Friday, June 24, 2016

The Day The Funk Died

Bernie Worrell with method Of Defiance,
Brooklyn, NY, August 2009 (photos by me)

Growing up, music was such a part of me that I can hear a song & immediately be transported back to the first time I heard it, complete with all of the feelings and memories that it evokes. Music is part of my soul, without which I wouldn't be the person I am today. One such song that changed my life was "Flashlight" by Parliament, off their album "Funkentelechy vs The Placebo Syndrome". The sounds were from outer space, like nothing I ever heard before: a heavy bass groove, choppy guitars, howling vocals & harmonies, some bopping saxophones, & the craziest keyboards I had ever experienced. All of the individually magnificent parts mixed together to form a cohesive sound, an anthem, the start of a movement. It was at that exact moment in 1989, as a 13 years old, that I fell in love with funk.

Since that time I have seen George Clinton nine times in some form that I can account for, either billed as a solo act, with Parliament, Funkadelic, P-Funk or The P-Funk All-Stars. Every single time I have seen George, he had his secret weapon & Musical Director in tow: the man, the myth, the pioneer, the legend, Mr Bernie Worrell.

In addition to the nine times I've seen George, I've seen Bernie play several more times than that, as he was (which is hard to accept at the moment) one of the most prolific musicians I've known. He loved throwing in on a musical stew, mixing it up to see what magic could bubble up. I was lucky enough not only to have been in the presence of the man those 9 times with George, but also solo, with the Woo Warriors, Bootsy Collins, The Horny Horns, and most recently Method Of Defiance (in 2009).

My funk collection consists of almost extensively music that either directly features Bernie Worrell, or music that was spawned by songs that Bernie had a hand in. He was the master of the keys, whether it be a Wurlitzer, the Hammond B3, various synthesizers, or the Moog. He was considered such an important person when it came to progressing music that when Robert Moog invented his Moog synthesizer, Bernie not only was one of the first to receive the instrument (well ahead of production), but he also had a hand in helping Mr Moog figure out the space sounds that would become the synthesizer's signature. To say he was a massively influential figure to his peers but also thousands of artists who followed him as well is an understatement. He invented these sounds and styles, & no one who followed him can say he didn't play a part in the art that they produced.

Some of my favorite projects Bernie worked on were of course Parliament & Funkadelic's catalogs (both of which he was a founding member), but also his work with Bill Laswell (Material, Method of Defiance, Praxis, Axiom Funk & Funkcronomic), Brides Of Funkenstein, Sly & Robbie, Golden Palominos, Afrika Bambaataa, Botsy Collins, OG Funk, Cibo Matto, Fela Kuti, Doug Wimbush, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Mos Def, Baby The Elephant & the list goes on & on & on...

He was so prolific, in fact, that by 2008 his official discography showed that he had already been featured on an astonishing 475 projects (post-2008 is conspicuously missing, though I know he continued to work as I own several of the albums, including his brilliant Method Of Defiance albums). For most artists, this would be about 50 or more careers, but Bernie refused to stop or slow down until the very end. His Bill Laswell & Karsh Kale collaboration, Funkcronomic, was released just 2 weeks before his passing, on June 10th, 2016.

As I said at the beginning of this piece, music is ingrained in my soul, so today, June 24th, a part of my soul died. Even though it is easy to be sad over a loss to the music world like this (& believe me, I am gutted by it), it's hard to argue that his music won't continue on forever & continue to illuminate generations & generations to come. His music always sounded like it was from the future even 40+ years later for some of it, & I have no reason to believe that 40 years from now, it still will sound like it is advanced technology from an alien race. So tonight, I raise a glass to the pioneer, the Doctor, the Wizard Of WOO, & thank him for everything he has done to make my life better, the joy has has put out into the ether, & his contributions to making the world a funkier place. We will always love you, Bernie.

April 19, 1944 - June 24, 2016

Me with Bernie, August 2009

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