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Bill Laswell Remembers Bernie Worrell

4.19.44 – 6.24.16

Bernie Worrell (right) with Bill Laswell (photo by Yoko Yamabe/courtesy of M.O.D. Technologies)
Bernie Worrell (right) with Bill Laswell (photo by Yoko Yamabe/courtesy of M.O.D. Technologies)

In the early 1980s, I started working with a lot of the musicians from Parliament-Funkadelic. In P-Funk there were some very high-level players: Maceo Parker, who’s very versatile; Jerome Brailey; Eddie Hazel; Fred Wesley. A lot of them were very open and trying to branch out into many areas. But Bernie Worrell was at the top of that pyramid, with a classical background, and perfect pitch, and his rhythmic sense. He was an original.

He was probably the one I did the most work with, and in a lot of pretty diverse areas. I was always conscious of taking him out of this funk-musician mode for which he was best known and putting him with other kinds of musicians in challenging situations. A great deal of that was just having him play on a session that you wouldn’t ordinarily connect with Bernie Worrell. And not just the stuff he did with Talking Heads or Keith Richards, or even the brief moment he was in Paul Shaffer’s band on David Letterman. You’d see him playing with Pharoah Sanders, or Zakir Hussain, or Fela Kuti, or Manu Dibango—the possibilities were endless. We applied this kind of thinking to the solo records I produced for him, too. We worked out ideas for what would be good for his current concept as well as for his evolution, his development.

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