Remembering Bernie Worrell (1944-2016)
So many influential musicians have died this year. It seems like every other week there’s sad news of another cherished artist’s passing. One such death that affected me especially was that of Bernie Worrell, who passed away on June 24. One reason why Worrell’s death impacted me was simply because he’d been a core member of Parliament/Funkadelic, the two-headed funk/soul/acid rock collective whose sounds are about as close to my musical heart as anything I’ve come across in my lifelong quest for grooves to enjoy. Moreover, I once spoke with Worrell. I interviewed him over the phone for Shindig! magazine in 2008, for a short article I wrote on Funkadelic around the time Ace Records released the band’s collection Toys.
As any journalist who’s interviewed a number of performing artists could tell you, live conversations with the people can create a grab bag of experiences. Sometimes the artists are forthright and easygoing, other times they’re edgy, and at the most difficult of times they’re standoffish or combative. Sometimes the chats flow seamlessly and you would be happy for them to continue indefinitely; other times, five minutes in you’re ready to hang up the phone/walk away from the table/shut down Skype.
My experience in interviewing Bernie Worrell was fully positive, one of the more enjoyable and easy chats I’ve ever had with an artist. The classically-trained keyboardist – who was one on the most important members of the afore-mentioned P-Funk groups, in addition to playing with the likes of Talking Heads, Golden Palominos, Fela Kuti, Ginger Baker, Mos Def, Fred Schneider, etc. etc. as well as recording a slew of solo albums – was humble, funny, gregarious, thoughtful . . . He answered all of my questions directly, and he did so in a way where he didn’t just state the basic facts, but elaborated by sharing stories that illustrated the points he made. He made me laugh, he educated me, he made me feel like I could now see a little inside music that has been such a constant in my life.
When he worked as a sideman, Worrell was one of those players who are content to let the bigger personalities in the band command more of the attention. Yet his funky/atmospheric playing was always a key to the sound that came out of the various groups. He was a funk soul brother who was also a gentle and sweet guy. When I spoke with him, he sounded the way he always looked when he was playing his keyboards up on a stage: joyful So I’ll sign off here with a link to Funkadelic’s “A Joyful Process,” a standout song of theirs that was co-written by Worrell and that includes some of his dynamic playing:
By Brian Greene/2016
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