. But a surprisingly large number of people were interested in buying copies of Blowfly's several dozen albums, partially because of their tight grooves and dizzying riffs. (Many of his tunes were later sampled by hip hop acts like Jurassic 5, Ice Cube, and Puff Daddy.)
Lord Nasty's tunes have a similar vivid bounce, ranging between doo-wop, blues, funk, Latin jazz, Memphis soul, and even Beatles-y pop. However, unlike Blowfly, who could call on slick studio musicians from his R&B career, Lemmons works with limited means. Ever since the mid-'80s, he's been using the "pause-tape method," using two tape decks to record and endlessly loop bits of songs, then laying down his lyrics via a karaoke machine. The results are shockingly smooth for such a punk rock approach.
Mostly, though, it's Lemmons' vocals that hold the Lord's material together. "He's a great singer -- easily the best singer in Ukiah, if not Mendocino County," says Eric Enriquez, one-time bassist and quasi-manager for Lord Nasty.
Lemmons' voice is as sweet as one of those old Ohio Players album covers -- you know, the ones with the honey dripping over some lady's fine behind. His spoof of the Beatles' "When I'm 64" ("Will you suck me?/ Will you still fuck me?") recalls Al Green, while his corruption of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" could win him a spot at the mike on opening day. It's easy to imagine him singing in a choir, which he actually does up in Ukiah. (It's harder to see him writing gospel songs for the choir, which he also does.) In fact, he received his first vocal training via a chorus, when he was 13 and living in Sweetwater, Texas. Even then, though, he had a tempestuous relationship with the Lord. One day in 1972, while he was fooling around on a church piano, he sneaked some cuss words into a version of James Brown's "Hot Pants." The pastor caught him and his grandmother beat him, but he didn't care: He now understood the power of smut and sin.
By the time he moved with his mom to Ukiah in 1978, he'd taken to making "devil's gospel" music. Calling himself Sir Darkness, he'd walk around town in a cape, carrying a giant boombox blasting his tunes. Eventually, some of the local punks took him under their wing and asked him to sit in with them. But their music wasn't really Lemmons' thing; he was more interested in the disco and rap tunes that were coming out, especially the rude material of 2 Live Crew and Too $hort.
"I thought, 'My God, they're doing something I've been doing since a long time ago!'" Lemmons recalls.
He tried sending material to the Crew's Luther Campbell and to Blowfly himself, to no avail. The years went by, and Lord Nasty continued adding to his peculiar oeuvre.