9 takeaways from our interview with Maceo Parker

Maceo Parker
Maceo Parker (Boris Breuer / Courtesy the artist)
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Maceo Parker is a bona fide music legend. Since starting his legendary run with James Brown in the mid-60s, Maceo has been at the center of every significant move in the funk world. His infectious, rhythmically dextrous alto is a part of the blueprint of the genre and he continues to play great music to this day. Recently Maceo was kind enough to spend part of his Saturday on the phone from his home in North Carolina chatting about his career and his future. Here are some highlights from the conversation. Parker plays Thursday, October 11 at the PRN Alumni's Funk N Roll Weekend.

Maceo got his signature sound the hard way

"I was lucky. I had an uncle who had a band, and you were born into sort of a musical group. My uncle had a band where the guys would sit down behind the stands and read the music and all of that and my mother and father sing in the choir. We always had a pianist and sometimes the church choir would rehearse at our home. I found out later that the reason that they rehearsed at our home was because of the fact that we did have a piano. When you grew up three, four, five, six years old and you in the midst of all this, you start trying to figure out the different instruments. Oh that's a guitar, that's a drum and the whole scope. Then somehow we formed we, I had a brother a year older than me that played trombone, I played the saxophone and a little piano, the brother behind me played drums and cousins and all that. My uncle's group was called the Blue Notes, Bobby Butler's Blue Notes, or something like that. We decided to call ourselves Junior Blue Notes. So we taking? After them.

Trying to make a long story short, once we got to the point where we started making money, we bought everything, I mean every album that anybody recorded, especially the black artists. The Miles Davis, Johnny Mathis and the whole list. We had stacks of records and albums and all this stuff. Then I was starting to get into Ray Charles too so I knew about Hank Crawford and 'Fathead' Newman and Leroy Cooper. They were in Ray Charles' band at the time, and we were lucky because we played almost every weekend. It was almost like an on the job practice sort of thing, but we did it from day one and never stopped, and that's where the luck came in. Then you start hearing all these styles of people and you say golly I like this version, I like that version, but I'm not sure if I want to do this exactly like that. Wouldn't it be sort of nice if I created my own style. Because the question that comes to mind is, 'How did they create their own style?' I don't want to be a carbon copy of somebody else, I can hear funky licks and rhythms and stuff, well maybe I'll feel comfortable in trying something funky, like really really funky. And that's what I did."

Maceo thinks James Brown favored him because his first name rhymes with "Blow"

"Once I got with James Brown, and he sort of liked my style, there were a lot of other saxophone players, but he came up with the phrases. A lot of times when you got ideas, but he didn't have a lot of personal recording stuff back then, so when he got an idea, he just rushed to the nearest radio station and put it down. If I don't have something to listen to tonight, I'll forget what was in my mind. So we rushed to the radio station and recorded. That's why in some of the early stuff you might hear some mistakes or something, 'Don't worry, keep on going.' He just talked to us and the groove's still going. Because of the fact that we had more than one saxophone player somehow he had gotten to the point where he did like my style and it definitely became an (sings) 'OK I want you to blow Maceo.' Maybe Maceo rhymes with blow, I don't know. But this is how it all started. But then his music he recorded goes all around the world and so did (sings) 'I want you to blow Maceo. Come on Maceo.'And then as it goes all around the world people physically think, 'God James Brown really likes this guy, he must be O-K.' And that's how it all started and that's why it kind of led from that to this interview.

The Funk world is a family

"I actually met him [Morris Hayes] through Prince, and when you like somebody, you like them. Somehow in my group, a keyboard position opened for awhile and we decided, 'well why don't we get Morris?' And you know, once you go through your career, there's a lot of people that you really get attached to. It's almost like a family feeling, a long lost cousin or something, and that's what Morris was, and in fact all the people from, or most of them anyway from Prince and James Brown. You just get that camaraderie type of thing and it's something you're kind of proud of. It's a family feeling, put it that way.

Getting a good horn section together is like cooking

"You're preparing food, cooking, you don't really know how it's gonna taste, but you sort of know the ingredients to put in it, and it should taste ok. If you're a cook, you're standing by somebody's shoulder to sort of learn how to do it, and that's sort of how I think, but it's sort of like that. You try and find what groove or pattern that's inside you. Like I said, we all don't want to be a carbon copy of somebody else, so you try to do your own soul searching and whatever you hear, you try to play. You gotta soul search and think, 'What's comfortable for me?' because again you gotta do it, night after night, week after week, year after year. So you might as well get a groove or a style that's really really comfortable and that you're satisfied in doing year after year after year. And it's really rewarding when you do have companions and comrades and are in the same groups and all that. It's almost like a sorority and fraternity kind of a thing."

Maceo was honored to be called by De La Soul to collaborate

"There's a self-satisfaction in what it is that you do, who you are, all the places you've been, who you've worked with and all of that. Once you establish the fact that people like you, or they send for you. They want you to come in to do your thing, they want you to come in to do your thing, which is just as easy as waking up in the morning. Once you get that kind of early on, it becomes easy. They want me because they like the way I play. I don't need to try and go play like Coltrane or anybody else. I'm going to go and play like me, beautiful, and that's the whole thing. It's rewarding, it really, really is."

Maceo loves connecting with Candy Dulfer, his guest saxophonist at Aria Event Center, and his band member with Prince in the mid-2000s

"I met Candy when she was around 15 and she could really, really, really play then, and it seems that she came up with that same kind of concept. You know I like this version, I like that version, I like this version better, and I know I may have been an influence to her in that band, but she tried to get her own thing. Not being a carbon copy of me, but she liked me and when I first heard her, who knew both of us at the same time would work with Prince, along with my trombone player, Greg Boyer from Parliament Funkadelic. The three of us were horn players for Prince at one time and we were proud of that. I mean anytime you can say, 'I worked with Prince' are you kidding me? It's almost unbelievable, and it's true. It was so much fun.

Working with Prince was incredibly special

"I almost get lost for words when I say what it felt like to be working with Prince. There's a tune, "The Question of U" I think was the name of the song, where he would have me go in the audience and he'd sing half of the song and then he'd hit a high A. I never forget it because I had to play like an F sharp on the alto way, way, way up there. And he'd have to turn for the light guy and I'm way in the audience and I'm playing that same note once he turned that note a loose. I'm playing it now and that was like wow and I think Prince came up with that idea, but again, It's Prince and I used to really really like that."

Maceo is all about spreading the love

"The microphone is in my hands a lot, I wonder if there's something I can come up with, and I did and it just happened to be love. L-o-v-e. It started I don't know how long ago, but that's my thing now... It's all about love and that's become really important to me.

Prince (and often Larry Graham) would visit Maceo when his band played in Minneapolis.

"Anytime we played there and he was in town, he would always be there. And again We'd look out and there he was, sometimes with little entourage, and if Larry's in town, he'd be there. How can you put that into words? You were close enough to him to 'Oh Maceo's playing tonight at the whatever club so we going,' and there he is. And I'd be like, 'Wow, come on, Prince? But that's the way it was.

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