“Without Rudy Ray Moore, there would be no
– Snoop Dogg
“[Moore] shaped a lot of black men, including myself, with his strength and his ability to just show us how we are.”
– Ice T
You rat-soup-eating mother******* may know Dolemite, but who the **** is Rudy Ray Moore?
“Nobody ever became popular or famous where I was from,” he told interviewers Billy Miller and Miriam Linna in 1999.
But Rudy Ray Moore did.
Moore danced, sang, emceed, and told the filthiest jokes onstage and on vinyl, all on his way to producing and starring in his own movie, “Dolemite.” His Dolemite character became a cult phenomenon, and he’s become a hero to rappers, musicians and comedians alike. A Moore biopic starring acolyte Eddie Murphy called “My Name Is Dolemite” was released Oct. 25, with the day being declared “Dolemite Day” by marketing reps and fans alike around the world.
Moore was born March 17, 1927, in Fort Smith. The family lived on North Oak Street; Rudy was the oldest of seven children. He also lived in nearby Paris in Logan County, where his mother moved them after marrying. After living in Paris, he returned to Fort Smith. But it wasn’t until Moore moved to Cleveland, Ohio, that he considered getting into show business.
No “Dolemite Day” celebrations were held in Fort Smith or Paris; in fact, no civic leader contacted for this story had any knowledge of Moore’s existence at all, much less in their towns. Moore mentioned in later interviews that his hometown of Fort Smith was planning to name a street after him, but there is no sign, and no record of it ever happening. “Was he a marshal?” asked the Fort Smith Convention and Visitors Bureau in response to queries.
Similarly, when “Dolemite” became a mid-1970s cinematic hit of cult proportions, it must have seemed to mainstream, especially white, movie audiences that Moore came out of nowhere. But he’d been hustling for a long time. As a kid, Moore sold snacks to servicemen at nearby Fort Chaffee. In the mid-1940s, he sang and danced in a variety show called Stepp’s All-Star Revue, wearing a turban and calling himself Prince DuMarr. Comedians, flash dancers, musicians and more appeared in the shows, and Moore assimilated it all into his own act. He idolized R&B pioneer (and fellow Arkansas native) Louis Jordan, who was white-hot through the 1940s; Moore always wanted to be an R&B singer himself.
In November 1950, Moore was drafted into the Army, but he didn’t stop performing. He got involved in entertaining his fellow troops, and was soon singing, emceeing and promoting shows on bases where he was stationed in Fort Campbell, Ky., Korea and Berlin. He asked for an extension, and was in for nearly three years.
Upon discharge, he toured with Huey “Piano” Smith and the Clowns, famous for songs like “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu,” the original “Sea Cruise” and “Don’t You Just Know It.” Moore was valet for the Clown’s lead singer, Ohio-born Bobby Marchan, who had gotten his start as a female impersonator in drag shows while he was still a teen. “The way Bobby picked me up was he was from Youngstown and he came to Cleveland with the Clowns,” Moore said in the 1999 interview. “Nobody in the band could drive that well and I could drive, so I followed them away. When someone in the Clowns couldn’t perform, I would perform in their place.”
Moore’s first recordings weren’t as a comedian, but as a singer. His initial releases were on the well-regarded Federal record label. Moore did most of his own songwriting. “They called me the Harlem Hillbilly, because I did country songs with an R&B flavor to them,” Moore recalled to Miller and Linna.
Moore had single releases on several different labels, sometimes billed as Rudy Ray Moore and the Raytones, mostly self-financed. Those who came to know Moore for his raunchy comedy wouldn’t recognize the straight R&B singer on these 45 rpm records.
“During the Little Richard era, Richard had ‘Tutti Frutti’ and I had ‘Robbie Dobbie,’ ” he said. There were a few near-misses and some regional sales for his songs, but nothing really hit. Or, as Moore succinctly put it to Miller and Linna: “I did not have success in those years.”
Moore moved to Los Angeles in 1959. He recorded a handful of more traditional-leaning comedy albums, along with his fairly traditional take on R&B vocalizing, through the early 1960s. “For my act then, they’d expect me to do a standup comedy show that was clean,” he told Miller and Linna. “They’d expect me to sing songs like ‘Mule Train’ and some of the old blues songs like ‘Teardrops from My Eyes.’”
But by the hippie era, he’d distilled his time onstage as a dancer, singer and especially as an emcee down to a more singular style of stand-up comedy with sexually explicit routines, often done in toasting-style rhymes and in the filthy “dirty dozens” tradition. They could be found on his so-called “party” records that were sold under the counter at record stores and at performances. A pioneer of perversion, Moore’s routines were bluer by leaps and bounds than anything innuendo-reliant Redd Foxx ever committed to record. And his album covers usually featured him naked alongside several unclad women with titles like “Let’s Come Together,” “The Cockpit,” “I Can’t Believe I Ate The Whole Thing,” “Close Encounters of the Sex Kind” and “This Pussy Belongs To Me.” A 2009 memorial album was titled “50 Years of Cussing.”
“I wasn’t saying dirty words just to say them. It was a form of art; sketches in which I developed ghetto characters who cursed,” Moore explained in a 1997 interview with the Miami Herald.
“I don’t want to be referred to as a dirty old man,” he said. “Rather, a ghetto expressionist.”
Moore debuted his Dolemite routine on his 1970 breakthrough album, “Eat Out More Often.” “It busted overnight; Dolemite on a record,” he recalled to Miller and Linna in 1999. Outrageous in every way — especially sexually — the tale of Dolemite follows the tall-tale tradition found in societies worldwide. It’s been noted in early African-American communities as well as the early European-American communities in the Ozarks. However, Moore appropriated the Dolemite routine from a man named Rico who performed it for spare change on the streets of Hollywood.
Moore and Dolemite eventually became synonymous. Other comedy albums by Moore, full of similar profane braggadocio, followed in its wake. And after the “Dolemite” movie hit, so did other films: In 1976, he starred in a Dolemite sequel called “The Human Tornado” and co-starred in “The Monkey Hustle.” The next year, he starred in “Petey Wheatstraw: The Devil’s Son-In-Law.” (“Petey Wheatstraw” somehow had nothing to do with the 1930s Cotton Plant bluesman of the same name who also used the nickname “the Devil’s Son-In-Law.”) By 1979’s “Disco Godfather,” though, Moore had ridden his unlikely cinematic wave to shore.
However, a generation later, nostalgia dictated Moore — or, rather, Dolemite — return. In the interim, he’d inspired comedians, been heavily sampled during the Golden Age of Hip-Hop, and known as one of the forefathers of rap. Beyond Moore’s ribald rhymes, his anti-establishment pimp persona dovetailed especially nicely with the “gangsta rap” subgenre of the late 1980s and 1990s with its misogyny and violent imagery as embodied by N.W.A., Geto Boys and 2 Live Crew. (N.W.A. called it “reality rap.”)
By 1999, Dolemite was back on the scene and onscreen. He appeared as Monk Ru-Dee in “Shaolin Dolemite”; the next year, he reprised his Dolemite role in “Big Money Hustlas,” starring Insane Clown Posse. The year 2002 saw another sequel, “The Return of Dolemite,” also known as “The Dolemite Explosion.”
Most of the actual Dolemite explosion was financed by Moore himself, manifested through his canny self-promotion and desire. But Moore really wanted to sing rhythm and blues. After Moore found success as Dolemite, he again tried to launch a singing career. But the public maintained its lack of enthusiasm for his singing. In 1999, he admitted, “The only reason I turned to comedy was I couldn’t get a hit otherwise.”
Known to the world as “Dolemite,” Rudy Ray Moore of Sebastian and Logan counties — the man who said he could stick his finger in the ground and turn the whole world around; the man who used an earthquake to mix his milkshake — died Oct. 19, 2008, in a nursing home in Akron, Ohio.
How bad was Dolemite?
At the age of one, he was drinking whisky and gin,
At the age of two, he was eating the bottles it came in.
He got run out of South America for f*cking steers,
He f*cked a she-elephant until she broke down in tears.
He swam across muddy rivers and ain’t never got wet,
Mountains fall on him and he ain’t dead yet.
He rode across the ocean on the head of his d*ck,
He ate nine tons of cat sh*t and ain’t never got sick.
— As told by Rudy Ray Moore
‘Dolemite’: The movie that made the man that made the movie
As the 1970s dawned, Rudy Ray Moore’s touring and salacious albums helped solidify both Moore and his newfound alter-ego, Dolemite. Meanwhile, so-called blaxploitation films targeting black America and usually made by black filmmakers had struck box office gold in America. The twin juggernauts of 1971’s “Shaft” and 1972’s “Superfly” helped set the standard: car chases, sex, funky music and deals gone sour, usually through the hands of a corrupt white power elite. At their worst, many of these films played on easy racial and gender stereotypes, but did often feature African Americans, and sometimes women, in rare strong leading film roles in America.
However, the genre had largely peaked by the time Moore secured financing for a Dolemite movie. He spent a year on the road and got an advance from his record distributor to put together more than $100,000 himself. It wasn’t very much for a motion picture, even by 1970s blaxploitation budgetary standards. Expectations were low, as reflected in the new Moore biopic starring Eddie Murphy, “My Name Is Dolemite.” But since its April 1975 release, “Dolemite” has become part of the culture.
The “Dolemite” soundtrack took up very little of the already meager budget. The musicians hired were given the name the Soul Rebellion Orchestra. Future Grammy winner James Ingram plays on the soundtrack, as well as appearing in the film. (Ingram duetted with Michael MacDonald, Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton and had his own solo hits in the 1980s and 1990s.) The sessions were recorded at studios in Los Angeles owned by Ted Brinson, best known for recording the enduring doo-wop hit “Earth Angel” (co-written by Texarkana doo-wop pioneer Jesse Belvin), and where Moore had previously recorded as a singer.
The shooting schedule was six weeks. The director was D’Urville Martin (played by Wesley Snipes in the Moore biopic). In addition to making his directorial debut in “Dolemite,” Martin played the villain Willie Green. He’d starred in similar genre films, such as 1972’s “Hammer,” 1973’s “Black Caesar” and its sequel, “Hell Up In Harlem.” He’d had minor roles in the late 1960s mainstream studio films “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” and “Rosemary’s Baby.”
But Martin was not a careful director, and reportedly had no respect for the project. Boom mics and crew shadows can often be seen intruding in the frame. There are technical glitches. The plot is convoluted, and the acting is marginal, even from our titular hero. But all that was apparently part of the charm for audiences: Jet magazine (owned by fellow Arkansas native John H. Johnson) reported that “Dolemite,” with its $100K budget, made $12 million. — S. Koch