Interview with Bernie Worrell

bernie worrell
Bernie Worrell

In many circles, Bernie Worrell needs no introduction. From his work as a founding member and Musical Director of Parliament-Funkadelic to his contributions to the Talking Heads, Worrell has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Indeed, songs such as “Burning Down the House” and “Flashlight” wouldn’t have been the same without him, and Worrell’s keyboard prowess has only grown since those classic recordings. As one of the most sampled musicians in history, Worrell’s funky licks have graced hit songs by Dr. Dre, Snoop Dog, Ice Cube, En Vogue and more. “One generation needs to segue to the next generation. So now I work with the sons and daughters, and we coincide.”

Worrell’s early years were spent studying at the New England Conservatory of Music and the Julliard School of Music, giving him a structural foundation on which to base his stratospheric playing. He cites his classical training as a big reason why Parliament-Funkadelic sounded so different from other funk bands of the day. When asked about influences, Worrell lists musical giants such as Ray Charles, Herbie Hancock, Jimmy Smith, Oscar Peterson, and Thelonious Monk as making a strong impression on him as a budding performer. And now it is Worrell who is cited as an influence by many of today’s generation of players.

Worrell is in high demand as a performer with acts such as Bootsy’s New Rubber Band, Jack Bruce & The Cuicoland Express (featuring Vernon Reid) and rapper Mos Def’s rock band Black Jack Johnson. He’s collaborated in the past with seminal artists such as The Rolling Stones, Bill Laswell, The Pretenders, Soul Asylum, and Jody Watley, and has also been involved in scoring a few movies, most notably Ice Cube’s “Friday.”

Currently, Worrell is on the road with Eric McFadden Trio as a reoccurring special guest, Global Noize, Method of Defiance. He’s also been working with Les Claypool (Primus) as part of Col. Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains, featuring Claypool, Buckethead, Brain… a strange match up of unique talents if ever there was one.

When asked about the state of music today, Worrell laments record companies that have lost their artist development in exchange for accountants and lawyers. Worrell also misses true songs and players, and doesn’t like all the machines involved in newer music. “Music is versatile, hands on, nurturing, touching. It can’t be all about the dollar.” When it comes to Bernie Worrell, you can be sure it’s all about the music.

Cincy Groove: So who are you playing with these days?

Bernie Worrell: I am doing guest spots with a lot of different entities. One group is composed of Leo Nocentelli and myself. Another consists of myself, Doug Wimbish and Will Calhoun from Living Colour. I just finished a two week tour with Global Noize, which consists of Jason Miles, DJ Logic, Oteil Burbridge, Mike Clark, Fatu, Jay Rodriguez and myself. Jason Miles was Luthur Vandross’s musical director for 15 years and also played with Miles Davis. Mike Clark played drums for Herbie Hancock. Fatu is an classically trained Indian vocalist. Theres the Eric McFadden Trio, which I’m getting ready to go out on tour with very soon. I have been sitting in with Gov’t Mule for a few years now. There’s also Derek Trucks, Victor Wooten. I’ve just started working on a new solo cd, where I will be playing all the instruments. But thats all I can tell you about right now.

Cincy Groove: How did you meet up with George Clinton and the rest of P Funk back in the beginning?

Bernie Worrell: My parents were pretty strict when I was growing up and wouldn’t let me hang out on the streets. So I would sneak out of the house and go down to the barber shop. Thats how I met Eddie Hazel and Billy “Bass” Nelson, the original guitar and bass player for P Funk. Then I eventually met George Clinton, at first we didn’t really do anything, just jammed a little bit. He told me one day when he could afford me he would call. I had just graduated from college from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. I was on the road as musical director for Maxine Brown, a famous R & B vocalist. I was in Bermuda at the time, so George had contacted my wife. She ended up going and having a meeting with George Clinton at the Apollo Theater. The next thing we knew, we were moving to Detroit, where George had moved the band. The rest is history.

Cincy Groove: After you left P Funk, you ended up playing with the Talking Heads. How did that come about?

Bernie Worrell: Well, they had heard I had left P Funk and just contacted me. I think it was Jerry Harrison who contacted me to see if I would be interested in playing with them. I didn’t know who the Talking Heads were, so I asked him “Who are you guys and what kind of music do you play?” (laughing). So they invited me to Sigma Sound Studios in New York so I could listen to their music and work some stuff out. As it turns out they work very similar in the studio compared to P Funk and I later find out that they are P Funk fans. They said they used to sneak into P Funk shows. I liked what I heard so I worked in what I do into what they did.

Cincy Groove: When did you start playing piano?

Bernie Worrell: At the age of 3 1/2. I was born with the gift of perfect pitch. Thats why I was able to play anything I heard. I performed my first classical concert at the age of 4. I wrote my first piano concerto at the age of 8.

Cincy Groove: Being classically trained from a very young age, what did your parents think when the funk started to show up?

Bernie Worrell: My mom was against it, she tried to keep me away from the barber shop and George Clinton (laughing). When I went off to college I started playing in the night clubs. Thats when I really started to explore what I could do with the piano.


Upcoming Bernie Worrell tour dates:
for complete show details visit

Oct 8 Ram’s Head Tavern Annapolis, MD
Eric McFadden Trio w/ special guest Bernie Worrell

Oct 9 Castaways Ithaca, NY
Eric McFadden Trio w/ special guest Bernie Worrell

Oct 10 The Cutting Room New York, NY
Eric McFadden Trio w/ Special Guest Bernie Worrell

Oct 11 SWCC Rock & Run Philadelphia, PA
Eric McFadden Trio w/ special guest Bernie Worrell

Oct 13 Moogfest – Hammerstein Ballroom New York, NY
Bernie receives the Lifetime Achievement Award from Moog for his groundbreaking work on the Moog synthesizer. Appearing with Bernie will be Eric McFadden Trio, Umphree’s McGee and others. Tickets go on sale August 9th.