Bernie Worrellmeasures up as one of the greatest sidemen of the 1970s and '80s. Along with George Clinton and Bootsy Collins, he is largely responsible for the psychedelic party sounds that made Parliament/Funkadelic arguably the greatest funk band in world history. As keyboardist for the P-Funk mob, Worrell's sounds are immediately recognizable in such masterpiece albums as Funkadelic's Free Your Mind... And Your Ass Will Followand Parliament's Mothership Connection.They have also been sampled countless times in more recent rhythm-and-blues and rap albums. As if that were not enough, when Parliament/Funkadelic imploded amid legal troubles in the early 1980s, Worrell picked up his Hammond and set it down with a little band called Talking Heads. He played on several Heads albums in the early 1980s and occasionally went on tour with the group until it broke up in 1992.
Such a distinguished career is to be expected from a prodigy who, in his childhood, fell just a little shy of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Sure, Mozart was a concert pianist by the time he was three years old, played before the Austrian empress at age six, and wrote his first symphony at age seven. But hey, Worrell also played piano by age three, performed in concert for the first time at age four, and wrote his first concerto by age eight. Funk fans can thank heaven that Worrell went to college and found soul and rock 'n' roll to be more fun than classical. He played in a few bands, including Chubby and the Turnpikes, which went on to become Tavares. And then he met Clinton, lead singer of a doo-wop group called the Parliaments. The rest, of course, is history.
But fans of both the funky and the new wave may wonder what Worrell has been up to since his final performances with Talking Heads. Despite success as a sideman for such seminal groups, Worrell's solo albums have gone largely unnoticed. 1991's Funk of Ages is probably the best of these, and although some songs stand out as decidedly funkalicious, the album is only an approximation of his work with P-Funk. Still, Worrell has kept extremely busy as, natch, a sideman. He is in constant demand as a session keyboardist on albums by bands as diverse as experimental rockers Third Rail, rap pioneers the Last Poets, and sugary shibuya-kei group Cibo Matto. And despite all this action, he still has time to tour.
Even the touring is varied. Last Saturday, Worrell appeared with Les Claypool and Brain of Primus and avant-guitarist Buckethead at the Bonnaroo Festival in Manchester, Tennessee, which stands with a handful of other gigs as one of the greatest musical events of the past decade. Now he's taking his usual backing band, the Woo Warriors, on tour from Kill Devil Hills to Kalamazoo through July. The Wizard of Woo arrives in Fort Lauderdale on Saturday, so be prepared for the funk.