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P-funk keyboard genius Bernie Worrell dies aged 72

The Parliafunkadelicment keyboard player has departed the planet

Keyboard player and synthesizer pioneer Bernie Worrell died aged 72 at his home in Everson, Washington. Worrell announced in early 2016 that he was battling stage four lung cancer.

Dubbed “the wizard of woo” due to his ability to coax a wide range of unearthly sounds and textures from organ and synthesizer, Worrell was born in Long Branch, New Jersey and raised in Plainfield, NJ. By the time he was three years old, he was an accomplished pianist. Initially working as a classical musician, he eventually found his way onto the bar band circuit where he met George Clinton, then fronting R&B outfit The Parliaments. This group disbanded and, after relocating to Detroit, mutated into Parliament. Clinton formed sister band Funkadelic – featuring many of the same musicians – whose second album Free Your Mind And Your Ass Will Follow marked Worrell’s initiation into the group. The album is notable for showcasing some of his wildest playing, perhaps most notably on the explosive “I Wanna Know If It's Good To You”.

Worrell remained an integral part of the Parliament-Funkadelic mothership crew, providing the molasses-thick synth basslines and eruptive squirts of wormlike electricity that would come to define P-funk and, in turn, influence boogie, disco, house, techno and hiphop (specifically the G-funk popularised by Dr Dre, Snoop Dogg and Warren G in the early 90s). “Flash Light”, “(Not Just) Knee Deep”, “Mothership Connection (Star Child)”, “Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)” and “Aqua Boogie” all demonstrated Worrell's ingenuity and virtuosity.

In the early 1980s Worrell became a member of the expanded Talking Heads line-up preserved for posterity in Jonathan Demme’s landmark concert film Stop Making Sense. Much more than a sideman, he made a significant contribution to Talking Heads’ sound. His most distinctive contribution is arguably the infectious two-note synth figure that serves as the intro to “Girlfriend Is Better”.

In addition to Parliament-Funkadelic and Talking Heads, Worrell worked as collaborator and/or sessioneer with a wide variety of artists including Sly & Robbie, Fela Kuti, Prince Paul, Les Claypool, Bill Laswell, Mos Def, Jack Bruce and Midday Veil.

Worrell's death was announced by his wife Judie on Friday via the musician's Facebook page: “AT 11:54, June 24, 2016, Bernie transitioned Home to The Great Spirit. Rest in peace, my love – you definitely made the world a better place. Till we meet again, vaya con Dios.”