"The Fun-key is every key that makes you feel good."
Bernie Worrell: Peace & Harmony
George Bernard "Bernie" Worrell, Jr. is an American keyboardist and composer best known as a founding member of Parliament-Funkadelic and for his work with Talking Heads. He is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, inducted in 1997 with fifteen other members of Parliament-Funkadelic.
Worrell was born in Long Branch, New Jersey and grew up in Plainfield, New Jersey. He went on to study at Juilliard and the New England Conservatory of Music. As a college student around 1970, Worrell played with a group called Chubby & The Turnpikes (later to be known as Tavares). The drummer in that band was Joey Kramer, who left in October, 1970, to be a founding member of the rock band Aerosmith. He then met George Clinton, then the leader of a doo wop group called The Parliaments. Bernie already knew George -- George came to Plainfield where Bernie was growing up) and set up a barbershop. When George heard about this young "prodigy", he met him and told Bernie he'd be calling him when he could "afford him". Bernie grew up, went to college, and then Bernie got a call from Clinton while he was on tour with Maxine Brown. He sent his Manager/Wife to negotiate with Clinton and *then* he joined Parliament/Funkadelic. Soon, Worrell, Clinton, The Parliaments and their backing band (Funkadelic) moved to Detroit, Michigan, became known as Parliament/Funkadelic (P-Funk). During the 1970s the same group of musicians toured and recorded under both the Parliament and Funkadelic names as well as several others, collectively known as Parliament-Funkadelic. He also recorded a 1978 album with the group, All the Woo in the World, under his own name.
Since the late 1980s, Worrell has recorded extensively with Bill Laswell. He has also performed with Gov't Mule. Through the beginning of the 21st century, Bernie has become a visible member of the so-called Jam band scene, performing in many large summer festivals, sometimes billed as Bernie Worrell & The WOO Warriors. He has appeared on many Jack Bruce albums, including A Question of Time, Cities of the Heart (live), Monkjack, and More Jack Than God; as part of "Colonel Claypool's Bucket of Bernie Brains", Bill Laswell's "Method of Defiance" and his own groups: "The Bernie Worrell Orchestra"; "SociaLybrium", and "Worrell's Open Operatives".
Mr. Worrell, when was your first desire to become involved in the music & what was the first gig you ever went to & what were the first songs you learned?
One of the first songs I learned was: “What’d I Say” by Ray Charles; I think that song inspired me to want to play R&B music. The first gig I went to was at a grammar school in Plainfield,N.J. to hear some of the local singing groups.
What does the FUNK/SOUL mean to you & what does music offered you?
FUNK/SOUL to me means a certain feeling, groove or vibe that causes people to dance, have fun, etc…; music gives me a chance to make people Happy.
How do you describe your music philosophy? How would you describe your contact to people when you are on stage?
My music philosophy is to take an interest in & try to listen to every genre of music I come into contact with. People tell me when they listen to me play, they smile or laugh because of the humour I try to put into the music.
Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?
I think the best moment was the 1st time P-FUNK sold out the Los Angeles Forum; the worst time was when our gear did not show up @ Madison Square Garden for the Aqua Boogie show.
How has the music business changed over the years since you first started in music?
I believe artists have more of an opportunity to get their product heard because of new technology, but I don’t know if an artist can make a decent living because of downloading; nowadays. You have to tour in order to make a half-way decent living in my humble opinion.
Some music styles can be fads but the funk is always with us. Why do think that is? Give one wish for the funk
I think Funk is a feeling most people like to feel. It’s Universal & relates to all age groups; my wish for the Funk is that people keep it Alive & Well.
What do you think is the main characteristic of your personality that made you a musician?
It is a GOD-Given talent I was blessed with to share with others; and I listen/hear music everywhere.
What advice would you give to aspiring musicians thinking of pursuing a career in the craft?
I always tell them to learn basic harmony, theory, & scales & also try to learn as much as they can about the business part of the industry so they can protect themselves. My Manager always says you need a good entertainment accountant!!!.
Why did you think that Parliament/Funkadelic continued to generate such a devoted following?
I think maybe people don’t know what to expect no matter how many times a person has seen the show, & each show is somewhat different each time depending on the situation.
What do you think of BLUES music & how close are to FUNK?
I was not raised up on the blues but I like it & appreciate it; the way my mind thinks is that all music is related in 1 way or another, so BLUES & FUNK come from the same SOURCE.
Are there any memories of all these “Funky cats” which you’d like to share with us?
All of these “cats” were & are gifted & given a talent to share with the people. There are too many remembrances and too many musicians to pick just a few. .
Are there any memories from Jack Bruce & Warren Haynes, which you’d like to share with us?
My memories of playing with Jack are that he and I are kindred spirits & have the same kind of approach in reaching the audience whether Jack is on Bass or Cello & I am on Hammond Organ or Baby Grand Piano; he comes with Humour to the table also & I related to that, also we’re both classically trained & Jack’s VOCALS resonate through your whole being.
Warren was a pleasure to play with both LIVE & RECORDING-wise. He is a warm & gentle, kind person & also has that VOICE that goes straight to your head; he also is a versatile musician who can play any genre of music which I relate to & appreciate the times & chances I had to perform with him.
I wonder if you could tell me a few things about your experience from The Parliament/Funkadelic.
There were good times & not so good times with P-FUNK, everything can’t be the same every day, there are ups & downs in life all the time. Ffor the most part though, being able to collaborate with so many gifted & talented musicians, vocalists & artists (album covers), teaching them & learning from them was a good positive journey. The business, on the other hand, became too negative and one-sided for my Management to allow it to continue.
What turns you on? Which is the “key” for the “Fun – key"?
Different types of music turn me on. The Fun-key is every key that makes you feel good.
Would you mind telling me your most vivid memory from Johnny Taylor?
I only met Johnny Taylor one time in the studio & that was not at the Disco Lady recording session; he seemed like a down to earth guy.
Do you have any amusing tales to tell of your gigs, jams and recording time with all these great musicians?
The one thing that sticks in my mind is the first time Funkadelic went to England (Liverpool) -- it was a great feeling because Liverpool was the home of the Beatles & here we were in another part of the world which also had it’s own kind of FUNK. For me, being able to enjoy, create & perform with all these great musicians & have fun whether jamming or recording was one of the rewards; that plus being able to make a living at your craft.
From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the music? Of all the people you’ve meeting with, who do you admire the most?
I don’t know about secrets, but being able or have the chance to learn anything day by day, month to month, year to year, etc… is a blessing. I admire most everybody but I guess I admire those who came before me & paved the way the most.
If you go back to the past what things you would do better and what things you would a void to do again?
I’d try to play better; I’d try to avoid Vultures in the music business.
Which of historical music personalities would you like to meet and recording? What is your “secret” music DREAM?
I would have liked to meet Duke Ellington, Jimi Hendrix, & Thelonius Monk & also to have had the chance, honor to record with each one of them. My music DREAM is to be a part of a musical force that helps bring this world & its peoples together in PEACE & HARMONY.
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