Bernie Worrell, Parliament-Funkadelic Keyboardist, Dead at 72

Photo: Douglas Mason/2016 Douglas Mason

Bernie Worrell was one of the great under-sung artists of the 20th century. He was a vital member of Parliament-Funkadelic, the George Clinton–led psych-funk-rock collective. They changed American music. Originally a 1960s doo-wop outfit, P-Funk imbued rock with African American–influenced beats and rhythms. They helped engender Afro-Futurism. Worrell, who died of lung cancer on Friday at the age of 72, didn’t get the credit (or rights) he deserved. His sinuous, shimmering, sultry moog bass lines and synth solos enmeshed with Clinton’s capricious wordplay. His artistry has lingered in the music landscape, as if steeped in eternal reverb. The synth work he did for P-Funk permeated West Coast rap, or G-Funk, in the ’90s (“Aqua Boogie” is a favorite of Dr. Dre’s). Talking Heads guitarist and keyboardist Jerry Harrison invited Worrell to join the New York band for The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads, and he appeared in Jonathan Demme’s sumptuous concert film Stop Making Sense. Worrell played with an incredibly eclectic group of artists and entertainers, including Keith Richards, Mos Def, David Letterman’s Paul Shaffer–led house band, and that mustachioed madman Les Claypool.