Maceo Parker: his name is synonymous with Funky Music, his pedigree impeccable; his band: the tightest little funk orchestra on earth.
Everyone knows by now that he's played with each and every leader of funk, his start with James Brown, which Maceo describes as " like being at University "; jumping aboard the Mothership with George Clinton; stretching out with Bootsy's Rubber Band. He’s the living, breathing pulse which connects the history of Funk in one golden thread. The cipher which unravels dance music down to its core.
"Everything's coming up Maceo," concluded DownBeat Magazine in a 1991 article at the beginning of Maceo Parker's solo career. At the time Maceo was a remembered by aficionados of funk music as sideman; appreciated mainly by those in the know. More than a decade and a half later Maceo Parker has been enjoying a blistering solo career. For the past sixteen years Maceo has been building a new funk empire, fresh and stylistically diverse. He navigates deftly between James Brown's 1960's soul and George Clinton's 1970's freaky funk while exploring mellower jazz and the grooves of hip-hop.
His collaborations over the years performing or recording or both have included Ray Charles, Ani Difranco, James Taylor, De La Soul, Dave Matthews Band and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. His timeless sound has garnered him a fresh young fan base.
It is almost impossible to separate which came first, Maceo or the funk. The amazing P-funk Parker has been at it with his legendary alto horn for some time dating back to the 1960’s. That’s when Maceo and his drummer brother Melvin climbed on board the James Brown funky soul funk train. It wasn’t long before James coined the solo summoning signature, “ Maceo, I want you to Blow!” . To most musicologists it’s the muscially fertile group of men from this period of James Brown's band who are recognized as the early pioneers of the modern funk and hip-hop we still jump to today.
In 1964, Maceo and his brother Melvin were in college in North Carolina studying music when a life-changing event took place. James Brown, the famous God Father of Soul happened on to an after hours club in which Melvin was drumming a gig. Mr Brown was in search of some late night food when he was knocked out by Melvin Parker’s bombastic beats. Brown offered the drumming Parker a future gig, telling him all he had to do was refresh the soul man’s memory and a job would be his. Cut to a year later when James Brown’s band was touring again in the North Carolina area. The Parker brothers looked to take JB up on his verbal job posting and cased the venue in search of James Brown’s limo. After a while they spotted the vehicle and waited for brother James to step out. Walking right up to the already legend of soul, Melvin works Mr. Brown’s memory to the year before. Soon, JB’s eyes light up and he resubmits the job to the drumming Parker, while Maceo stands by waiting his shot. Then Melvin blurts, “Oh, by the way Mr. Brown this is my brother Maceo, he plays saxophone, and he needs a job too.” James, asks Maceo if he owned the big horn. Maceo, spouts a big fib responding “Ahhhhh, yes Mr. Brown,” knowing full well he would have to go out and find the big brass Bari sax if he wanted to join his brother on the road. Maceo found a Baritone sax and recollects that he and his brother thought they’d play with JB for about six months and then head back to school. Maceo laughs, “ We stayed a lot longer than that.”
Maceo grew to become the lynch-pin of the James Brown enclave for the best part of two decades. - his signature style helped define James' brand of funk, and the phrase: "Maceo, I want you to Blow!" passed into the language. He’s still the most sampled musician around simply because of the unique quality of his sound.
There would be other projects and short hiatuses during his on-off time with The Godfather, including a brief spell overseas when he was drafted, and in 1970 when he left to form Maceo and All the Kings Men with some fellow James Brown band members (the two albums from this period are on a constant reissue cycle even some thirty years later.)
It was Maceo's uncle front man for local band the Blue Notes, who was Maceo’s first musical mentor. The three Parker brothers (Maceo, Melvin and trombonist Kellis- later to become Professor of Entertainment law at Columbia University) who formed the “Junior Blue Notes. " . When Maceo reached the sixth grade, their uncle let the Junior Blue Notes perform in between sets at his nightclub engagements. It was Maceo's first experience of the stage that started his love affair with performing that has increased rather than diminished with time.
Maceo grew up admiring saxophonists such as David "Fathead" Newman, Hank Crawford, Cannonball Adderley and King Curtis. "I was crazy about Ray Charles and all his band, and of course particularly the horn players" . By the age of 15, Maceo had forged his own style on the tenor sax. "I thought about ‘Maceo Parker plays Charlie Parker’, and then I thought how about ‘Maceo Parker plays Maceo Parker’, what would it be like to have young sax players listening to me and emulating my style of playing”. Thus the “Maceo sound” we know so well was born.
In the mid '70's Maceo hooked up with Bootsy Collins, George Clinton, and the various incarnations of Funkadelic and Parliament. He now had worked with the figure heads of Funk music at the height of their success. From the breathtaking shows of James Brown to the landing of the Mothership, Maceo has been there - as close as it gets to some of the most exciting moments in musical history, contributing his sound as a constant point of reference.
In 1990 the opportunity came for Maceo to concentrate on his own projects. He released two successful solo albums entitled Roots Revisited (which spent 10 weeks at the top of Billboard's Jazz Charts in 1990) and Mo' Roots (1991). But it was his third solo album, Maceo’s ground breaking CD Life on Planet Groove, recorded live in 1992 which soon became a funk fan favorite. Planet Groove also served as a calling card, boosting Maceo's contemporary career as a solo artist for a college aged audience, and bringing into being his catch phrase "2% Jazz, 98% Funky Stuff."
Maceo began his relentless headlining touring, bringing his top notch, road-tight band and three hour plus shows to the people all over the world. "I feel it's my duty as an artist to go as many places as I can, especially if the people want it." The soft spoken North Carolina native doesn't come out on stage in a diaper or a velvet swirling cape, no giant spaceships or 50 person entourages, nothing except the core of his musical soul which he lays open every time he blows his horn.
In 2003, after several years as Band Leader for the Rhythm and Blues Foundation Awards Maceo received a Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation for his contribution as a sideman to the genre of R & B.
He has also since 1999 participated in some of Prince's groundbreaking tours when not with his own group.
Maceo's albums Funk Overload , Dial M-A-C-E-O and Made by Maceo entered the top 40 in the European charts upon release. Dial M-A-C-E-O features guest spots from the Mistress of folk music Ani DiFranco, Prince, and a quite different James from the one we have come to associate with Maceo: James Taylor, while School's In from 2005 is about as Funky as a studio album can be.
At the beginning of 2007 Maceo had a chance to fulfill one of his dreams in working with a Big Band. Working with Grammy Award Winners the WDR Big Band, he broadcast and performed a live series of shows paying tribute to Ray Charles and putting Maceo’s own funky music to a Big Band setting.
This has led to his latest release Roots and Grooves a live recording taken from these shows which also features Dennis Chambers and Rodney "Skeet" Curtis.
"Given Parker's sense of groove invention and the evergreen emotional power of Charles' chestnuts like "Busted" and "Hit the Road Jack," anyone might have expected this to be a dream match. But it's more than that because Parker also sings with a gravelly, Charles- like perfection on these two songs, and even more poignantly on "You Don't Know Me," "Margie," and a magically moody "Georgia on My Mind." Charles may have been declared deceased in body in 2004, but he lives again through Parker in haunting yet wonderful ways"