Garry Shider's fluid guitar playing, soulful vocals and outrageous stage presence – he often wore a gigantic nappy while performing – made him one of the most celebrated funk musicians of the 1970s. Shider, who has died of cancer aged 56, rose to fame as a key member of George Clinton's Parliament-Funkadelic collective. Throughout the 1970s, these two acts largely drew on the same personnel, releasing dozens of albums that sold more than 10m copies and presented a surreal vision where funk (and everything it encompassed) was the centre of the universe. The Parliament-Funkadelic party, which counted some 100 members in its touring unit in the late 70s, had burned out by 1980, but the collective's music would prove hugely influential on upcoming US rappers and rock bands.
Shider was born in Plainfield, New Jersey, where his father was a preacher. From an early age, he and his brothers sang gospel and learned musical instruments in order to back visiting gospel stars. By the age of 10 he had performed alongside such stars as Shirley Caesar and the Mighty Clouds of Joy.
At this time, Clinton was working as a barber in Plainfield. Already a veteran of the doowop scene, he was intent on succeeding not only as a musician but also as a music mogul. Clinton noted Shider's precocious talent and when, aged 16, Garry and his best friend Cordell Mosson moved to Toronto and formed the group United Soul, Clinton kept tabs on the young people.
By 1970 Clinton had relocated to Detroit and begun recording as both Funkadelic and Parliament. Clinton beckoned United Soul to Detroit, got them a record contract and, by the time Shider had turned 18, brought him and Mosson into Parliament-Funkadelic. Shider's exquisite vocals were heard in 1972 on Funkadelic's scabrous America Eats Its Young album, and he sang the lead vocal on the title song of the Funkadelic album Cosmic Slop (1973).
Funkadelic existed as an underground group intent on fusing Jimi Hendrix's psychedelic guitar with James Brown's hard funk rhythms. The band's reputation rested on wild, improvised live performances that could last for hours. Clinton signed a contract with Neil Bogart's Casablanca Records and brought two of James Brown's former musicians, the brothers Bootsy Collins and Catfish Collins, into the collective.
Parliament began recording hugely inventive yet commercially accessible songs that took them on to black American radio. By the mid-1970s Parliament and Funkadelic were among the most popular live bands in America, not to mention the most inspired and excessive. (One stage set, in 1976, cost $275,000.) The epic concert spectacle featured Shider, as lead vocalist, flying above the stage in his huge nappy. Funk historian Rickey Vincent described them as looking like "ghetto circus clowns" and Shider became known by fans as "Diaperman" and "Starchild".
Alongside bassist Bootsy Collins and keyboardist Bernie Worrell, Shider collaborated closely with Clinton on writing and recording a huge amount of music that was released under a variety of aliases and through a number of labels. In 1978 the Funkadelic song One Nation Under a Groove, co-written and sung by Shider, topped the US soul charts for eight weeks. The single gave Funkadelic their only British hit, reaching No 9 in December 1978.
Parliament-Funkadelic imploded in 1980. Several members left but Shider stuck with Clinton. He co-wrote and played on Clinton's 1983 single Atomic Dog, which sold several million copies; its rhythmic hook has been sampled by many rappers and R&B acts. Sampling of the Parliament-Funkadelic catalogue provided Shider with a lucrative income stream. As musical director of the P-Funk Allstars – Clinton's slimmed down touring outfit – he toured the UK regularly. In 1997 Parliament-Funkadelic were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He made two solo albums earlier this decade, which he sold on the internet and at concerts.
Shider is survived by his wife of 32 years, Linda, and his sons, Garrett and Marshall.
• Garry Marshall Shider, musician, born 24 July 1953; died 16 June 2010