Bernie Worrell brings the funk to the Knick

Funk superstar Bernie Worrel, left, and his orchestra perform in Westerly Friday.
Funk superstar Bernie Worrel, left, and his orchestra perform in Westerly Friday.

The construction business is rife with generations-old demolition companies who could only hope to have Bernie Worrell's track record.

Do you know how many times Worrell's torn the roof off the sucker? Thousands - and still counting.

Of course, Worrell's business is Funk - and, yes, that decidedly requires the capital "F." He was a prime creator, along with George Clinton and Bootsy Collins, of the Parliament-Funkadelic family that gave us such immortal and game-changing tracks as "Mothership Connection (Star Child)," "Flash Light," "Aqua Boogie" and "Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)."

Worrell also joined Talking Heads and turned that band from a clever art-pop construct into groove-happy superstars. He's also worked with Les Claypool and in the all-star Praxis with guitarist Buckethead. Currently, he's on the road with his infectiously great Bernie Worrell Orchestra, which will release its first EP in a few weeks.

The Bernie Worrell Orchestra will be in town Friday at the Knickerbocker Cafe in Westerly. Earlier this week, the 69-year-old Worrell - gentle and self-effacing - spoke by phone. Here are excerpts from that conversation.

Worrell earlier this year was presented with a lifetime achievement award from his alma mater, the New England Conservatory of Music. A childhood prodigy, he also attended Juilliard. All those years ago, studying classical music, would he ever have believed where the road would take him?

"Never in my life would I have believed it. (Laughs) I still don't know where all this stuff came from. (The lifetime award) was a bit of a surprise, but certainly it's an honor. Basically, I thank God. Music makes people happy, but to play it is a gift that's given. All artists, whether you're a sculptor or painter or a doctor or athlete, are given these gifts to make this a better Earth."

Parliament-Funkadelic just exploded the way people made and thought about funk music. The psychedelic rock influences, the spectacle and the relentless groove fostered a complete revolution. Was there a certain plan in place, or at least did the band realize at a certain point what a huge factor they'd become?

"I certainly didn't think of us as revolutionary. Maybe George or Bootsy might have, but I don't think so. We were just having fun. And if we were having fun, we wanted to take it to the people. We didn't think about hits or being famous or influencing music or providing samples. The idea was to have fun in the studio, and if you weren't in the studio, you were having fun on the road."

Hip-hop has similarly altered the course of soul and funk music. Is Worrell flattered by the sheer amount of his work that's been sampled by rap artists?

"I'm flattered by it, but I also wish they'd do a lot more hands-on creating. Develop some creativity; learn to play some instruments. A lot of the times, these artists don't even know how to make a chord. They know how to push a button. It'd be interesting to see what they could come up with on their own if they could actually play an instrument."

Is the roof of the Knickerbocker Cafe safe this weekend?

"(Laughs) I don't know that we'll tear the roof off, but I guarantee we'll take you on a musical journey and have fun. You'll dance, and we'll woo each other and just forget our troubles for a while."

The Bernie Worrell Orchestra, 8 p.m. Friday, Knickerbocker Cafe, 35 Railroad Ave., Westerly; John Fries Band opens; $12 advance, $15 door; (401) 315-5070.


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