Sax legend Maceo Parker was born in 1943 in Kinston, N.C. into a musical family -- both his parents sang in their church choir and Maceo's uncle was in a professional band that would often rehearse at Parker's house. Not surprisingly, before they reached puberty, Maceo and his brothers, Kellis and Melvin, had all taken up musical instruments. Maceo chose the saxophone, Melvin the drums and Kellis the trombone. They got their first professional experience at gigs with their uncle's band, playing in between sets.
All three Parker brothers attended North Carolina A&T, where they majored in music. While still in college, Melvin managed to attract the attention of James Brown and was offered a job playing in the Godfather of Soul's backup band. When Melvin Parker graduated he was immediately hired by Brown, and asked if there were any openings for his brother Maceo. And so Maceo Parker was hired on as James Brown's baritone sax player, the start of his acclaimed career as a professional saxophonist.
After switching from baritone to tenor sax, Maceo landed a solo on the hit James Brown song "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," earning him a more central role in the band. He later had important solos in such hits as "I Feel Good," "Cold Sweat," and "Sex Machine." Parker's work with James Brown has been sampled frequently in rap and dance songs of the '80s and '90s.
In 1970 most of Brown's sidemen left the band and formed a Group called Maceo and All the Kings Men, who produced an album or two before rejoining Brown in 1973. Later in the '70s Brown's bassist, Bootsy Collins, and trombonist, Fred Wesley, joined Maceo Parker in a move to George Clinton's funk extravaganza, Parliament. Maceo refined his style to better suit the loud, funky nature of his new band, but after seven years and several recordings with Parliament/Funkadelic/P-Funk, Parker left the group for an independent career.
In the 1980s he fronted several groups such as Maceo and the Macks, Maceo Parker and the Horny Horns, and similar funk/jazz ensembles; he also did session work with several bands and his old boss, James Brown.
In 1990 Parker launched his solo career with Roots Revisited, released on Verve Records. The album topped the Billboard jazz charts for 10 weeks, prompting Rolling Stone magazine to name Parker "Best Jazz Musician of the Year."
A year later, Parker followed up his debut success with Mo' Roots, also released on Verve.
Parker's third solo effort, Life on Planet Groove, was recorded at the Stadtgarten Restaurant in Cologne, Germany, and was released in the fall of '92. The CD proved to have very strong "legs," and has sold more copies per year than each prior year since its release.
For 1994's Southern Exposure, Parker switched to the Jive label. JazzTimes said of the CD "it will blow your socks off with a minimum of notes."
Parker spent most of the '90s on the road, building a huge and fiercely loyal following playing sold-out concerts in college towns across the country. His legendary 3+ hour shows made him a favorite of fans and club owners alike.
Parker has described his music as "98% funk, 2% jazz," but with each solo release he has explored new territory, venturing from soul and funk to jazz and blues.
Case in point, Parker's latest CD,
Funk Overload, on which he covers classics by Marvin Gaye, Rufus and Sly &
the Family Stone. Funk Overload was released on What Are Records in late summer
'98. Parker and his band spent that fall playing select dates on the Dave Matthews
- Christina Cramer