Visionary keyboardist Bernie Worrell dies at 72

by JAY LUSTIG
BERNIE WORRELL

BERNIE WORRELL

The world’s funkiest keyboard player has died.

Jersey-bredĀ instrumentalĀ wizard Bernie Worrell, a vital partĀ of George Clinton’s groundbreaking groups Parliament and Funkadelic and such an adventurous musical spirit that former bandmate Bootsy Collins once described him as “Jimi Hendrix on the keyboards,” has died at the age of 72, of lung cancer.

Worrell wasn’t just a giant of funk, but commanded infinite respect in the prog-rock and jam-band worlds as well.

My music philosophy is to take an interest in and try to listen to every genre of music I come into contact with,” he once said. “People tell me when they listen to me play, they smile or laugh because of the humor I try to put into the music.”

According to a message posted on Worrell’s Facebook page this afternoon:

AT 11:54, June 24, 2016, Bernie transitioned Home to The Great Spirit. Rest in peace, my love — you definitely made the world a better place. Till we meet again, vaya con Dios.

Worrell ā€” who was born in Long Branch, grew up in Plainfield and later lived in Lebanon Township ā€” not only contributed his visionary synthesizer parts to ParliamentĀ and Funkadelic, but was a key collaborator of Talking Heads in the ā€™80s (he played on their Speaking in Tongues album and appears in their classic concert movie, ā€œStop Making Sense”). AfterĀ splitting with Clinton, he engaged in a nonstop series of dependably wild solo and collaborative projects, including his own Woo Warriors and Bernie Worrell OrchestraĀ groups,Ā andĀ Colonel Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie BrainsĀ (along with bassist Les Claypool, guitarist Buckethead and others). He played a musician in the 2015 movie “Ricki and the Flash,” starring Meryl Streep.

Tris McCall wrote, in The Star-Ledger’s Inside Jersey magazine in 2013:

It is arguable that no synthesizer player has made a bigger impact on the sound and feel of popular music than Bernie Worrell.

As one of the artistic cornerstones of P-Funk (and, for many years, an unofficial member of Talking Heads), Worrell constantly pushed the expressive limits of electronic instruments. His thick, squelching bass sounds, high, whining leads and hypnotic textures have been imitated by electronica DJs, hip-hop producers and sonic explorers in jam bands.

This extended trailer for the documentary “Stranger (Bernie Worrell on Earth)” gives a good sense of who Worrell was, and what his music was all about:

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1 comment

Jim Testa June 26, 2016 - 10:45 am

Bernie Worrell played with the final iteration of Hoboken’s Bongos when they toured their “Beat Hotel” album in the mid-Eighties.

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