P-Funk Keyboardist Bernie Worrell Dies at 72
Keyboardist Bernie Worrell -- who's played with P-Funk, Talking Heads, Keith Richards and others during his long career -- has died. He was 72.
The news was confirmed on his Facebook page.
Worrell was born and raised in New Jersey, and later studied piano at Juilliard and the New England Conservatory of Music. He played in a few bands in his late teens and early twenties -- including the R&B group that went on to become "It Only Takes a Miracle" hitmakers Tavares and featured drummer Joey Kramer, pre-Aerosmith -- before hooking up with George Clinton and the Parliament-Funkadelic brigade.
Once the collective -- which recorded as both the soul-leaning Parliament and the rock-focused Funkadelic -- relocated to Detroit, Worrell took a major role in the group, writing songs, playing keys (including the springy riffs that were at the center of many of the bands' greatest tracks) and arranging horns. He was only the second musician to be given a Moog synthesizer by the instrument's picky creator.
Like many of his fellow P-Funk bandmates, Worrell appeared on many of the collective's side projects, including records by Bootsy's Rubber Band, the Brides of Funkenstein and the Horny Horns, as well as recording a solo album, All the Woo in the World, in 1978 with P-Funk backing him.
When Clinton temporarily put the group on hold and took a break from touring in the first part of the '80s, Worrell joined Talking Heads for their Speaking in Tongues album, sticking with the group on record and tour pretty much through its breakup at the end of the decade. He was onstage with them when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.
Over the years, Worrell played with a number of artists spanning most genres. He's appeared on records by various Talking Heads and B-52's members, Ginger Baker and rapper Mos Def. Worrell's second solo album, 1990's Funk of Ages, included contributions from Heads frontman David Byrne, Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid and Keith Richards, among others, a testament to his standing among other musicians.
During the past quarter century, Worrell has released a dozen solo albums, toured with his own band, played in supergroups with members as diverse as producer Prince Paul and guitarist Buckethead. Earlier this year, he was diagnosed with lung cancer, and his wife recently noted that he was "headed home."
Worrell's music crossed genres and often reads like a road map of the past 40 years: pop, rock, jazz, hip-hop, New Wave and, of course, R&B are all marked along the way. His playing on classic cuts like Parliament's 1977 hit "Flash Light" are among the most influential of the era. Nobody ever sounded like him before, and everyone who does now has Worrell to thank.
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