The late, great Richard Pryor was many things. With his game face on he was the funniest man on the planet; Jerry Seinfeld said he was the Picasso of comedy. Pryor was a proper maverick who offended a whole bunch of squares who needed offended, and fittingly turned up in the weirdest of places, perhaps none weirder than David Lynch’s Lost Highway, in what would be Pryor’s last film role. When all was said and done, he was a roman candle of a man, a lifestyle extremist whose demons drove him to spectacular misadventure. Famously, Pryor covered himself in overproof rum and set fire to himself after freebasing cocaine. Pryor should have been a singer in a band.
In 1977, he was—albeit in a skit. It’s strange the things you turn up when idly sifting through YouTube for Relapse Records’ channel; this footage from the short-lived Richard Pryor Show shows an armor-plated Pryor descend to the stage in some hypertrophied Tina Turner wig and cape a la Tim Burton’s Batman, grunting some indecipherables in a delivery most consonant with extreme metal’s vocal style. Sure the band sound kind of like some deconsecrated P-Funk band, halfway between Alice Cooper and Funkadelic, but with corpse paint and hoods they’ve got the look, and Pryor’s got the voice. It’s no surprise that NBC cancelled it after four shows. Pryor was too much, too good for network television. Still, the show won an Emmy for Outstanding Art Direction. It should have been for this . . . Black Death
Of course, there are many similarities to This is Spinal Tap but, remember, The Richard Pryor Show pre-dated Rob Reiner’s film by seven years. Black Death making their appearance from the coffins is probably a nod to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins but it’s not unreasonable to suggest that this is where Reiner got Tap’s pod sequence from. It begs the question: who else took something from this? Finding this on YouTube is a pretty funny; watching it on 1970s primetime TV would have blown minds.
**According to the MetalArchives.com there are seven other bands called Black Death. Despite releasing just two demos, the Norwegian Black Death are the most deserving of our attention.