For those who have been following the George Clinton circus for many years, the death of Garry “Star Child” Shider, a.k.a. Garry “DoWop” Shider, often referred to as Diaper Man, at age 56 is a bigger blow to the P-Funk world than if George himself had checked out. It is George who is the draw, especially for new Funkateers ready to climb on the mothership for the first time, but Garry was the glue that held everything together.
Garry met George Clinton in 1971, and by the next year he became a regular member of the Parliafunkadelicment Thang, as it came to be known. For much of the time, Garry was the musical director and the leader behind the scenes. In fact, in 1980, when the band went out in support of the Parliament album “Gloryhallastoopid,” Clinton was absent and Shider was the man in charge.
I was fortunate enough to have seen Garry 11 times with the U.S. Funk Mob in some variation or other, starting with the Mothership Connection tour in the summer of 1976 through the P-Funk performance at this year’s Wanee Festival. It was evident at Wanee that Garry looked much older than he had in 2005 and 2007, when he was sporting dreads. George was closer to sober at Wanee, and Garry took a backseat.
That was not always true. One of the reasons the Tampa area was a popular place to visit for the band was the ready availability of crack, and that inevitably led to problems. In December 2005 in St. Petersburg, the band had its worst showing in my experience. George, totally out of it, would lead the band into one song and then starting singing something else, all the while masterbating the microphone stand. The band simply couldn’t keep up or follow. With trepidation, we checked out a show in May 2007 at the same location (Jannus Landing). Result: best P-Funk show I ever saw. Reason: Garry had them mute George’s mic, and Garry ran the show. It was awesome.
In 1979, it was billed as the U.S. Funk Mob tour in support of “One Nation Under a Groove” and “Motorbooty Affair.” The Brides of Funkenstein opened, and then a huge curtain was pulled back, revealing an enormous skull (at least 30 feet high) grinning on stage with FUNKADELIC on its teeth. Then the jaw started moving, and in a deep booming voice, the skull said,
“Hi! How y’all doin’? Has anybody got – a joint?”
By now the place is going bonkers.
“Don’t give me none of that angel dust. That’s some bad shit!”
Now two guys roll out this five-foot Bic lighter, and two more guys carry out a six-foot joint. They stick it in his mouth, light the end, smoke starts pouring out everywhere, and somewhere in the back of your mind, as pandemonium erupts in the auditorium, you realize that Tyrone Lampkin has kicked off the drum-beat start to “Cosmic Slop.” The singers are singing, “Space… people… universal love…” and you know Garry Shider should be standing at the microphone at the front of the stage.
All of a sudden, the jaws and the skull move apart to reveal a ramp coming out of the mouth. Shider walks out of the skull, down the ramp, up to the mic, and sings, “I was one of five born to my mother, an older sister and three young brothers…”
So good I had to go see it again three days later.
It is unclear now who will pick up the director’s baton for the P-Funk All-Stars. I would be sad but not surprised if this were an early death knell.
RIP, Garry. You knocked me for a “Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop!”
Video evidence of the ’79 tour: