Born on February 14, 1943, in Kinston, NC. Education: Attended Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina (now North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University). Addresses: Record company--What Are Records?, 2401 Broadway, Boulder, CO 80304, phone: (303) 440-0666. Website--Maceo Parker Official Website: http://www.maceo.com. Booking--Central Entertainment Services, Inc., 123 Harvard Ave., Staten Island, NY 10301-1312, phone: (718) 727-3348.
He's the funky player that singer James Brown chose to hail before each set with the fabled command, "Maceo, blow your horn." Saxophonist Maceo Parker worked with Brown for more than 20 years and contributed to such classics as "Cold Sweat," "Lickin' Stick," "Poppa's Got a Brand New Bag," and "Popcorn." "Lord knows--just ask James Brown--there's only one Maceo," declared Gene Santoro in Down Beat about Brown's peerless saxophone sideman. Though his renowned riffs with the James Brown Revue are the staple samplings used by many rap artists, solo recognition eluded Parker until he was 48 years old and his album Roots Revisited went to the number one spot on the Billboard jazz charts in the early 1990s.
"You know, you can take a tape or a record to some very private spots; your room, your house, your car," Parker observed to Cynthia Rose in her biography of James Brown, Living in America, "and there you are with that music and your own private thoughts. Then next week there's the same performer that you had in the bedroom, performing live the same music you heard in those very inner places.... That's where I think there is a magic about bein' who we are. The percentage of bein' that person--I don't know if it's greater or smaller or what percentage it is--but it's there. You know what I'm sayin'? That's what they callin' up when they tape-loop me or James [Brown]."
Born on February 14, 1943, in Kinston, North Carolina, Maceo was born to a family of musicians. His parents performed gospel music in church, but his uncle, who headed a local band called the Blue Notes, was his musical mentor. With his brothers Melvin and Kellis, Parker formed the Junior Blue Notes in grade school. Melvin played drums, Kellis played trombone, and Maceo played the saxophone. After they entered the sixth grade, the boys' uncle allowed them to perform during intermission at his band's nightclub engagements. Accomplished on the bandstand when they entered the Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina, Melvin and Maceo kept up their musical commitments while attending school.
In 1962 James Brown heard Melvin perform in a band called Apex at the El Morocco Club in Greenville, North Carolina. Brown had just finished his own show at the Coliseum when he asked Melvin to become his drummer. Declining because he was still in school, Melvin was given an open invitation to join Brown whenever he was available. That same night at another club, Maceo was performing in a group called the Disciples. Both brothers would approach Brown a year and a half later.
In 1964 Melvin brought Maceo along when he went backstage to tell James Brown he was ready for a job. "I really wanted Melvin," Brown revealed in his autobiography, James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, "but I figured I had to hire Maceo, too, if I wanted to get his brother." Brown needed a baritone sax player for his James Brown Revue but hired Maceo, who played tenor. "I didn't know what I had got!" the singer related to Rose. While his brother would soon leave the band, Maceo remained, alternating between tenor and baritone sax with St. Clair Pinckney, and eventually keeping the tenor spot.
Throughout the 1970s Parker ventured out on his own, but failed to find the success he had with Brown in popularizing a brand of rhythm and blues known as funk--a term from the African-American lexicon that originally had vulgar connotations. "I do remember," Maceo confided to Rose, "havin' to get that term 'funk' OK'd by my parents ... to them, it was just not a gentleman's word. See, when I got out of college, it was just a way to play: funky as opposed to straight. Just a form, a style of music. James made it a craze." Indeed, from 1970 to 1973 Parker's bands--which included Maceo and the Macks, Maceo & All the King's Men, and Fred Wesley and the JBs--were not able to generate much interest without frontliner James Brown.
In 1973 Parker rejoined Brown and switched to alto sax, another of his signature instruments. In the mid-1970s he experimented in the electro-funk genre with Bootsy's Rubber Band and George Clinton's Parliament and Funkadelic bands, but all paths led back to Brown for the next 20 years. It wasn't until Brown's six-year prison term in Aiken, South Carolina, in the early 1990s that Parker found his course altered. With the JBs--tenor saxophonist Fred Wesley and trombonist Alfred "Pee Wee" Ellis--Parker put together two phenomenally successful recordings.
"He's no bebopper, reborn or otherwise," noted Santoro about Parker's performance on his number one jazz album, Roots Revisited. "His roots are the church and the blues ... his sound is a joyful, cutting ribbon of light and heat burnished by grit and soul. His riff-based attack is melodic, unraveling and reweaving themes rather than running chords, and primarily rhythmic, relying on finely-shaped nuances of timing and displacement to communicate--kinda like his longtime boss' vocals, amazingly enough." "Jazz purists tend to regard [Parker's] sort of high decibel rhythm-and-blues as something less than desirable, but it should surprise no one that jazz has not eluded Parker's ears," another critic commented in Stereo Review. "Mind you, Roots Revisited ... retains all the nasty ingredients that make us snap our fingers and twist our bodies, but it dishes up funk with a generous sprinkling of individual jazz expression."
Along with the album For All the King's Men--which lured rap enthusiasts with the song "Let Him Out," a dynamic plea for Brown's release from prison--Roots Revisited affords "a pretty good picture of the insides of Maceo's talented head," declared Santoro in Down Beat. Artists as varied as Bootsy Collins, Limbomaniacs, and Deee-Lite deliver the indisputable evocations of Parker, which led Bill Milkowski to conclude in Down Beat that in the music world of the 1990s, "Everything's coming up Maceo."
Throughout the 1990s, Parker continued to tour, record, and collaborate. Parker told Chris Nixon of the San Diego Union-Tribune, "I still love the work, I love my job and I love the people. At the same time, it gets a few bills paid as well." Indeed, Parker's funk-inspired albums have garnered him an international fan base, including dedicated listeners in England, Spain, and Japan. In 1994, a documentary film was made about Parker called My First Name is Maceo. The film showcased live performances from 1994 and interviews with Wesley, Ellis, and Clinton as well as many other luminaries of the music industry worldwide.
Having learned more than a little from the "hardest working man in show business"--James Brown--Parker's vitality is evident even as he enters his 60s. His shows often last as long as three and four hours. In 2002, Parker toured with Prince, satisfactorily filling out his musical resume. The legendary saxman related to Matthew S. Robinson of the Lowell Sun, "I love performing. I feel that this is my purpose and I love to do it." Parker has proven, time and again, that he is perfectly capable of continuing to fulfill his purpose.
by Marjorie Burgess and Eve M. B. Hermann
Maceo Parker's Career
Began playing tenor saxophone as a child with local group Blue Notes; formed Junior Blue Notes in elementary school; performed in regional nightclubs in the sixth grade; played in the Disciples, 1962; joined James Brown Revue as a baritone and tenor saxophonist, 1964; formed group Maceo & All the King's Men, 1970-73; rejoined Brown as alto saxophonist, 1973-1990s; performed with Bootsy Collins and George Clinton's Parliament and Funkadelic, mid-1970s; formed Maceo Parker Band, mid-1990s; toured with Prince, 2002.
- Selected discography
- Doing Their Own Thing House of the Fox/Charly, 1970.
- Us People PVine (Japanese import), 1974.
- Funky Music Machine House of Fox/El Cello, 1975.
- For All the King's Men 4th & Broadway, 1989.
- Roots Revisited Verve, 1990.
- Pee Wee, Fred, & Maceo Gramavision, 1990.
- Mo' Roots Verve, 1991.
- Life on Planet Groove Verve, 1992.
- Southern Exposure Jive Novus/Minor Music, 1993.
- Maceo (soundtrack), Minor Music, 1994.
- FunkOverload What Are Records?, 1998.
- Dial M-A-C-E-O What Are Records?, 2000.
- Made by Maceo What Are Records?, 2003.
- My First Name is Maceo Minor Music, 2004.
- With James Brown
- Sex Machine Polydor, 1970.
- Solid Gold: 30 Golden Hits Polydor, 1977.
- James Brown's Funky People Polydor, 1986.
- The Best of James Brown Polydor, 1981.
- Doin' It to Death Polydor, 1984.
- Ain't That a Groove Polydor, 1984.
- The CD of JB: Sex Machine & Other Soul Classics Polydor, 1985.
- In the Jungle Groove Polydor, 1986.
- The CD of JB II Polydor, 1988.
- Brown, James, with Bruce Tucker, James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, Macmillan, 1986.
- Rose, Cynthia, Living in America, Serpent's Tail, 1990.
- Down Beat, September 1990; October 1990; March 1991.
- Lowell Sun (Lowell, MA), August 29, 2003.
- People, January 14, 1991.
- San Diego Union-Tribune, January 22, 2004.
- Stereo Review, March 1991.