Bernie Worrell, the legendary keyboardist for Parliament-Funkadelic and the Talking Heads, died Friday–dealing another blow to a music community still reeling over the deaths of David Bowie, Prince and Billy Paul, among others.
His wife, Judy, said that the cause was cancer, which had been found in his prostate, liver, and lungs earlier in the year.
Worrell, whose synth lines provided the unique textures for George Clinton’s out-there funk grooves, was one of the few musicians who carried through multiple eras and multiple genres. To go from a funk band to a punk band in a contemporary context comes off as precious, collaborative in the twee sense, but when Worrell joined the Talking Heads for a brief stint in the 1980s, the shift was revelatory. Parliament-Funkadelic always had a rock tinge to them, and David Byrne and co. always contained a touch of funk, so in retrospect it seems perfectly natural that they could collectively push each other (though, if the direction of the Talking Heads later albums are any indication, it looks like he was the one influencing them).
But his greatest contribution is undoubtedly to hip hop. Without P-Funk, you don’t get the progressively melodic style of beat-making that Dr. Dre concocted in the early 90s. No Chronic. No Doggy Style. No G-Funk at all, really. There probably isn’t a single genre of music that is indebted to one act’s contributions the way that West Coast rap music is indebted to Parliament-Funkadelic, and for that we are forever indebted to Bernie Worrell.
A few choice cuts, to funk up your weekend. This world is only temporary. The music is forever.