Bernie Worrell, Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Parliament-Funkadelic Keyboardist, Dead At 72
June 24, 2016 at 2:14 PM (PT)
BERNIE WORRELL, the keyboardist who was the founding member and musical director of GEORGE CLINTON's PARLIAMENT/FUNKADELIC, passed away at the age of 72, following a battle with lung cancer, in his adopted home of BELLINGHAM, WA.
WORRELL radically changed the course of emerging keyboard technology, boasting perfect pitch and a well-honed facility with the classical canon.
Born APRIL 19th, 1944, in LONG BRANCH, NJ, GEORGE BERNARD "BERNIE' WORRELL JR. was a child prodigy who began studying piano at the age of three and gave his first public performance just a year later, then wrote his first concerto at age eight and performed with the WASHINGTON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA at 10. His classical studies would continue throughout his adolescence, including private lessons at the JULLIARD SCHOOL OF MUSIC before he entered the NEW ENGLAND CONSERVATORY OF MUSIC.
After joining PARLIAMENT/FUNKADELIC, WORRELL proceeded to provide the freewheeling collective with a structural foundation, exploring and expanding his own musical ideas in every conceivable direction in a way both revolutionary and evolutionary. From fanciful forays on clavinet which leaped without warning from guttural gulps to squiggly squeals to liquid Minimoog bass lines which herded listeners to the dance floor, it all represented new musical language. All the while, his rapid advancements of the synthesizer's potential were actually traceable to his classical foundation.
Said WORRELL: "When the synthesizers came about, my having been brought up classically and knowing a full range of orchestra, tympanis and everything, I knew how it sounded and what it felt like. So, if I'm playing a horn arrangement on keyboard, or strings, it sounds like strings or horns, 'cause I know how to phrase it, how a string phrases, different attacks from the aperture for horns, trumpets, sax or trombones."
The hits were many: "Flashlight," "Atomic Dog," "Aqua Boogie," "Cosmic Slop" and "Red Hot Mama" are only a few of the Parliament/Funkadelic classics which WORRELL co-wrote, played and co-produced on dozens of albums.
After departing the group, WORRELL resurfaced with the revamped TALKING HEADS lineup for several albums, including "The Name Of This Band Is TALKING HEADS," "Speaking In Tongues" and JONATHAN DEMME's groundbreaking concert film, "Stop Making Sense." WORRELL's ominous colorings, this time delivered via new digital keyboards such as the PROPHET 5, were central to the recasting of DAVID BYRNE's musical ideas through AFRICAN rhythms.
In the years since he left TALKING HEADS, WORRELL was a prolific studio musician, serving as a primary change-agent in the many experimental works of producer BILL LASWELL while contributing to projects by the likes of KEITH RICHARDS, THE PRETENDERS, JACK BRUCE, DEEE-LITE and BOOTSY'S NEW RUBBER BAND. At the same time, he was among the most sampled musicians ever, with DIGITAL UNDERGROUND, DE LA SOUL, DR. DRE, SNOOP DOGG, ICE CUBE, DMX and others building their tunes around his signature riffs.
WORRELL also released a series of critically acclaimed solo efforts, including "Funk Of Ages," "Blacktronic Science," "Pieces Of WOO/The Other Side" and "Free Agent: A Spaced Odyssey." He also played on the jam band circuit with groups ranging from WARREN HAYNES' GOV'T MULE to LASWELL's MATERIAL, METHOD OF DEFIANCE and PRAXIS conglomerations.
In 1997, WORRELL was inducted into the ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME along with PARLIAMENT/FUNKADELIC.
In 1993, when DAVID LETTERMAN moved his program to CBS, WORRELL helped launch the CBS ORCHESTRA WITH PAUL SHAFFER. He co-wrote the score for the cult classic, "Car 54, Where Are You?" and other films, including the ICE CUBE vehicle, "Friday." In 2003, his music was featured in the NBC television mini-series, "Kingpin."
He is survived by his wife JUDIE.