If you want funky, Bernie Worrell - known to some as the “Wizard of Woo” - has long been the go-to guy. From his early days in Parliament-Funkadelic, to the time he memorably helped The Talking Heads turn it up a notch or two in their acclaimed documentary film, Stop Making Sense, Worrell has been making his own kind of sense since he learned to play piano at age 4.
Considered a musical prodigy, he wrote a concerto when he was 8 and went on to study at The Juilliard School and the New England Conservatory of Music. A group he was part of evolved into the Tavares (and the drummer, Joey Kramer, left to join Aerosmith).
A native of New Jersey, Worrell, 68, is a member ofthe Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, inducted in 1997, who still marvels at his good fortune and lifetime of music.
“I never expected anything like that,” he says. “I’m a humble type guy, and then to be inducted by Prince? Well, that was really something.”
Worrell has been involved in more recording and performing than he can keep track of, but he’s best known for his time alongside George Clinton in first Parliament, then Funkadelic, then Parliament-Funkadelic. Fans should not look forward to a reunion, however.
“There are other issues involved, so that’s not very likely to happen,” he would only say, adding, “I came into the group later than its origins as a party, doo-wop group. I took my background in church music, classical and mixed it with funk and rhythm and blues, and I was fortunate, in having been born with perfect pitch, I can play anything. I liked what I heard when I first joined, so I guess I became funky.”
Worrell played keyboards and sang on six 1970s albums by the Parliament-Funkadelic collective, then achieved even more worldwide fame by playing on three Talking Heads albums: The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads, Speaking in Tongues and Stop Making Sense.
As for the likelihood of a Talking Heads reunion, it may be as unlikely as a Parliament-Funkadelic get-together.
“David [Byrne]’s not going for it, but he and Chris [Frantz] and Tina [Weymouth] did sit in with me at a show recently when I did their song, ‘This Must Be the Place [Naive Melody],’ and I’m in touch with the fourth member, Jerry Harrison, all the time.”
After the breakup of the Heads, Worrell had a variety of projects, recording withFred Schneider (of the B-52’s), Fela Kuti, Praxis, Julian Schnabel and Colonel Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains.
His latest project, the Bernie Worrell Orchestra, a nine-member ensemble he began in 2011 with drummer/bandleader Evan Taylor, will feature what he calls “a lot of everything - Parliament-Funkadelic stuff, covers, Talking Heads songs, originals, jazz standards, reggae and improvisation.”
The band features two guitarists, a percussionist, a trumpet player, alto saxophonist and tenor saxophonist. Worrell and the orchestra have begun a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for a 15-member bus, for easier and cheaper touring.
“At first we went around in three cars, but we rent a bus or van now,” he says. “We’ve put that in God’s hands now.”Bernie Worrell Orchestra
Opening act: Freeverse
8 p.m. Sunday, Revolution
Room, 300 President Clin
ton Ave., Little Rock
Admission: $10 advance;
$15 day of show
Weekend, Pages 37 on 03/14/2013
Print Headline: Bernie Worrell mixes it up with 9-member orchestra