Bernie Worrell, masterful P-Funk keyboardist, dead at 72

Bernie Worrell, the ingenious "Wizard of Woo" whose amazing array of keyboard sounds and textures helped define the Parliament-Funkadelic musical empire and influenced performers of funk, rock, hip-hop and other genres, has died.

He announced in early 2016 that he had stage-four lung cancer.

He died Friday at age 72 at his home in Everson, Washington, according to his wife, Judie Worrell.

Bernie at the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame (Kathy Willens/AP/Press Association Images)
Bernie at the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame (Kathy Willens/AP/Press Association Images)

Throughout the 1970s and into the 80s, George Clinton's dual projects of Parliament and Funkadelic and their various spinoffs built upon the sounds of James Brown and Sly and the Family Stone among others and turned out some of the most complex, spaced out, political, cartoonish and, of course, danceable music of the era, elevating the funk groove to a world view.

With a core group featuring Bernie, guitarist Eddie Hazel and bassist Bootsy Collins, P-Funk maintained an exhausting and dazzling pace of recordings, from the hit singles "Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)" and "Flash Light" to such albums as "One Nation Under a Groove" and "Funkentelechy Vs. the Placebo Syndrome."

Their studio music was just a starting point for the live shows, costumed spectaculars of wide-brimmed hats, war paint, dashikis, military gear or perhaps a white sheet with only a fig leaf underneath.

He was among the first musicians to use a Moog synthesizer, and his mastery brought comparisons to Jimi Hendrix's innovations on guitar.

Bernie and Meryl in 2015 (Clint Spaulding/AP/Press Association Images)
Bernie and Meryl in 2015 (Clint Spaulding/AP/Press Association Images)

He played with Talking Heads for much of the 1980s and was featured in their acclaimed concert documentary "Stop Making Sense."

Bernie also contributed to albums by Keith Richards, Yoko Ono, Nona Hendryx, Manu Dibango and the Pretenders. In 2015, he was a member of Meryl Streep's backing group in the movie "Ricki and the Flash."

"Kindness comes off that man like stardust," Meryl said during a 2016 benefit concert for him at Manhattan's Webster Hall.

He also toured frequently on his own and released such solo records as Funk of Ages, and Blacktronic Science and most recently Retrospectives. His other credits ranged from co-writing the soundtrack for the 1994 film Car 54, Where are You?, based on the old TV sitcom, to his brief membership in Paul Shaffer's band on Late Show with David Letterman.

In 1997, Worrell, Clinton and more than a dozen other P-Funk members were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

A host of people have paid tribute to Bernie on social media:

Read Full Story