Garry Shider, one of the great electric guitarists and an all-time psychedelic champion (and musical director/songwriter) of the P Funk family of bands, has died from cancer at age 56.
I hung out with Shider for an afternoon in 1992. And boy oh boy did things get weird after we met.
True story: In 1992 I was living in Cleveland, Ohio, and contemplating dropping out of college. I wanted to write about, photograph and play music 24/7. I figured the best way to do that would be to start my own publication. Well I never published my own magazine until sometime later (I joined up with Brenda Mullen and eventually headed up U.S. Rocker, but that’s another story).
But I did conduct a few interviews for my “dream” music publication and the P Funk All-Stars were among them (the others were Basehead, the Boredoms, Ween, and Borbetomagus…I was a weird kid…I wish I still had those tapes).
So lil aspiring journalist me, I borrowed a cassette recorder from WRUW-FM and went to the Agora at 2pm for a press conference with George Clinton and Garry Shider. There were two other reporters there already and soon Clinton and Shider were shepherded in to our area by their road manager. The two looked…confused. Amiable, but a bit on edge? Yes, well, I was a huge fan of weird Funkadelic albums like Standing On the Verge of Getting It On, and Parliament’s Motor Booty Affair is a record I still jam at home. Shider’s slinky guitar was a huge part of the bands’ appeal, as was his bizarro diapered appearance (see the video above). So I paid no attention to my P Funk idols’ odd behavior. At first.
I got to ask the opening question and George Clinton just ran with it. I forget what I inquired about but soon Clinton was way off topic telling us wide-eyed tales of hanging with the Stooges, being jealous of Vanilla Fudge, and breaking and entering into some CWRU building (must’ve been Baker?) that was right on Euclid Avenue after the Cle cops moved in with riot gear to quash some out-of-control street fest in the mid-1970s. Garry Shider just laughed the whole time.
Shider didn’t say much. He would whisper in Clinton’s ear, then wander off, then return, laugh some more at Clinton’s reminisences, and then disappear/reappear again.
Clinton never stopped jabbering the whole time! I flipped over my 90 minute cassette tape. Before I knew it I was almost done with the second side. Soon the whole tape was filled. Yikes. Thank goodness I brought a second cassette. I popped that in. Clinton was still talking and Shider was right there affirming everything he said.
As I got to the end of the second 90 minute cassette and the other journalists had long since fled, I realized: there’s something not quite right about these two. They are just going in circles. (Later, it was amusing to play the interview tapes on WRUW’s tape recorders—which could play in both directions—infinitely looping the infinitely loopy P Funk confessions).
That’s when I had my eureka moment:
There are drugs out there besides alcohol and marijuana—AND THESE GUYS ARE ON THEM.
Ah uppers…When I returned to the Agora for the big show later that night with my friends, we were amazed how these old men (aka late 30s like me now) were able to jam for 4 hours straight. I had no expectations that they would play their noisy early ’70s stuff but they did. They played their whole catalog of songs! Seemingly every last one. When the P Funk encore rolled around we left—my buddies couldn’t take anymore. But P Funk was still rocking away strong as ever.
As we exited the Agora I turned around to take one last look at the stage. Shider was still jamming, still in his diaper, and still laughing at Clinton. They both had insane twinkles in their eyes. Those guys were made for each other. And regardless of chemical enhancements, they had the goods. They were quite a pair.
R.I.P. Garry Shider. And George Clinton, I hope you are okay without your friend.
Take funk to heaven in ’77