Bernie Worrell — RIP

I can’t think of a single player in R&B and rock history who coaxed so many variations on kink, perversity, and ambisexuality from an instrument — from one instrument. His licks were filthy. Sometimes they weren’t licks: squiggles, oscillator improvisations, block synth chords. When Bernie Worrell stepped in front of the keyboards, loose booty would follow. Everyone knows the Minimoogs in “Flashlight,” but the synth line in “(Not Just) Knee Deep” conjures a cartoon planet fueled by underaged foreplay — and, again, that’s just Worrell’s synth part. Today I remember him for his lesser known contributions: to the inexorable gyrations of “Red Hot Mamma”; the ruminative piano part on the same album’s “I’ll Stay”; the fart sounds on the funk metal “Lunchmeataphobia (Think! It Ain’t Illegal Yet!).” He also contributed one of my favorite bits of work-for-hire: the clavinet in Pretenders’ “Don’t Get Me Wrong.”

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