"Everything's coming up Maceo," concluded DownBeat
Magazine in a 1991 article, at the at the beginning of Maceo
Parker's solo career. At the time Maceo was a remembered
by aficionados of funk music as back-seat sideman; appreciated
by those in the know, but not well known on the music scene
of the time. More than a decade later Maceo Parker is enjoying
a blistering solo career. For the past ten years Maceo has been
building a new funk empire, fresh and stylistically diverse.
He navigates deftly between JB's 1960's soul and George Clinton's
1970's freaky funk while exploring mellower jazz and hip-hop.
Throughout the United States, Europe and Japan he has garnered
unusual simultaneous respect as both an unrivaled musical legend
and a hip, contemporary artist. Today Maceo headlines over 250
performances a year worldwide to sold-out audiences of college
fans and old-school music aficionados alike. Over this time
he has collaborated on recordings with such diverse acts as,
Ani DiFranco, Prince, De La Soul, Jane's Addiction and
Dave Matthews Band.
Raised in Kinston, North Carolina, Maceo was born into a musical
family: both his parents played gospel music in their church.
But his uncle, who headed local band the Blue Notes, was his
first musical mentor. At age 8 Maceo picked up the saxophone,
and his brothers Melvin (7) and Kellis (9) chose drums and trombone
respectively. The three Parker brothers formed the Junior Blue
Notes and grew up admiring such heroes 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" .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. By age 15, Maceo Parker 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..."
and thus the Maceo sound was born. By the time Maceo and
Melvin were attending the A & T College in Greensboro, the
two were seasoned pros. On an evening in 1962 (while Maceo was
out of town with another band), Melvin was performing with a
local band, when James Brown wandered in for some late night
food. Impressed with the young drummer's style, that night James
told Melvin, "If there's ever a time when you're not a
student and you want a job with me, you got it, automatically."
Both brothers would approach J.B. a year and a half later. "I
really wanted Melvin," Brown remembers 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. I didn't
know what I had got!"
Maceo grew to become the lynch-pin of the James Brown enclave
for the best part of two decades. 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 J.B. band members
(the two albums from this period are on a constant reissue cycle
even some thirty years later.)
From baritone saxophone, to tenor, and eventually his current
instrument alto saxophone - Maceo's signature style helped define
James' brand of funk, and the phrase: "Maceo, I want you
to Blow!" passed into the language.
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 unique sound as a constant
point of reference.
In 1990 the opportunity came for Maceo to concentrate on his
own projects. Maceo 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 release, the 1992 live album Life on Planet Groove that
would launch Maceo's contemporary career as a solo artist for
a college aged audience and brought into being Maceo's catch
phrase "2% Jazz, 98% Funky Stuff." It was about this
time that Maceo began his relentless headlining tours, bringing
his top notch, road-tight band and three hour plus shows to
the masses. "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.
Gene Santoro of Downbeat Magazine describes Maceo's musical
style as: "He's no bebopper, reborn or otherwise. His roots
are the church and the blues
his sound is joyful, cutting
ribbon of light and heat burnished by grit and soul. His riff-based
attack is melodic, unraveling and re-weaving 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." There's no
doubt about it, "There's only one Maceo."
Maceo's last two releases Funk Overload and Dial M-A-C-E-O 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 latest album Made by Maceo is just that. A no-frills affair
from the man who was and is present at the birth of any
funky music. Recorded live in the studio with his touring
band, and a special guest spot with fellow saxophonist
From Maceo's urgent J.B.-flavored opener "Come By And See"
featuring some hot soloing from Candy Dulfer, to the hard-hitting
"Off The Hook"; from the aggressively funky instrumental
"Quick Step" to the raucous organ-driven roadhouse
shuffle "Lady Luck", Maceo's infectious goodfoot grooves
are guaranteed to inspire much sweaty rowdiness on the dance
floor, says Bill Milkowski of the New York Times. Other reviewers
cite this latest offering as Maceo's strongest since Life on
In between his own touring during 2002 Maceo squeezed in time
with Prince and his One Nite Alone tour (US, Europe, and Japan).
The tour received huge critical acclaim and Maceo's presence
excited reviewers and audiences alike.
2003 looks like coming up roses once again, with the new album
receiving heavy attention in Europe and Maceo himself receiving
a Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation for his
contribution as a sideman to the genre of R & B.
Maceo says that during his college years he considered teaching
as a career until he discovered that most musical educators
wanted to be performers, and his love for performing took over,
for which we are all grateful. His contributions - bordering
on creation - to funk have sealed his place in history, as both
a musician and a legend. You could say he became the educator
he set out to be, he just took the slightly longer route.
He's still doing it. And that to me makes a really legendary
Friend and Mistress of Folk, Ani DiFranco.
"...the double bill seemed disparate at first: Funk Saxophonist
Maceo Parker sharing the stage with folkie feminist Ani DiFranco?
Ah, but that's how memorable nights of music are made. The two
artists had lots in common actually: they are both ground-breakers
- Parker for his seminal work with James Brown and George Clinton,
DiFranco for her unique sound and leading role as an independent
record label owner. More to the point, they both believe in
the unmitigated joy and freedom of the funk, not funk as a musical
style per se - though Parker wrote the book on that one- but
funk as a rallying cry, as a way to unleash human potential;
recognize the problem, deal with it then bump it out the door
with a swift shake of the hips. ...he didn't just play songs
he played a set of interconnecting grooves where tunes flowed
into one another like a deep eddying river of funk...His stage
introduction 'Come on Maceo' with every syllable pulled, stretched
and repeated until his name became synonymous with funk... each
parlance was a variation on one big message: give in to the
uplifting power of music. His blowing was timelessly on target,
with a leanness of thought that was the reduced essence of bebop
laid over the skeletal structure of rhythm and blues.... DiFranco
and Parker acted like kids and chipped away at the notion of
musical boundaries..." -Commercial Appeal, Memphis,