decades of fun

A Chat with Keyboard Genius Bernie Worrell

Originally published @ on 08/01/1999


During a heatwave sweeping the eastern united states in July of 1999, I got music legend Bernie Worrell (1944-2016) on the phone for a candid conversation about his new band The WOO Warriors, the old P-Funk days, and his current business dealings with George Clinton.

Raz: Hey Bernie, how ya been?

Bernie: Not too good in this heat. Other than that fine.

I understand. It’s probably what, about a hundred out there now, huh?

It’s a 100 to 105. We just had a power surge that just whacked the computers and stuff just before you called.

Uh oh. Yeah it went down when I was on the phone with Judie (Ed. note: Judie Worrell is Bernie’s wife and manager). We could use some AC ourselves. This is killin me! Let’s start out back in the day. Can you give me three words that describe P-Funk?

(laughing) wild, crazy, guys.

Alright… I can live with that. (laughs) Obviously our readers are funkateers. Do you feel that the entire movement that was P-Funk, with all the sounds, vibes, characters – those wild crazy guys – do you feel that it was underrated, overrated, or are you pretty happy with the way that it’s been received over the years?

People don’t really know a lot of what went down and what it took in blood, sweat, and tears to be a part of that whole thing. I don’t think there is enough credit given to a lot of the members. But on the other hand, we are known all over the world. People know who P-Funk is. It was my first time going to Puerto Rico a couple of weeks ago with my group they had stuff down there. I didn’t know it – I kinda figured maybe Puerto Rico, but even Argentina and places like that, they know our stuff. I would say I’m thankful, ya know, I’m pretty satisfied for how it is, but not completely satisfied, but then who is? (laughs).

When you made the move in the early 80’s to touring with the Talking Heads, what struck you as the most obvious change in the scene, as opposed to being out with P-Funk?

Didn’t get beat as much! (laughs) It was a cleaner business unit. There was a lot of things I taught them. A lot of things that their manager at the time Gary Kerfers used to come to me and ask me. They were P-Funk fans and Gary was also. I don’t know if a lot of people know it, but George Clinton gave Chris the idea – we’ll he didn’t give them the idea – they had the idea to break off and do something different, which was the Tom-Tom Club – and they got it from him. He was studying what was happening. They approached George about whether they should do this and he said “yeah”. And that’s when they did Tom-Tom club and all that stuff.


Of all the amazing musicians you’ve worked with over the years, did any of your collaborations particularly surprise you? Did someone bring something to the table that you just weren’t expecting?

No. (laughs). No, because they are like me – they do what they do well.

How’s the new record “Free Agent” going? Any hopes of getting that into the record stores in the states?

Well if we can work out a distribution deal with a couple of people we are talking to – Warren Haynes from Gov’t Mule, his company being one of them.

I got that a couple of months ago and it is a really good record. I definitely hope it gets out. We’ll be doing a review of it in this issue as well.

The live new years eve one?

Yeah I got that one as well. “Free Agent” is pretty amazing.

Oh thank you.

I also caught a WOO Warriors show a few months back and not only was the musicianship amazing but the setlist seemed a bit more varied than WOO Warriors shows of the past. Would you prefer to play even more of your solo work or are you happy with the mix of old and new?

I like the mix – I can’t play all of any one thing, I get bored quick. I have to move from space to space, to different places cause it’s no challenge. It’s boring to me with just one set thing. I have to try it. I get disinterested cause I can play it automatically, and I care about it. (laughs)

Ya know, when we have to go from this genre to something else then it’s interesting cause we can stretch it out a little more. And I’m teaching at the same time, ya know, showing people “this type of thing you do this with, and you mix this in with that”. I like a lot of the P-Funk stuff that Clinton doesn’t do. People are always asking me ‘why don’t you play this? How come George doesn’t do this? Because he’s not able to, and we are. A lot of those songs that didn’t make it on B-sides or A-sides are great songs, and people love them so it still makes it fun, instead of playing the same old thing over and over.

Are there any old songs that you are looking forward to reworking and revisiting?

Right, that’s what made that last show you saw in Cleveland different, cause a couple of surprises were in there (laughs). That was some of the old stuff.

I also saw you guys in New York when you blew the power out of the stage!

Yeah well the power had been blown out the night before by another group, so they told us. Come to find out that they lied to us, it had blown out 3 weeks earlier.

Well you guys were loud enough at the show I saw a few months ago I’m surprised you didn’t blow out the power there!

(laughs) Yeah!

You guys have been traveling the land for a few years now as the WOO Warriors, and you’ve put out several solo records in the 90’s – are you at all upset at the lack of record label and radio attention?

Yes, but uh, blank them! Because we are getting ready to go into a new age with the middleman being cut out and more money to the artists, and the heck with em! All we need is the distribution. Then if they come after us I’ll say no until they give us the deal we want.

On that note we’ll do our part and make sure to put a link right to your site from ours so that everyone can order that CD.


Hold on a minute….

(Bernie has to take another call. Turns out it’s George Clinton. I let him go for a few minutes and then call back)

Bernie – hey, you got a sec to finish up?

Yeah, yeah – George Clinton is on the other phone, I might have to say something, go ahead, we can talk right now.

Actually that’s an odd coincidence – I was just gonna ask about the record deal announced with you and George and if you had any more details on that and how that came about?

I can’t tell you all of it cause I don’t know all the details. I know they wanted me to co-produce his record and now I come to find out that there is a breach of contract cause there is actually gonna be 2 CD’s now, and we didn’t know about that – we just found out. And they want me to do the Woodstock thing and I’m not doing it until they do what I want. They still owe me money from March for some session work. That’s what George is calling about today, himself. He’s trying to talk to Judie right now. That’s why she was going on and on, because I don’t give a shit. I don’t care if we do Woodstock or not. (Ed Note: George worked with Mammoth Records to patch things up with Bernie, resulting in Bernie Worrell & The WOO Warriors performing at Woodstock ’99 and Bernie appearing as a “special guest” with George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars)

I wouldn’t want to have the job of trying to talk Judie down!

Yeah well, they got the job (laughing). And it’s coming from me – they think it’s all her but she’s speakin for me. I can’t be spoken to once I get in a mood – I say “Fuck em”. (laughs). She’s tellin him now: ‘George, you know better than anyone that when he gets in a mood he don’t care’. So don’t get me started. I guess that’s what he’s trying to talk to her about now. He don’t sound too good, but you know, he’s tired.

Let’s move to something a little more positive. originates from Cleveland so we keep an eye on the happenings at the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame. You have been inducted into the Hall of Fame and I got to see the whole P-Funk display down there…

Did they put my clothes up yet?

Ya know, I haven’t been down there this year so I don’t know if they put them up yet. I was down there when they had the wax figures up of George and Bootsy. I don’t think they made the Bootsy one tall enough!

(laughing) Maybe they ran out of money!

Yeah they ran out of wax! Some musicians have come out against the Hall of Fame, saying that having a building to honor Rock and Roll goes against the attitude of the music. Do you have any feelings on that and is there anything you would change about the induction process?

I heard that you have people vote on who gets in, like Bruce Springsteen personally said that he voted, he was part of it. I’m sent something every year to check off who I would like to see inducted. I don’t know what they mean about the building – I think it is nice to have a facility where people can see the past. However I think more money should be put into use for helping the musicians after they’ve reached a certain age, and with their record deals, and the whole lot. Alright, we got the glory and whatnot, but what about financial help and cases of keeping people working? There’s a lot of different things they can do.

Like some sort of union or benefits package?

Yes. The building is nice but it ain’t feedin’ anybody. Well it’s feedin’ them! (laughs)

It ain’t feeding anyone in this town either. In fact it’s taking tax money away in this town.

See? You’re right. They could do benefit concerts for all kinds of things, from farmers to handicapped people, you know? Make programs up. Make the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame worldwide and help Greenpeace, help the endangered species. Put on shows, outdoor festivals. They could do a lot – a lot more I mean. Three hundred dollars for a dinner? Blank that! Dinner should be free.

I understand. So what are you up to now – what kind of projects are you into now that you are at liberty to talk about?

Yeah – still trying to finish the WOO Warriors studio CD. We just came back from Puerto Rico with the WOO Warriors, they loved that. They want us back. We still got the ongoing Clinton situation, which George is on the phone right now as I told you. And we’ll be working on getting the college circuit thing together. There’s the Gov’t Mule situation where we might be working in conjunction with them out of their office, so Judie will have some help, and I guess more production with Clinton.

To be announced, huh?

To be announced.

Sounds good. Well I thank you for your time, I know I caught you at a busy time.

It’s kinda stressful right now.

And the heat aint helpin, I’m sure.

As a matter of fact, Disney Corporation is George’s backer, so what’s the problem with the money?

Yeah you would think that if anyone had some money to spend it would be Disney.

Yeah, okay man, take care.