All the woo in the world is gone.
Bernie Worrell, the keyboard dynamo and longtime mainstay of the iconoclastic funk collective Parliament-Funkadelic was recently taken from us at the age of 72. One of God’s more unique musical creations – a conservatory-trained Mozart in bright colors and floppy hats – Worrell helped make George Clinton’s manic musical visions come alive on one psychedelically danceable masterpiece after another.
Bernie wasn’t flashy like Clinton or bassist Bootsy Collins (you’d never hear a “Yabba dabba doozy, mama” escape his mouth), but his melodies undoubtedly got a lot of minds freed, and a lot of asses following right behind. Bernie maintained one job perfectly during his time with P-Funk; he kept the groove going so nobody ever lost their place, even if songs hit the 15-minute mark and beyond.
Bernie’s seemingly offhand noodling also came to epitomize the P-Funk sound – uncut funk, the bomb. While he also made a name for himself playing with acts like the Talking Heads and Les Claypool, his P-Funk tenure best cements his legacy as one of the baddest muthas to tinker with 88 keys until he found the sounds he wanted to play with the band.
But in order to better savor the gifts Bernie left behind (“Chocolate City,” “P-Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up),” “Bop Gun (Endangered Species),” and “Flash Light” included), we need to go back to 1970. That’s when we first hear him in full force. The album is Free Your Mind… and Your Ass Will Follow – my favorite one of the P-Funk bunch given how sloppy, trippy and debaucherously wild it is.
Even though we are introduced to Bernie on Funkadelic’s self-titled debut album (also released in 1970) on the Pink Floyd-esque track “I Got a Thing, You Got a Thing, Everybody’s Got a Thing,” Free Your Mind is the album where his status is directly on par with the other members of Clinton’s crew. It’s also an album that shows what Bernie can accomplish with just piano and Hammond organ.
In honor of Bernie’s musical magic, here are the album’s tracks – and how Bernie stands out on each one.
“Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow” – Starting with spacey effects, Bernie enters two minutes into the album’s title track sounding as if he’s pressing both his palms into the keys with full force. While his sounds seem out of tune and distorted, the entire opus sounds out-of-tune and distorted, so it works. Be sure to listen at the 7:30 mark– that’s when Bernie gets his own musical showcase.
“Funky Dollar Bill” – It sounds like Bernie’s playing an out-of-tune toy piano, but his saloon-worthy stylings are a fun addition to the vocal raucousness taking place in front of him.
“I Wanna Know if It’s Good to You” – Here, Bernie’s on straight piano. While the track is trippy, his style is classy all the way.
“Some More” – George Clinton fuzzies up his vocals with all his might, and Bernie pretends he’s Booker Jones all the while. Snippets of “Green Onions” could definitely fit in here.
“Eulogy and Light” – There’s no Bernie on this track, but he makes a nice return on remastered versions of the album, which features the bonus song “Fish, Chips and Sweat.” This number sounds straight out of Stax.
Be sure to woo in appreciation with each listen.
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