Out of the shadows 

Bernie Worrell, the key(s) to P-Funk, does it to you in the ear

You know that old maxim, “Behind every great man is a great woman?” Well, it’s not too far a stretch to say that behind every great band is Bernie Worrell. Though he’s best known for his funky ivory-tickling tactics with Funkadelic/Parliament, Worrell has a discography that would awe the most aloof studio musician. And talk about versatility! He gave the Talking Heads a friendly push in the Afro-world beat direction; he’s funked it up not only with P-Funk, but with the O’Jays as well; he’s played behind spoken-word guru Gil Scott Heron, dub reggae kingpins Sly & Robbie, indie sweethearts like Matthew Sweet and Throwing Muses, not to mention Cibo Matto, Tom Jones, Afrika Bambaataa…hell, he’s even laid down some tamer strokes for the likes of Color Me Badd. The point is, when the music industry is looking for keys, they look to Bernie Worrell faster than you can say “psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop.”

The P-Funk work is what earned Worrell his trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997, however, even though his name is not as well-known in living rooms across America as that of George Clinton or Bootsy Collins. But notoriety or not, Worrell was just as much a driving force behind much of the music of P-Funk. To fact check, just bust out one of the early Funkadelic albums. I recommend Free Your Mind…And Your Ass Will Follow because the keys are turned way up in the mix on that one (One can practically imagine George Clinton in the studio, caped and stoned out of his mind, saying, “I think we need more of Bernie,” as the engineers offer funny looks).

But that was then. Nowadays, Worrell’s keyboard samples are used by rappers from East coast to West. And as per his overshadowing by Clinton and Collins, you’d be hard-pressed to find a teenager bopping along to Snoop Dogg who realizes that keyboard loop in the background was Worrell’s creation. Does Worrell think that it’s his time for a little piece of the spotlight?

If actions speak louder than words, the answer is “yes,” since after 30 years and literally hundreds of albums, Worrell has forsaken his longtime role as “the man behind the curtain” in order to form his own band, the Woo Warriors. What should you expect? First and foremost: Yes, they will play some P-Funk songs. However, the Woo Warriors will branch out into original jazz, rock and classical compositions as well. Even some Talking Heads songs (Worrell penned that infinitely catchy synth breakdown in “Burning Down the House,” incidentally). Also, you know that a musician with Worrell’s resume isn’t going to hire some house band from Butte. All signs point to the other Warriors of Woo being able to hold their own with one of the great granddaddies of funk. As his former bandmates would say, “Can you get to that?”

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