On Saturday I was poking around the Prince forum at Prince.org and saw saddening news: Bernie Worrell has stage-IV lung cancer and was just released from the hospital to come home. He also has prostate cancer and liver cancer as well as the disease has metastasized in other locations in his body. His wife Judie has asked any friends to visit Bernie right now as his condition has worsened. His musical comrades have already staged a fundraiser/celebration in April [“All The Woo In The World”] that saw Nona Hendryx + The Black Rock Coalition call in the countless musicians he’s worked with over the last 46 years step up to play for him. There are several campaigns to help defray his medial bills.
- Sweet Relief for Bernie Worrell
- YouCaring for Bernie Worrell
- David Byrne dubplate auction for “How Does The Brain Wave”
- David Byrne remix Dl for “How Does The Brain Wave”
A look at his CV reveals a prodigious amount of music that this supremely talented musician has created over the last 46 years. In the period of 1970-1980 he played on thirty one different Parliment-Funkadelic “family” albums! That alone made for an impeccable reputation but by the end of the 70s, the generation that had been raised on his funky though extreme chops was ready to add him to the New Wave stew as Talking Heads made him a key auxiliary member for several years and albums that saw his playing help goose the former cult artists into the top ten with “Burning Down The House” sporting his hot solo in the middle eight.
Living in Asheville, I’ve been privileged to see Bernie Worrell quite a bit since moving here. Asheville has a funk vibe and a jam band vibe, and Worrell has been very active in both camps. He also has close ties to Moog Music, and with their factory and corporate headquarters in town, Mr. Worrell found a lot of time to come here. I first saw Bernie playing with his band, The Woo Warriors at a local club. The very next night, Tom Tom Club were playing the same venue, so naturally Chris + Tina showed up for Bernie’s set the night before and joined him onstage for a Bernie-led “Burning Down The House.”
Worrell also had struck up a relationship with Govt. Mule, and with Warren Haynes a local resident who has a yearly [huge] benefit concert for Habitat For Humanity, The Warren Haynes Christmas Jam, that saw Bernie in town some more. One of these shows had a side fund-raiser at the local art cinema where a showing of the Worrell biography “Stranger,” was graced by a Q+A afterward with the great man himself. Then there were gigs from Bootsy Collins where the music director was none other than the Wizard Of WOO himself. I have to admit an antipathy towards jam band music from the get go. Even so, when I saw that Bernie Worrell was playing a gig at the Grey Eagle with a guitarist from that scene whom I had never heard of [Steve Kimock] I knew I had to make that scene, even though the gig was on the night of my arrival home from the legendary Simple Minds show in D.C. in 2013. Nine hours driving home in the car didn’t deter me from at least catching the first set with chasinvictoria in tow as I finally crashed after midnight. That was some hot jazzy improv from the fleet fingers of Mr. Worrell and his metalflake fuchsia Moog synth looked as great as it sounded.
The last time I had the opportunity to see Bernie play was when he played an album release show from the Volts Per Octave last summer. The local family synth trio had formed close ties with Bernie as the father worked for Moog and the album release party was like one big party with as much time given over to classic Worrell synth grooves as to their own music. Any time you can hear “Flashlight” with the man himself playing that iconic pumping bass synth it results in a kind of bliss. Wasn’t that song the first example of synth bass on record? I certainly don’t remember any other earlier ones. Here are some of the Bernie Worrell performances that I have in my Record Cell. There are a lot more on my infinite want list that have yet to make a landing! How many do you have in your personal domestic unit? Let’s discuss. After all, it’s not often that we get to see a genius in action. The man had music flowing through him like a river.
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