You may remember this grammy-winning jam from Dr. Dre, on his classic album The Chronic. What many who grew up on his “G-funk” brand of hip-hop, with its gangsta imagery and swag, don’t know is the basis of the track’s hook in P-Funk’s monumental mixture of funk, blues, Afrofuturistic mythology, and Gospel in the song, “Mothership Connection (Star Child)”. Of course, Gospel music’s element is in its live performance with audience participation, and things were no different for this song. While the recorded version (on an album of the same name) gives a taste of its Gospel influence, the communal cry for Funk-salvation was only really apparent at a P-Funk show, where the song would, in fact, end with the landing of the Mothership.
And the leader of this in-concert call for the Mothership to “swing down” and let all the Funkateers ride was Glenn Goins. While other members of the funkmob such as George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell, and Eddie Hazel earned greater recognition through their contributions to P-Funk’s long term legacy, Glenn made the moment that is arguably its apex. His unique, strong, soulful voice was certainly the nicest to listen to of all the P-Funk crew and was at its best live rather than recorded. I won’t do anyone a disservice trying to praise his performance by describing it in detail. Just watch it here (and note that, with minimal effort, you can and should find other renditions of his performances–unique every time). I’ll just note that one of my favorite things about it are the subtle and clever ways he distinguishes P-Funk’s messianic figure and promise from the traditional one, e.g., “After the Mothership lands, there will be no second coming!”.
Calling in the Mothership was by no means Glenn’s only contribution to the P-Funk legacy. One of his finest P-Funk vocal recordings was the lead on “Bop Gun (Endangered Species)”. He contributed vocals on three of Parliament’s most famous albums as well as guitar work on Funkadelic records of the time. Due to dissatisfaction with George Clinton’s leadership, he ventured out on his own to record the funk album Quazar, which showed considerable promise.
Unfortunately, we’ll never know how that promise could have continued to shape the P-Funk legacy, for Glenn Goins died of lymphoma in 1978, soon after the release of his solo album, at the age of 24. Had he lived, he would have turned 60 today. And perhaps he would still be calling in the Mothership with the P-Funk Allstars on their endless touring. Whereas being present at one of his performances in his prime would be ideal, I’m grateful for the technology that can give a taste to those of us that missed out, and reinforce the memories of the fortunate who were there.
Happy birthday, Glenn Goins. May your ride on the Mothership be forever funky.