Good Bye To Funk Pioneer Bernie Worrell

AP - Bernie Worrell, (1944 - 2016) the Jersey native who revolutionized keyboard playing in popular music, died Friday, June 24, from the effects of lung cancer, his wife Judie Worrell announced on FacebookHe was 72.

Worrell’s music tapped into the heart and lifted the spirit. There was a universal melody, whimsy, soul and passion in his work, and to see him in concert was to experience it all.

Worrell had worked with the Talking Heads, Bill Laswell, Keith Richards, the Pretenders, Jack Bruce, Deee-Lite and many others, but is perhaps best known as the keyboard maestro of Parliament-Funkadelic, most prominently on tracks like “Flash Light,” “Mothership Connection (Star Child)” and “Aqua Boogie.”

“He was a phenom at 14-years old, he was a phenomenal kid, he could play the organ already — (akin to organ greats) Jimmy Smith and (Jack) McDuff — he could do that stuff when he was 15, 16-years old,” said Parliament-Funkadelic frontman George Clinton previously to the Asbury Park Press. “We took our funk and rock ‘n’ roll and put Bernie’s chops in it and we had something nobody knew what the hell we were doing.”
There wasn’t anything like the music of Parliement Funkdelic and there hasn’t been anything like it since. A multi-color melange that included rock, soul, gospel, classical, psychedelic and folk that will forever be known as the zenith of funk music.  It was at once farcical and fanciful, but it was also a pointed commentary of the turbulent nature of the times. You could take it either way, and that was part of its genius.
Worrell’s Mini Moog synthesizer made the band unique, to say the least.

“We were just funking around for fun, we were glad to be on the road playing and when we weren’t on the road, we were in the studio making all those albums that are out there now,” Worrell said previously to the Asbury Park Press. “We were just creating, and thank God for that. At least for myself, we weren’t thinking about making hits, we didn’t go into the studio to make a hit. Who knows what’s going to be a hit in the first place? So it’s just happened we were blessed.”

Worrell was born in Long Branch and he gave his first public performance at the city’s Star of the Sea Academy as a 4-year-old. He was given the key to the city by Long Branch Mayor  Adam Schneider during a 2012 performance at the Brighton Bar.

After the Worrells moved to Plainfield, Bernie’s talent was soon apparent to Clinton.
“Bernie was from Plainfield, like the rest of us, and in his youth we heard about him constantly, from almost everyone: how he was a local Mozart who wrote his first symphony before he was in junior high school, how he could do anything from Ray Charles to classical music,” wrote Clinton in his autobiography, “Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You?: A Memoir.” “With Bernie we could paint more colors, mix together soul and rock and even a little bit of gospel.”

Post P-Funk, the Worrells lived in Hampton, where they created the annual Local and Legend Music Festival to benefit young musicians from the area with music scholarships.
“We’re providing a way for (area musicians) to play original stuff,” said Bernie Worrell to the Asbury Park Press. “It’s an extension of themselves. Play it and let the people hear them.”
A benefit for the ailing Worrell April in New York City drew a wide array of stars, from actress Meryl Streep to Clinton and Bootsy Collins.

All the stars who appeared stage expressed strong affection for the keyboardist.
“Bernie made stardust and he sprinkled us all with it,” said actress Meryl Streep on Monday. Streep appeared with Worrell in the movie “Ricki and the Flash.”

“Bernie changed my life,” said David Byrne. “The way I think about music and the way I think about life.”

“He doesn’t have to shine by himself, he wants others to shine,” said Bootsy Collins. “That’s a great gift to have.”

The performers included Jerry Harrison of the Talking Heads; Sarah Dash of LaBelle; Fred Schneider of the B-52s; Living Colour; the Black Rock Coalition Orchestra; Marc Ribler; Rick Springfield; and Leo Nocentelli of the Funky Meters, who was joined by Questlove of the Roots and Jon Batiste of the “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” house band.
Film director Jonathan Demme brought out a clips of the Talking Heads concert film “Stop Making Sense.” He jokingly said that Byrne and Harrison wanted less Worrell in the film because he was too cool.

Worrell also performed at the show. He joined Nocentelli and guitarist Buckethead for an instrumental, and later came out on stage to join Collins and George Clinton. Collins gave Worrell a melodica wrapped up as a gift, and Worrell broke it out and started sweetly playing the Collins song, “I’d Rather Be with You.”

A long jam on the Parliament Funkadelic classic “Flash Light” followed.
“It’s about us,” said Worrell, as he motioned toward the audience. “I’m just a channel who was given a gift, just like all of us.”