Bernie Worrell

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Bernie Worrell
Worrell performing in Vienna in 2009
Worrell performing in Vienna in 2009
Background information
Birth nameGeorge Bernard Worrell, Jr.
Also known asThe Wizard of Woo
Born(1944-04-19)April 19, 1944
Long Branch, New Jersey, U.S.
DiedJune 24, 2016(2016-06-24) (aged 72)
Everson, Washington, U.S.
  • Musician
  • record producer
  • Keyboards
  • piano
  • organ
  • synthesizer
Years activec. 1970–2016

George Bernard Worrell, Jr. (April 19, 1944 – June 24, 2016)[1] was an American keyboardist and record producer best known as a founding member of the Parliament-Funkadelic collective. In later years, he also worked with acts such as Talking Heads, Bill Laswell, and Jack Bruce. He is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, inducted in 1997 with fifteen other members of Parliament-Funkadelic. Worrell was described by journalist Jon Pareles as "the kind of sideman who is as influential as some bandleaders," with his use of synthesizers particularly impactful on funk and hip hop.[2]


Early life[edit]

Worrell was born in Long Branch, New Jersey, and grew up in Plainfield, New Jersey, where his family moved when he was eight.[1] A musical prodigy, he began formal piano lessons by age three and wrote a concerto at age eight. He went on to study at the Juilliard School and received a degree from the New England Conservatory of Music in 1967. As a college student, Worrell played with a group called Chubby & The Turnpikes; this ensemble eventually evolved into Tavares.[2]


After meeting George Clinton, leader of a Plainfield-based doo wop group called The Parliaments, Worrell moved with Clinton, The Parliaments and their backing band, The Funkadelics, to Detroit, Michigan; thereafter, both groups became collectively known as Parliament-Funkadelic. During the 1970s the same group of musicians separately recorded under the names Parliament and Funkadelic, (among several others), but toured as P-Funk. Worrell played grand piano, Wurlitzer electric piano, Hohner Clavinet, Hammond B3 organ, ARP String Ensemble and Moog synthesizer, co-wrote, and wrote horn and rhythm arrangements on hit recordings for both groups and other associated bands under the "Parliafunkadelicment Thang" production company, and many of his most notable performances were recorded with Bootsy's Rubber Band, Parlet, The Brides of Funkenstein and The Horny Horns. Worrell recorded a 1978 solo album, All the Woo in the World, with the musical backing of P-Funk's members.

While funk musicians traditionally utilized electric keyboards, such as the Hammond organ and Fender Rhodes electric piano, Worrell was the second recipient of the Moog synthesizer created by Bob Moog.[3] Mainly responsible for creating Parliament's futuristic sound, Worrell's use of the Minimoog bass on the Parliament song "Flash Light", on 1977's Funkentelechy Vs. the Placebo Syndrome, heavily influenced the sound of R&B music and served as a bridge between American R&B and the insurgence of new wave, new age and techno. He used the ARP Pro Soloist as well.[4] Worrell played synthesizer and digital keyboard [5] on P funk songs throughout the 1970s, most notably "Mothership Connection (Star Child)" and "Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)" from Mothership Connection (1975) and "Aqua Boogie" from Motor Booty Affair (1978).


When Parliament-Funkadelic took a hiatus from touring in the early 1980s, Worrell was recruited, along with other musicians from differing musical genres such as guitarist Adrian Belew, to perform and record with Talking Heads. Worrell's experience and feel for different arrangements enhanced the overall sound of the band. Though he never officially joined Talking Heads, he was a de facto member of the group for most of the '80s: appearing on one of their studio albums, several solo albums, two tours and performing in their 1984 concert film Stop Making Sense. Talking Heads officially disbanded in 1991. Worrell was later invited to perform with Talking Heads as part of their 2002 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.[6]

In 1983, Worrell provided keyboard parts for Mtume's hit song "Juicy Fruit".[7]

Worrell co-produced Fred Schneider's 1984 solo album Fred Schneider and the Shake Society and played keyboards and synthesizers on some of the album's tracks.

Worrell backstage in Cologne, Germany 1998

In 1987 he appeared on the critically acclaimed solo release Casual Gods by Jerry Harrison of Talking Heads. The LP contained the US Album Rock Tracks chart hit "Rev It Up", which reached number seven and appeared in the movie Something Wild. He worked with Jerry Harrison on his other releases also.


From the late 1980s through the 2010s, Worrell recorded extensively with Bill Laswell, including Sly and Robbie's Laswell-produced Rhythm Killers and the 1985 Fela Kuti album Army Arrangement. Worrell performed with Gov't Mule. Through the beginning of the 21st century, he became a visible member of the jam band scene, performing in many large summer music festivals, sometimes billed as Bernie Worrell and the Woo Warriors. He appeared on several Jack Bruce albums, including A Question of Time, Cities of the Heart, Monkjack and More Jack than God.

Worrell was a founding member of the CBS Orchestra when the Late Show with David Letterman launched in August 1993, playing lead synthesizer. Worrell departed in November when the orchestra added a horn section.

In 1994, Worrell appeared on the Red Hot Organization's compilation album, Stolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool. The album, meant to raise awareness and funds in support of the AIDS epidemic in the African-American community,[8] was heralded as "Album of the Year" by Time magazine.[9]

Worrell joined the rock group Black Jack Johnson, with Mos Def, Will Calhoun, Doug Wimbish and Dr. Know. He appears with the band on Mos Def's 2004 release The New Danger.

Worrell joined forces with bass legend Les Claypool, guitarist Buckethead and drummer Bryan Mantia to form the group Colonel Claypool's Bucket of Bernie Brains.

In 2009, he joined longtime Parliament-Funkadelic guitarist DeWayne "Blackbyrd" McKnight, bassist Melvin Gibbs and drummer J.T. Lewis to form the band SociaLybrium. Their album For You/For Us/For All was released on Livewired Music in January 2010.

Worrell appeared in the 2004 documentary film Moog with synthesizer pioneer Bob Moog and several other Moog synthesizer musicians. In 2011, he toured with Bootsy Collins, another major figure from Parliament-Funkadelic.

From 2011 through 2015, Worrell performed with his group, the Bernie Worrell Orchestra. The band became known for the appearance of special guests at live performances, including Bootsy Collins, Tina Weymouth, Chris Frantz, Jimmy Destri, Mike Watt, Rah Digga and Gary Lucas.

In 2012 and 2013, Worrell played a series of concerts with guitarist Steve Kimock, bassist Andy Hess, and vocalist-percussionist Camille Armstrong. Kimock's son John Morgan Kimock played drums for the group in 2013.

Worrell worked on the Seattle-based Khu.éex' project fusing traditional Tlingit music with funk, jazz, and experimental music. The project includes Preston Singletary, Skerik, Stanton Moore, Captain Raab and Randall Dunn among others.

In 2015, Worrell appeared in the movie Ricki and the Flash as the keyboard player in Meryl Streep's band. The movie reunited Worrell with director Jonathan Demme, who had directed Stop Making Sense.

Worrell was a judge for the 12th, 13th, and 14th annual Independent Music Awards.

During May 2016, the New England Conservatory of Music gave Worrell, who studied at the school until 1967, an honorary Doctor of Music degree.[10]


In January 2016, Worrell was diagnosed with a "mild form" of prostate cancer, stage-four liver cancer and stage-four lung cancer.[11] He relocated from New Jersey, his long-time home,[12] to Bellingham, Washington.[13]

A tribute and benefit concert to raise funds for Worrell's cancer treatment, produced by the Black Rock Coalition and featuring musicians with whom Worrell has worked over his career, occurred on April 4 and 5, 2016.[13][14]

On May 9, Worrell's wife Judie posted an update on his condition on his Facebook page:

As of Friday, Bernie can barely speak. Tumor has grown and Recurrent laryngeal nerve is pressing on vocal cord, paralyzing it. Treatment starts Tuesday to (hopefully) shrink tumor before it gets to other vocal cord and/or shuts down breathing. VERY difficult time for him.
I am updating y'all because many asked BUT do not consider this an invitation to bombard us with treatment ideas. Bernie is deciding what treatment he wants. I will delete any more messages that do not respect his decision(s).[15]

Judie Worrell issued a statement on Facebook on June 16 to friends and family that "I was just told that Bernie is now headed 'Home'."[16] She encouraged people close to Worrell to "visit him to say your goodbyes" and added that he is too ill to speak on the phone or text.[16]

Bernie Worrell died at his home in Everson, Washington, on June 24, 2016, at the age of 72.[17][18] His wife issued a statement that "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."[3]

Following his death, guitarist Buckethead created a 21.5 minute long tribute song: 'Space Viking'. Buckethead published it on his 'Pike' series, as part of Pike 245. The song was captioned: "To Bernie Worrell, The Greatest Music Maker Of All".


Stranger: Bernie Worrell on Earth is a documentary film about Worrell's life, music and impact. At AllMovie, critic Mark Deming wrote that the film "profiles his life and career while also examining how even a genius has to find a way to make a living".[19]


Solo albums[edit]



Selected contributions to other albums[edit]


  • Independent Music Awards 2013: "Get Your Hands Off" - Best Funk/Fusion/Jam Song[20]


  1. ^ a b Sweeting, Adam (June 26, 2016). "Bernie Worrell obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved November 9, 2016.
  2. ^ a b Pareles, Jon (June 24, 2016). "Bernie Worrell, Whose Keyboards Left an Imprint on Funk and Hip-Hop, Dies at 72". The New York Times. Retrieved June 26, 2016.
  3. ^ a b Kaye, Ben (June 24, 2016). "R.I.P. Bernie Worrell, keyboardist for Parliament-Funkadelic and Talking Heads, has died at 72". Consequence of Sound. Retrieved June 26, 2016.
  4. ^ Bosso, Joe (June 11, 2013). "Bernie Worrell talks vintage synths, ELP, Parliament/ Funkadelic, Talking Heads and more". MusicRadar. Retrieved March 25, 2016.
  5. ^ "Bernie Worrell".
  6. ^ Greene, Andy (October 23, 2012). "Flashback: Talking Heads Reunite for One Night Only". Rolling Stone. Retrieved March 26, 2016.
  7. ^ Aaron, Charles; Reeves, Mosi (June 24, 2016). "Bernie Worrell: 10 Essential Tracks from the P-Funk Keyboardist". Rolling Stone. Retrieved July 2, 2016.
  8. ^ "Stolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool". Red Hot Organization. Retrieved March 25, 2016.
  9. ^ "The Best Music of 1994". Time. December 26, 1994. Retrieved March 25, 2016.
  10. ^ "NEC Announces 2016 Honorary Degree Recipients and Commencement Speaker". New England Conservatory of Music. May 2, 2016. Archived from the original on June 6, 2016. Retrieved May 30, 2016.
  11. ^ Goodman, Jessica (January 6, 2016). "Bernie Worrell diagnosed with late-stage cancer". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved March 25, 2016.
  12. ^ Jordan, Chris (June 21, 2012). "In New Jersey, legendary keyboardist Bernie Worrell is never far from home". Asbury Park Press. Worrell has brought that sense of fun to millions across the globe, most notably as a member of Parliament-Funkadelic. In the upcoming weeks, his focus will be on his home state of Jersey.
  13. ^ a b Hermes, Will (March 25, 2016). "Inside Bernie Worrell's All-Star NYC Benefit". Rolling Stone. Retrieved March 25, 2016.
  14. ^ "Black Rock Coalition Honors P-Funk's Bernie Worrell". Ebony. March 2, 2016. Retrieved March 25, 2016.
  15. ^ "Bernie Worrell's Team Provides Update on Keyboardist's Worsening Health". May 9, 2016. Retrieved June 18, 2016.
  16. ^ a b Paige, Nathan (June 17, 2016). "Legendary Parliament Keyboardist Bernie Worrell's Condition Worsening, According to Wife, Judie". The Plain Dealer. Retrieved June 18, 2016.
  17. ^ Kreps, Daniel (June 24, 2016). "Bernie Worrell, Parliament-Funkadelic Keyboardist, Dead at 72". Rolling Stone. Retrieved September 27, 2016.
  18. ^ The Associated Press (June 24, 2016). "Bernie Worrell, keyboardist for Parliament-Funkadelic, dies at 72". Daily News. Retrieved November 9, 2016.
  19. ^ Deming, Mark. "Stranger: Bernie Worrell on Earth". AllMovie. Retrieved March 25, 2016.
  20. ^ "The 12th Annual Independent Music Awards Winners Announced". Independent Music Awards. June 11, 2013. Retrieved March 25, 2016.

External links[edit]

Live Music Archive