R.I.P., Garry Shider! (Interview from the New Funk Times Archive)
P.Funk won’t ever be the same again: Yesterday, Garry Shider (56) lost his battle against lung and brain cancer (see reports by The Star Ledger and Rolling Stone). I have known Garry and Linda, his wife of 32 years, for about 25 years – one of our first meetings took place at George Clinton/Parliament/Funkadelic’s legendary live Rockpalast broadcast from St. Goarshausen/Germany (watch the video clip below, featuring Dennis Chambers, Eddie Hazel, Michael “Kidd Funkadelic” Hampton, and Rodney “Skeet” Curtis).
I once even acted as his ‘fashion consultant’ ;-) : On P.Funk’s 1986 “Saturday Night Live” performance, Garry wore a jacket I selected while clothes-shopping with George Clinton. You can see a picture in this blog entry.
When I published the official P.Funk newsletter New Funk Times from the late ’80s to the early ’90s, I did several interviews with Garry. One of them took place at his house in Atlanta/Georgia in 1989. I’m reposting it as tribute to this great vocalist, guitarist, songwriter, arranger, producer and overall funky human being.
“We’re not gonna ever quit, man, I wanna be old and in my grave, still funking!” (Garry Shider in 1989)
From Gospel to Funk
New Funk Times: How did you meet George Clinton?
Garry Shider: I was seven years old, and my parents used to take me to this missionary meeting. One day I snuck out of the service and went to the barber shop that George owned [in the ’50s]. It was on Plainfield Avenue in Plainfield/ New Jersey, the missionary service was ’round on 5th Street. So I snuck out, said I was going to the store, and walked on down to the barber shop. George, Fuzzy, Grady, Calvin, Ray, the original Parliaments, they all used to work together in George’s shop. In some kind of way, I talked George into doing my hair – at seven years old. So he put this stuff in my hair – it was lye! -, straightened it out, took his fingers and put the “finger waves” in it.
I remember going back to the missionary service, not even really thinking that, hey, I done changed my whole look at seven years old. And my momma… she beat me all the way back home! – I knew then I was going to be a Parliament/Funkadelic, because George used to do my uncle’s hair. In fact, he got the barber shop from my first cousin’s partner which was George White. When he died, he turned the barber shop over to George.
New Funk Times: This barber shop must have been funkier than usual…
Garry Shider: I tell you, it was the singing barber shop! Once they finished doing hair, they set up their equipment and started rehearsing. I didn’t actually see it, but I remember people talking about how George used to put that lye in people’s hair and then sat ’em over at the sink and go get on the bus, ’cause the bus to go to New York was right on down at the end of the corner on Front Street. George used to walk out the barber shop and go downtown, saying he was going to get a sandwich. But he took the bus to New York instead and started trying to sell songs, and he called back and told somebody, wash such-and-such’s hair out. By then, that stuff already burnt his hair out.
You know, basically, I guess that’s where the funk came from; ’cause Plainfield was a funky little town. You could walk from one end of Plainfield to the other, so everything we wanted to do, we could walk to it – like to the Park Hotel, that’s where they used to have all the shows at, the high schools and the armory. And George and ’em being the group… they were making records, so they were big to us. They actually were our leaders, they kinda like ran the city, you know, kept us out of drugs and out of trouble. If they seen you and they knew you and you was doing something wrong, you could depend on them grabbing you and collaring you up, and straightening you right out, too. Everybody just hung around the barber shop with George.
New Funk Times: When did you get involved with them musically?
Garry Shider: I must have been about 11 years old. A little later – I was about 14, 15 – George saw me in Canada. I was with another group called US, and he was producing us together with Bernie Worrell. So, basically, I always knew I was gonna be here! Actually, I ended up going on the road with ’em back in the early 70s, during the COSMIC SLOP era. But I was writing and cutting with them in the MAGGOT BRAIN era already.
New Funk Times: In the beginning, was it hard for you to get into the scene?
Garry Shider: No, no, no… ’cause Plainfield is a little town that’s full of musicians. Everybody played a instrument, guitar basically. You also had a few drummers and a few keyboard players – Bernie [Worrell] was one of them. By George doing my father’s and my uncle’s hair, I was always there.
New Funk Times: How did you get into playing guitar?
Garry Shider: My father played guitar, my father’s mother played guitar, my mother’s father’s mother played guitar, and all my brothers play guitar, too – it was in my genes, man!
New Funk Times: Would you consider yourself more of a solo or more of a rhythm player?
Garry Shider: Well, I try to play it all, whatever is called for!
New Funk Times: But you would agree that rhythm guitar is the base of it all.
Garry Shider: Yeah, ’cause if you learn lead before you learn rhythm, you don’t know too many chords. Basically I learned how to play by playing chords ’cause I played gospel, and that’s a lot of chords. When I was playing gospel, it was just the guitar and a bass, and it might have been a bass singer, you know, somebody singing “boom, boom, boom, boom, boom” like a bass, and the guitar had to play all the chords, like a organ. So I know a lot of chords, jazz chords, gospel chords – I like to break ’em down a lot, too.
New Funk Times: In gospel music you can really learn your chops for funk.
Garry Shider: Oh yeah! If you wanna get funky, that’s where the real funk is. That’s way back up in the woods; way, way back!
New Funk Times: Was there a certain way how you got your ear for vocal arrangements?
Garry Shider: Well, I also sang gospel, too. So it was brought up in us, my whole family sang. We had a gospel group when we were kids, we sang in a choir. Our groups were called “The Gospel Tones” and “The Shiderettes”. Music was something I was born with.
New Funk Times: But there is a difference between “just” singing and arranging for a whole group.
Garry Shider: I like a lot of chords and harmonies and stuff. So, when I record something or sing something, I basically hear the whole thing in my head. My mind be speeding so fast once I hear it – it’s like a picture, it’s automatically painted. So I get off on just making chords, making voices do chords like a keyboard or a horn would play. If I had 24 tracks, I try to fill up all of ’em with voices; just to see what kind of chord I could make. I mean, I’ve gotten as far 22, and then I said, well, that’s enough of that, ’cause it’d blow your mind!
New Funk Times: I think the voice is still the most beautiful instrument, anyway…
Garry Shider: It is – they was singing a capella before they had instruments! You’re hip to [a capella gospel group] Take 6, right ? Oh man, aren’t they beautiful? See, that’s the kind of harmonies I like to do, stuff like that.
New Funk Times: Take 6 have more changes in one minute than most doo-wop groups have in one whole album.
Garry Shider: Because they be doing the whole instrument, it’s basically like glee club. I tell you who else was good at that: Remember Vanilla Fudge? They had that kind of gospelly harmony. Like “People Get Ready” and all that stuff, they took it and just put harmonies to it. That’s what made that stuff such a classic with that loud rock music.
New Funk Times: When you co-produce songs with George nowadays, how do you normally work?
Garry Shider: Well, what we do is… George let the fellas go in there and come up with the track, and then he goes in and he’d lay the skeleton down for me, the idea of where the song should go. And then all I do is just come in and maybe arrange the backgrounds or intervene with an idea. We kinda like kick back off of each other, it’s like a tag-team. He get it started, he set the skeleton and then I come in and put the flavor in, whatever is needed. While I am doing that, he is taking a break.
New Funk Times: Do you always record more parts for a song than you’ll use in the final mix?
Garry Shider: Not all the time, but that can happen. That decision – what to take in and out – is usually left up to George, because it can feel good to you in the studio but it just may not be clean enough for the radio. You lose a lot of your good stuff like that, too, so I don’t wanna be the one to make that decision! Sometimes you might have to remove the prettiest stuff or the meanest licks ’cause it’s in the way of something – but you have to let records breathe, just like a human.
New Funk Times: To illustrate how you write – how did you come up with “Beautiful” [on the MCA album GEORGE CLINTON PRESENTS OUR GANG FUNKY]?Garry Shider: Well, we were up at George’s farm, my wife and I and George and the kids – 179 acres of farm, you don’t have nothing else to do but write! Bootsy and Mico Wave had cut the track, and when my wife and I was messing around in the room one day we found a cassette of it. So my wife started writing words to it and I just started singing, making the melody; George was out there playing pinball or something.
Linda Shider: The words just came from the vibe we were on that night. We had been up all night, George and I had been talking… I got to as far as the change and was kind of stuck, and he came up with one line that kinda finished the song for me. After that, I got done in a couple of hours.
New Funk Times: Did Bootsy and Mico Wave have any concept in mind when they did the track?
Linda Shider: I think they were just cutting ad-libbing, basically just jamming and it came out to be such a great track which was supposed to go on Mico Wave’s album, but he passed on it. I said, hey, that’s too good to pass up, let’s use it for Garry! And George said: “Okay, if you find something, give it to me!”
New Funk Times: What about “He Dance Funny”?
Garry Shider: This was supposed to be in a TV show about Reagan’s bloopers. George, Bootsy and myself were out in L.A., and they needed another track for it. Bootsy had a whole suitcase full of tapes. He gave us the track, and George came up with some lyrics. I took it back in my room, and then I came out: “Is this what you’re talkin’ about – ‘He Dance Funny’!” It’s about all the mistakes Reagan made, tripping and stuff…
Linda Shider: George often works like this. Somebody might say something in the studio, just a one-liner, a wise-crack, and George would say: “Write that down!”, or he stores it in his memory bank. The next day he’ll have a song.
Garry Shider: That’s what I was saying about singing – you paint a picture. Everything we do, you basically see the whole picture painted, so you know what the next man is supposed to play. And we’re lucky that each member knows what they’re supposed to play – automatically, without really telling ’em.
Linda Shider: One person will come up with a line, it might be a bass line, and everybody will add on to it. We don’t structure, everything’s off the top of your head. Whatever somebody starts off, whatever goes on the tape first – everybody has played together and knows each other so well that they know where he’s coming from, and they’ll add something onto it. Then somebody else will come in and say: “Well, I hear something…”, put their line on, and it just builds like that – as opposed to rehearsing it and then going in and playing it, like a robot. George has always been very experimental, he’ll try anything! He never played it safe, on any level, even as far as costumes – or not costumes, going out butt-naked on stage in front of 70,000 people. Not many people have that kind of nerve!
New Funk Times: In the ’80s, acts’ identities that can be marketed are more important to record companies than ever. It seems to me that some of them shy away from signing P.Funk acts because they assume it is just going to be George and the same guys with a different name tag. Is that a problem for the development of the Parliafunkadelicment Thang?
Garry Shider: Yeah, in a way, ’cause there’s so many of us. Like, when we did Parliament and Funkadelic and Bootsy, it was actually one thing. But there were so many people that you could split them up into different groups. And then, when we went out on tour and they would see us all up there together – we had five, six guitars playing at one time, not including the bass! -, they said: “Wait a minute, that’s just one whole group, selling different names!” But it wasn’t – we had enough people in the group that each member would have a section to be another group. So now we’re finally starting to get them to understand that. At first, that was hard as heck, they didn’t even believe George on solo. They didn’t wanna hear that, because they saw all of us with him!
But now we kinda like have to break it up and split it up in different groups. The record companies have to be able to see, “okay, who’s gonna be the group?” This way they feel comfortable, they don’t think we’re just ripping ’em off, one group taking all the money.
New Funk Times: When you come up with a track, how often do you know beforehand which act it is going to be for?
Garry Shider: Actually, we don’t. Everybody just gets a shot at it, and whoever needs a record at the time, we try to be ready.
New Funk Times: One of those traditional questions: During the slow times of your career, did you ever think about stopping to make music?
Garry Shider: Never, never, no! Like you said, it just gets slow. And when it gets slow, you just go work a little more. People think groups fade out – but, no, they’re probably in there working getting something together for another group. – Put up my guitar and my voice? No, I can’t do that! We’re not gonna ever quit, man, I wanna be old and in my grave, still funking!
New Funk Times: The most difficult question in the end: How would YOU describe funk?
Garry Shider: Funk? Well… ham hocks in your corn flakes, okay?! Strictly out of the street, man… – Funk is a feeling. Today’s music’s done become mechanical, there’s no feel in it. It’s all computer. I mean, computer is cool, I’m not saying nothing about it ’cause I love it. Take Thomas Dolby for instance – see how he make it feel? You add some of the real stuff, and then you have feel to it. Funk is a feeling, and we always feel funky. We always try to say: “That’s what they’re doing over there? Let’s try something else. Or, that’s what you like? Let’s try this, then!” This way it never gets boring.
Interview: Peter Jebsen (©2010)
Previous P.Funk-related posts
With my Palm Prē, I seem to be in good company (as in „GC“) … ;-)
The Funky Farmer: George Clinton Home Story (1986) (englische Übersetzung)
Funky Farmer George Clinton (original German version)
Meine 15 Lieblingsalben (1/3 – 1973-1977) (u. a. Parliaments „The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein“)
Meine 15 Lieblingsalben (2/3 – 1978-1982) (u. a. Funkadelics „One Nation Under a Groove“ und George Clintons „Computer Games“)
15 CDs With Some Effect on My Life (Videos zu den o. g. Lieblingsalben)
Video of the Day: „Paint the White House Black“