Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Life on Planet Groove

Former James Brown sax man has funky good time playing.

By Mark Jordan

JUNE 28, 1999:  When sax man Maceo Parker takes the stage before Ani DiFranco this Tuesday at the Mud Island Amphitheatre, audience members will not be getting the former James Brown sideman's full funk.

"Because we have opening status, we don't have as much time as we'd like," says Parker. "We have to scale everything down to about an hour. Normally we do about three hours.

"When you hit one of those grooves, you don't want to turn that groove loose unless you just gotta gotta."

If three hours sounds like funk overload, well, that's exactly what Parker is shooting for. His most recent release, in fact, is called Funk Overload and features Parker's trademark mix of soul-jazz sax over tight syncopated grooves.

"I was at a crossroad about what I was going to record, like you always are right before you go into the studio," Parker says of the album. "I was hearing from people who were saying, 'Maybe you should do a jazzier thing.' Then I thought: No, I'm not going to do that because I'm getting a lot of support from the kids who like the funky side of what we do. So I thought it would be better to do another funky album. The reason I called it Funk Overload is so when you first walk into that record store and from a distance you see Funk Overload, then you know something on there's going to be funky."

Obviously, the groove runs deep in Parker. He's known that since he was a young player in his hometown of Kinston, North Carolina, where he still lives with his family. Starting in elementary school, Parker played constantly, learning diverse styles by playing in concert and big bands as well as jamming with dance bands in area clubs.

"You get pretty well-rounded that way," Parker recalls. "So I just found it really easy for me to be in that funky groove, funky mood, funky mode. And I found out a lot of people couldn't do that. So that's when I thought that might be where my expertise lies."

In 1962, while attending college in Greensboro, North Carolina, Parker was on the road with another band when his drumming brother Melvin was approached by James Brown, who offered him a job on the spot. Melvin, also in college, didn't take the job then, but when he finally did join the Godfather of Soul two years later, he had his little brother in tow. Maceo Parker played with James Brown off and on for 16 years. With fellow JB Horns Pee Wee Ellis (saxophone) and Fred Wesley (trombone), he formed one of the most admired and hardest-working horn sections ever.

Parker first left the Brown fold in 1970 to start the solo projects Maceo & the Macks and All The King's Men. He rejoined Brown's band three years later. His association with former Brown bassist Bootsy Collins led to Parker's teaming with the century's other great funk man, George Clinton, in various incarnations and offshoots of the latter's Parliament-Funkadelic collective. Parker also found time to appear on recordings by Keith Richards, Living Colour, Deee-Lite, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Finally, in 1990, with Brown in jail serving a sentence for drug-related offenses, Parker finally "took the time to stop saying yes to playing with everybody else" and restarted his solo career. He recorded Roots Revisited that year, starting a string of much-praised funk releases that also includes Mo' Roots, Life On Planet Groove, and Southern Exposure.

On Funk Overload and the current tour, however, Parker brings the funk back home by introducing his son Corey, a former engineering student at North Carolina State-Raleigh, as a rapper with the band.

"[Corey] had a copy of some stuff that I let him hear, and he just started writing some rap," Parker recalls of his son's first foray into the family business. "Next thing you know, it was that Maceo groove thing. He let me and some of the guys in the band hear it, and we liked it. I liked the style. It had that syncopated stuff. It was right there. Well, then [Corey] thought he could write it and somebody else could rap it. And I said, 'No, no, no. Can't nobody do your stuff like you. You've got to come out and do it.' So he gave it a shot. He came out and now I can't get him to leave."

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