His name is synonymous with Funky Music, his pedigree impeccable: Maceo Parker; his band: the tightest little funk orchestra on earth.
Everyone knows by now that he's played with each and every leader of funk, from 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. Most recently Prince has borrowed Maceo for his record breaking Musicology Tour, after all if you want funk you'd better call Maceo! 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 fifteen 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 hip-hop.
At the end of the 1980s Maceo took up his solo career, and has over the last 15 years brought us funky music and happiness as he tours relentlessly through the world. He's probably the main contender for the title of "Hardest Working Man in Show Business" these days. 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 that fertile group of men 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 this time, 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.)
Maceo Parker was born and raised in Kinston, North Carolina. His uncle, who headed local band the Blue Notes, was Maceo’s first musical mentor. The three Parker brothers 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 his first experience of the stage that perhaps goes some way to explaining a 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”, says Maceo
In the mid '70's Maceo hooked up with Bootsy Collins, and George Clinton and his 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 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", Maceo says. 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.
In 2004 he returned to the Prince camp in 2004 where his participation on the Musicology Tour- earned him the title “Teacher” from Prince, although “Dean of Funk” might have been a more accurate phrase! The tour received huge critical acclaim and Maceo's presence excited reviewers and audiences alike, especially with his tribute to the late Ray Charles with a performance of “Georgia on My Mind”.
Maceo's last three releases “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.
His newest album “School ’s In!” is very likely the most funky studio album around. Maceo succeeds in creating as close to a live sound as is possible in a studio setting.
Having taken his touring band into the studio, (they’ve been described as tight as the chewing gum on the bottom of your shoe) he brings us an album with scholastic themes, but don’t be fooled, journalist Dave Todoroff describes “School’s In” as “undoubtedly the next best thing to being with the funk maestro in person. His alto cries slowly on a couple of slower tunes (Song for My Teacher), which allows us all to catch our breath before the next onslaught ofthe very next cut as he gets us all sick from the feverish pace in which he burns on “Speed Reading”.The overall vibe of “School’s In!!is a study in Funkanomics: 101, with the cuts playing much longer and a lot saxier than previous recordings.”
Once again he’s joined on the album by fellow saxophonist and NPG Band member Candy Dulfer in a gorgeous interplay of alto and vocals of Sam Cooke’s “What A Wonderful World”. School’s In! Indeed.