By Courtney Harrell
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"See, people would sit out in front of liquor stores, and when they were passing around bottles of wine, they'd tell all this folklore, in a structure of ghetto expressions," he says. "Just passing the bottle and telling these lies -- and they didn't do it professionally, but they'd have so much fun, and people would laugh. When I heard it, being a professional, I felt like I could do it and make it work for me. So I got this one wino, Rico, to sit down with my tape recorder and put this stuff on tape, and in the next two or three days, I recorded it and had music set to it. And I took it to a truck stop and let the truck drivers hear it, and they were like, 'My God, I've got to have one of these!' They wanted me to get them one right away -- so I got some of them copied off, and then I went to a record-pressing plant that I was in touch with when I was making my singing records. I had them press up 3,000 records, and I started selling them out of the trunk of my car."
The name Moore slapped on this 1970 opus -- Eat Out More Often -- was designed to offend puritanical sensibilities; so was the cover photo of a nude Rudy Ray with an equally unclothed female. As such, record stores had to stock them under the counter. But that didn't prevent Eat, which features the first appearance of Dolemite, from becoming an underground phenomenon. Too bad it didn't much benefit poor Rico.
"I saw him many, many, many times after the record came out," Moore says. "But he was so down he didn't even know about it. I'd give him money for wine -- $15 here, $20 there. But he got hit by a bus, and nobody saw him anymore. It was 25 years ago, and we ain't seen him since."
To make sure he didn't vanish, Moore started cranking out followups in the Eat Out More Often mode, including This Pussy Belongs to Me, on which he offered "Signifying Monkey," a well-traveled routine about a monkey outwitting a lion that he infused with an extra helping of naughtiness ("She got down so low she sucked an earthworm's dick"). But within a few years, he recognized that in order to advance himself, he needed to broaden his scope -- and he saw movies as a way to do so. He filmed Dolemite over a span of thirteen months, using his own home as the main set and taking regular breaks for standup tours to finance the next reels of celluloid.
By Hollywood standards, the finished picture hardly looks finished at all; it's amateurish on pretty much every level. "I got made fun of," Moore remembers. "They talked about how my movie would never get shown in a theater. But the movie was so hard-hitting and so rough, and got so much notoriety, that it drew lines in big cities like Chicago, standing up against million-dollar productions and sometimes even outdrawing them."
Predictably, Dolemite was dubbed blaxploitation, a term Moore dislikes. "There were a few groups in that time that were not in favor of what we were doing with our movies for our people, and they're the ones that came up with that title. But that word comes with an edge, and I was always disgusted with it. When I was a boy and went to the movies, I watched Roy Rogers and Tim Holt and those singing cowboys killing Indians, but they never called those movies 'Indian exploitation' -- and I never heard The Godfather called 'Eye-talian exploitation.' So I was never in favor of it."
Such a politically correct view may seem odd given how politically incorrect Moore's film work is: For instance, the protagonist of Petey Wheatstraw, another figure drawn from folklore, is born as either the twin or the afterbirth of a watermelon, depending upon your point of view. Moore explains that shocking audiences was the only way an outsider like him could get attention. "I was shooting on a shoestring, so naturally I had to put everything into it that would be controversial, daring and different. This is what I was trying to put across on the screen -- that I was different from what you'd seen otherwise."
As such, he learned just how far he could push the envelope. "You could not do any male nudity from the front or you'd get an X rating, but I did it with females, because the beaver can be shown from six feet and you get an R rating -- so we made sure the cameras were six feet away. And the ratings board didn't usually bother us about the language, because they didn't know what I was saying. One of the people on the board asked this distributor I had, 'What are these words?' But then he said, 'I don't know what it means, so I'll give it an R.'"
This approach didn't work forever: When 1979's Disco Godfather tanked, Moore's viability as a filmmaker went with it. But he was kept aloft during the '80s and '90s by the kindness of rap stars, who recognized Rudy Ray as a kindred spirit.