All-Star Benefit Planned For Funk Pioneer Bernie Worrell

Bernie Worrell, funk’s “Wizard of Woo,” is amazed at the lineup of friends and admirers expected to turn out for his benefit concert: George Clinton and Nona Hendryx, Jonathan Demme and Bootsy Collins, Paul Shaffer and Living Colour.

Even Meryl Streep and Rick Springfield, with whom Worrell worked on last year’s movie “Ricki and the Flash,” are scheduled to appear Monday night at Webster Hall for “All the Woo in the World,” a “funkraiser” to help pay for Worrell’s cancer treatment.

Photo: John Davisson
Day 1 of the Bear Creek Music & Art Festival, Spirit Of The Suwannee Music Park, Live Oak, Fla.

“I think it’s an outpouring of love,” the 71-year-old Worrell told The Associated Press during a recent telephone interview. “I’m a humble type of person who just tries to make people happy. I didn’t know this event would be so big.”

Diagnosed a few months ago with stage-four lung cancer, the keyboardist for Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic empire of the 1970s has never been as famous as some of the performers at the Webster Hall show. But he is revered by fellow musicians and others who know him and his trademark riffs, screeches and squiggles, essential to such hits as “Flashlight,” ‘‘Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)” and “One Nation Under a Groove.”

“Bernie was the key,” Clinton says. “He knew so many different kinds of music and knew all the mechanics.”

“He gives you the theology of funk,” David Byrne said of Worrell, who has played on such Talking Heads albums as Speaking in Tongues, and on Stop Making Sense, Demme’s 1984 concert documentary. “Bernie can take the music to a very cosmic place.”

Hendryx, who has known Worrell for decades, organized the event and says that more than 70 people have agreed to come. She hopes the show will raise around $75,000 and is counting on an online auction to bring in more, with items including a signed poster from The Rolling Stones and a guitar autographed by Carlos Santana.

She and Clinton lamented that Worrell earned relatively little money from his P-Funk recordings – royalties for the group have been the subject of numerous legal actions over the years – and Hendryx was determined that he not “work himself to death” to raise the money himself.

“He’s an amazing musician and a lovely person to spend time with, and he’s so under-recognized,” Hendryx says. “We have lost so many people from our generation lately and we’ve been doing a lot of memorials. I thought it would be great for Bernie to have this celebration and be able to hear how people appreciate his musicianship and love him as a person.”