Master funk keyboardist Bernie Worrell (Parliament/Funkadelic, Talking Heads, The Bernie Worrell Orchestra) died yesterday at the age of 72.
Dr. George Bernard “Bernie” Worrell, Jr. (April 19, 1944 – June 24, 2016) was a classically-trained child prodigy – performing with the Washington Symphony Orchestra at ten and studying at the Julliard School of Music and the New England Conservatory of Music.
But he was best known for his work as a founding member and Musical Director of Parliament/Funkadelic. In P-Funk, he created a new musical language for the Minimoog synthesizer and helped define funk keyboard performance.
Worrell is also for his role in Talking Heads, playing on The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads, Speaking In Tongues and in their concert film, Stop Making Sense.
In more recent years, Worrell has been prolific both as a studio musician and a solo artist.
Worrell was inspired to take up the synthesizer by the work of Keith Emerson:
“When I was in college, at the New England Conservatory in Boston, I used to listen to Emerson, Lake & Palmer. I loved the Tarkus album.
Keith was the first guy I heard using the Moog. I liked the sound of that album and the things he was doing with the instrument,” Worrell told Music Radar. “I found out that it was a Moog synthesizer, and later on I purchased my own Minimoog.”
Worrell had this to say about his approach to synthesizers:
“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.”
Here’s Worrell in a duo performance with Steve Jordan:
Here’s a Worrell solo jam from the 2004 Montreux Jazz Festival: