Bernie Worrell is one of the most influential musical innovators of the 20th century.
For more than 40 years, he has been a leading developer of the modern keyboard vocabulary, a legendary band leader, music director, composer, and improvisor.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Bernie Worrell is well known as a member of the Talking Heads and a founding member and musical director of Parliament/Funkadelic.
A few of the many Parliament/Funkadelic classics which Worrell co-wrote include “Flashlight,” “Atomic Dog,” “Aqua Boogie,” “Cosmic Slop,” and “Red Hot Mama.”
One of the most sampled musicians of all time, Worrell’s music has been used by such hip hop artists as Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, and the Digital Underground.
In addition to the aforementioned, Worrell has recorded and/or performed with a wide range of legendary musicians including Bill Laswell, Keith Richards, The Pretenders, Gov’t Mule, Deee-Lite, The O’Jays, Bobby Womack, Albert King, and Chairmen of the Board among many others.
I was very excited to interview him in person on May 29, 2012 prior to his gig at the Charleston Pour House with the Steve Kimock Band.
The transcript below is a portion of Bernie’s response to my question…
What does it take to be a successful working musician?
“As far as the successful part of it, I don’t know how to answer the successful part because I never expected us to be successful. We didn’t know that, like with P-Funk… we didn’t know that was going to happen, that we’d be… we had a following. By the grace of God, we were working all the time. When we weren’t on the road, we were in the studio. East coast, west coast, um… Canada, recording. Those were our three main points, and then we recorded some stuff in New York. But, there was… had no idea. No one was thinking about getting a hit record. We didn’t go in recording it thinking we were going to make a hit record. We just played and had the opportunity and the chance, the luck to be able to have a studio on both coasts and in Canada where we could go and record any time we wanted. So, that… that part of it is Lady Luck, I guess.”
“Now as far as being a working musician, getting a lot of work, I find that, well I play all different genres, classically trained. And I would say if you are able to play more than one type of music, the more you’ll work. You know? Instead of being pigeonholed into one thing. If you can play a few different modes or genres, you can go from… play rock, play funk, R&B, you can play some jazz, Indian, you know, you know. The other… I was also born with perfect pitch, so anything I hear I can play. So, maybe that’s why I can play different stuff, and classically trained.”
“The other thing is learn the basics. Get your hands on the instrument. Learn… try to know your craft to the best of your ability. The rudiments, start with the basics, the rudiments. So you know chord structure and scales and whatnot, which will help your ear training. Help you can hear more. So you can play more… different styles.”
“Leave it up to God. Know that you don’t control… God controls everything.”
“Humans try to control and end up…”
“Messing it up.”
“…bleeping ____ up.”
“It’s in… in a higher powers hands. Musicians, artists are channels. I’ll never say it’s me. It’s not me. It comes through me. I’m a channel, a conduit. And um… we were all were sent to teach, help. Music heals, as you know.”
“Teach. Make people happy. We’re messengers.”
“That’s… that’s all I can say about it.”
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