R.I.P Bernie Worrell (1944-2016) – Back to the Mothership

Every now and then a soul transitions that makes us think of loved ones more than those of the recently departed. Today is one of those days for me. News broke on 6/24/2016 that Bernie Worrell (Parliament/ Funkadelic) became an ancestor. News hits home to me for a few different reasons.

First, I was a huge P-Funk fan as a kid. They assisted getting me interested in the texture of music production. Samples used by Hip-Hop artists in the 1980s-1990s gave birth to an education of my parents generation. As other kids thought “that shit is old and played out”, I was like “naw… y’all motherfuckers are buggin’. This is that shit right there.

Second, Bernie helped introduce me to the concept of instruments being sound makers, and not just traditional instruments. Yeah, the man could play his ass off, but he also assisted George Clinton and the crew reach the cosmos right there next to Sun Ra, thanks to his inventive spirit when it came to programming/ playing the keys.

Most importantly, the name Bernie Worrell reminds me of my deceased stepfather. Kim Jonathan Lee was a huge P-Funk fan, and he would happily drag the family to reunion shows whenever they played Baltimore (or nearby). The notification of his passing brought down my spirits today (on top of the acquittal of an officer involved in the murder of Freddie Gray and the United Kingdoms vote to separate from the European Union).

I was sitting around this evening and thought it would be nice to share a few favorites from the Worrell/ P-Funk catalogue that have inspired me over the years.

Eddie Hazel – Game, Dames, and Guitar Thangs (Warner Brothers, 1977)

Guitarist Hazel should be no stranger to funk/ psyche fans out there. On his sole lp, he mixes studio effects and soulful tunes that create a beautiful, disorienting mood. Being that this is a guitar heavy lp, other instrumental gets buried in the mix sometimes, but I promise you if you listen closely you’ll hear some amazing keys, drums, and bass work going on.

Funkadelic – America Eats Its Young (Westbound, 1972)

So… it took me ages to find a clean copy of this lp. Shit, my stepdad didn’t even own a copy of it. I think he thought it was wwwaaayyy too long. I saw my first copy of it back in 2001. Myself, and my former dj partner Anthony Mills, were hangin’ out with Peanut Butter Wolf and Madlib. Long story short, Otis ended up with a sealed copy of that, along with the Gap Mangione joint (no bullshit, I was there when he got it) and Chris bought a bunch of oddball disco and house/ techno 12”s. Eventually I found a mint copy of my own, but this was way after my stepdad had passed away, so I could never share the music with him to reevaluate. Similar to the Hazel lp, this record is full of psyche effects, and even more political messages… I think.

Parliament – Lets Take It To The Stage, Mothership Connection, The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein, etc. (Various labels, 1975-77)

When going through my collection, I realized that P-Funk’s most popular lps (open for argument of course) were from 1975-1977. I’m not gonna get too deep here, but just understand that the lps that Bernie played on, along with George, Bootsy, and Fred, were the lps that were prolly the most sampled with regard to Hip-Hop’s connection to the group. I mean Flashlight alone garners not just an essay, but scientific research.

Today, Bernie Worrell transitioned from this earthly place after battling lung cancer. He hadn’t known he was living with it very long. To his family and friends, we his fans wish them all the condolences that can be offered. Just know that his music will live on and that through his recordings the Mothership will always be close by.

Gabriel Jermaine Vanlandingham-Dunn

Gabriel Jermaine Vanlandingham-Dunn

Gabriel Jermaine Vanlandingham-Dunn is a dj, writer, and historian focusing on Africana Studies/ Ethnomusicology. When he is not busy writing and studying the music created by Africans in the Western Hemisphere, he can be found rummaging used bookstores, haggling in record shops, and hanging out with the cutest babies on the planet.