MACEO PARKER is now recognised throughout the worlds of jazz, soul, funk, rhythm'n'blues and all stations short of MTV as a uniquely gifted alto saxophone player with assorted other instrumental skills in his trick bag. An instantly identifiable soloist he is also an accomplished composer/arranger, a more soulful singer than many frontline vocalists, an astute catalyst for bringing together similarly talented accompanists, a genial showman, a gua-rantor that his gigs and recordings demand attention and always reward the price of admission. In short, Maceo Parker is now a star name in his own right.
It's been a long time coming and Minor Music is proud to have been part of the process. Maceo's five albums to date for this company are proof of the transition - the emergence of a man from years of spicing other's gumbos to finally creating and serving his own musical recipes, hot from the karma kitchen. What goes around comes around.
Maceo himself is first to acknowledge the amazing schooling that has made him such a versatile and endurable force to be reckoned with. He honed his craft under the captaincy of, first and foremost, the hardest working, most ballbusting bandleader that any recruit is ever likely to encounter, Mr Jaaames Brown, then journeyed on the craziest mothership this side of Planet Zog, George Clinton's P-Funk extravaganza - all the while working alongside many of the hottest musicians to flim and flam since Bop Wars. Anyone surviving 30 years of that with unperturbed equilibrium, blistering talent and a huge grin has got to be somebody extraordinary. That's Maceo for ya.
Born and raised in Kinston, North Carolina, Maceo and his brothers Kellis (trombone) and Melvin (drums) started getting their chops together with a junior version of their uncle's jazz group, Bobby Butler & The Mighty Blue Notes. At that time Maceo's first love was tenor sax. Come 1964, James Brown, already voted the USA's No.1 R&B star, expanded his musical parameters in several different directions at once, reshuffling his previous small band into a full-blown orchestra, taking on board musicians that were instrinsically jazzmen rather than R&B hoofers. On one of his swoops through the south he heard and hired Melvin; Maceo got an accompanying pass to the bus because JB was short one baritone saxophonist. Thus is history made, by default. Within a short ride Maceo was thrust into the limelight for blowing the tenor and (latterly released) baritone sax solos on Brown's epoch-making "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag", swiftly followed by "I Got You (I Feel Good)". Barely getting into his stride he was then summoned from the field of play by Uncle Sam.
After military service, in April 1967 Maceo immediately returned to the James Brown Orchestra as lead tenor man, over the next three years featuring distinctively on the majority of Brown's revolutionary hits from "Cold Sweat" (July 1967) to "Funky Drummer" (March 1970). For the first couple of years he worked alongside PEE WEE ELLIS, who by '67 had become Brown's bandleader and principal musical interpreter. Among other hits, "Get It Together", "I Got The Feeling", "Licking Stick",, "Say It Loud, I'm Black And I'm Proud", "Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose", "Mother Popcorn", "Let A Man Come In", "Ain't It Funky Now" and "It's A New Day" cut a New Breed groove that rocketed Brown into a league of one and still reverberate around the world in sampled soundbites. It was during this period that Maceo learned what it takes to withstand the simultaneous exhiliration and exhaustion of relentless first degree burn. He soon became an integral personality of Brown's stage show and, from September 1969, after Pee Wee's departure, co-director of the orchestra. Around the same time Brown started experimenting with brief, unsuccessful excursions into mainstream MOR, supper club doodlings and fuzz-rock involving other musicians, leaving his main men frustrated and insecure. In March 1970 Maceo took off with seven other key players for two years independent touring and recording as Maceo & All The King's Men. "I wouldn't say I rebelled," he has said, "It's just that you grow and come to the point where you need to get out and do your own thing." The two albums were chunky, funky fun and are now highly collectable; at the time they got lost in the shuffle. Legend has it that, in a fit of pique, James Brown paid more of his own money to dj's to quash the albums than the record companies paid to promote them.
Meanwhile Brown had recovered from his temporary aberrations to forge ahead as born-again Sex Machine with new players, The JBs. The original JBs were based around a couple of young crazios, Phelps and Bootsy Collins, who would go on to greater things but at the time couldn't take the pace and soon fell over sideways. Trombonist, composer/arranger, FRED WESLEY, briefly with the JB Orch at the end of the 60s, accepted the job of salvaging the chaos, tempting several old hands back into the fold. Maceo's return at the start of '73, now on alto sax, was celebrated by an all-hands-on-deck JBs No.1 R&B smash, "Doing It To Death" (aka "Gonna Have A Funky Good Time"), the group then alternating releases, hits and aliases as Fred Wesley & The JBs or Maceo & The Macks ("Party", "Soul Power '74", "Cross The Track" etc) until both men jumped ship in 1975 to George Clinton, for whom they founded The Horny Horns.
First heard on Parliament's "Mothership Connection" (late'75) and Bootsy's "Stretchin' Out In Bootsy's Rubber Band" (early '76) - the two platinum albums that landed P-Funk on an international audience - The Horny Horns added oomph to all of the multifarious projects that poured out of the Clinton camp until the entire riotous revue imploded at the beginning of the 80s. Before the collapse they were well represented by two Horny Horns albums, "A Blow For Me, A Toot To You" (1977) and "Say Blow By Blow Backwards" (1979); a third project, "The Final Blow", recently emerging from George Clinton's tape vault. Maceo's profile during much of the 80s was a now-you-see-him, now-you-don't affair: periods of intense activity, including annother stint with James Brown, interspersed with guests slots as studio sessioneer with the likes of Deee-Lite, DeLa Soul and 10,000 Maniacs. But as the decade advanced he was heard increasingly frequently on other people's techno-creations, his contributions stolen (there's no other word for it) from his earlier recordings via the new facility of sampling. Fortunately Maceo, just coming to his prime, was virile and talented enough to bounce off the situation and relight his own fire. The process began in 1988 when Maceo, Fred and Pee Wee reunited for a European tour with the Bobby Byrd Revue. Enter Minor Music.
After recording the Bobby Byrd Revue live in London we offered Maceo, Fred and Pee Wee their own space. Elsewhere in this catalogue you'll find the two other men's individual voices. Maceo took flight in 1990 with ROOTS REVISITED", pertinently dovetailed the following year with MO' ROOTS, two jazz chart-topping albums that, as their titles suggest, dynamicaly recapped where he was coming from: personalised tributes to several of the most inspirational jazz and soul composers and performers he grew up listening to, interspersed with a few "can you spot 'em?" updates from his own back pocket. As one reviewer commented, "He recreates the past that can see into the future."
Both albums featured Fred and Pee Wee (the triumvirate still works together as much as possible when schedules permit) and Maceo's own rhythm section, all of whom, with guests, were captured live and tearing up the house on 1992's LIFE ON PLANET GROOVE, another best-seller. If, after too many years of head banging electro-thump, you have forgotten the power of live music, check this one out to regain your faith.
Last year's SOUTHERN EXPOSURE also included a couple of cuts with the old gang but for the most part explored alternative funk territory down in New Orleans, where Maceo teamed up with The Rebirth Brass Band and two of the Crescent City's renowned sons of funk, guitarist Leo Nocentelli and bassist George Porter Jr. from the original Meters, organist Will Boulware and drummer Herman Ernest III chopping into the changes. The album recently prompted Downbeat magazine to call Maceo "one of the funkiest people alive". We're not about to argue with that.