REST IN P, WIZARD OF WOO
by Todd Hartley
I’ve been running a kids camp this summer, and any time we go somewhere as a group — to a museum or whatever — we have huge fights over who controls the radio. I, a lover of music, can’t abide the horrific dreck the kids and the 19-year-old counselor want to listen to, and they, tasteless know-nothings that they are, show no appreciation for timeless classics like the Rolling Stones, Motown and pretty much anything made last century or with real instruments and un-autotuned voices.
Well, guess what, America? Chicken butt. Sorry, sorry. Force of habit from dealing with kids all day.
Guess what? Those trend-chasing little troglodytes have ruined things for you this week. This week, instead of dispensing indispensable wisdom like I usually do, I’m writing a column just for my stupid self, and I’m going to give you what-for, America, because you haven’t been respecting the classics, either.
One of the greatest pianists and most important and influential figures in the history of funk, jazz, R&B, hip-hop and pop music died a couple of weeks ago, and you missed it, America. You played nothing but Prince for two months, and you gave David Bowie a decent send-off, but the guy who died two weeks ago? You didn’t even know his name. Shame on you.
His name was Bernie Worrell. He grew up in Plainfield, New Jersey, and started training classically on the piano at age 3. By age 8, he’d written his first concerto. He attended Juilliard School, and in 1967 he graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music, where he played in a band called Chubby and the Turnpikes.
Shortly after receiving his degree, Worrell befriended a man named George Clinton, the leader of a Plainfield doo-wop singing group called the Parliaments. This association would lead to the twin behemoth funk groups Parliament and Funkadelic, whose massive success in the 1970s was largely fueled by the groundbreaking keyboard work of Worrell, a man whom Clinton himself has called “the genius of geniuses.”
Since the heyday of Parliament/Funkadelic until last month, Worrell recorded and composed with, among others: Talking Heads, Keith Richards, The Pretenders, Angelique Kidjo, Lou Rawls, Burning Spear, Gov’t Mule, two-thirds of Cream and a whole slew of funk bands you never heard of. In 1997, as part of the P-Funk crew, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
What more did he need to do, America?
On my last radio show, I did a tribute to Worrell wherein I tried to see if I could play two hours of songs each featuring Worrell playing with a different band or artist. It was easy. I played 22 songs, all of them amazing, and I probably could have played another 22 if I’d had more time. It would have done you good to tune in, America. Go back and listen to Parliament’s “Flashlight” as penance. Even you, Mom.
But back to the lack-of-appreciation stuff, because I’ve noticed that this is a particularly big problem here in Aspen, where we all claim to be such knowledgeable musical types.
Just last month, as some of you may recall, Jazz Aspen Snowmass had a three-night festival at the music tent. On nights one and two, the venue sold out for Diana Ross and Sheryl freakin’ Crow, but on night three, when I went, the place was barely half full for Marcus Miller and Booker T. Jones.
Do you not understand who Booker T. is, Aspen? If you really claim to be such big music fans, even if you think the show will be lame, you should be packing that tent just out of respect.
I have to say, Aspen, I was a little embarrassed for us as a town. It was the same problem last summer when practically no one showed up for Worrell’s old P-Funk bandmate Maceo Parker, one of the most gifted and prolific saxophone players of all time. Some of Maceo’s early-’90s Roaring Fork Valley concerts are the stuff of legend. How dare you be indifferent about him now?
So do me a favor, Aspen. I know you’ll show up for Stevie Wonder when he plays over Labor Day weekend, but the next time a legend like Robert Cray (July 20), Karl Denson (Aug. 25) or Mick Fleetwood (Sep. 16) comes to town, you get out there and you help this town save face by making sure they play to a packed house.
Realistically, Todd Hartley probably won’t make it to any of the three concerts he just mentioned. Hypocrite.