By Doug Levine
Maceo Parker is best known for his stint as the dynamic saxophonist for soul legend James Brown. With encouragement from close friends and colleagues, Parker recently penned an autobiography, “98% Funky Stuff – My Life In Music.”
Maceo anchored James Brown’s horn section, performing funky sax riffs on countless hits. While his illustrious career as a sideman and soloist is well-documented, Maceo explained to me during a recent phone interview that the book is anything but a confessional “tell all.”
“You can’t tell everything,” said Maceo. “A lot of things are really, really, really private, which may not even concern me. You just can’t share everything with the world. So, you go through and sort of sift out those things, and then you come up with something that’s almost like 98% funky stuff.”
Maceo recounts his childhood in Kinston, North Carolina, where he inherited a love for music from his parents. His dream of playing in James Brown’s band came true when he met him backstage for the very first time. He recalls how Brown hired him on the spot, after hiring his brother Melvin to play drums:
“At that time I was playing tenor saxophone, but the first thing he ever said to me was, ‘Do you play baritone sax?’ So I answered him like this: ‘Yes sir.’ Then he said, ‘Do you own a baritone sax?’ And I go, ‘Yes sir.’” Brown could tell that Parker was fibbing, and so he said, “I’ll tell you what. If you can get a baritone sax I’ll give you two weeks, three weeks, whatever, then, you can have a job too.”
Maceo also discusses working with George Clinton of the famed 1970’s funk group Parliament, as well as his reaction to the death of his musical hero Ray Charles. Now 70, he continues to perform throughout the world, bringing his brand of “feel good” music to fans of all ages.
“When I look out into the audience — and I may see a ten-year-old, or eight-year-old or nine-year-old there in the audience for my show — that makes me feel really, really good,” Maceo said. “People know that they can bring their kids to a Maceo Parker show and they don’t have to see a lot of stuff or hear a lot of stuff that they don’t need to hear or see. That makes me feel good too.”
Enjoy Maceo playing alto sax on “Cold Sweat,” featuring his brother Melvin on drums, Fred Wesley on trombone and others.