" BluesWax Sittin' "
With Bob Putignano
On many occasions we've all heard James Brown yell out, "Maceo! Blow your horn!" Which was how the Godfather of Soul would signal his favorite sax player to take another dynamite solo. Maceo Parker's alto is most unique, he has one of the most distinctive sax sounds in all genres of music. Parker's solos on "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" and "Cold Sweat" have pretty much made Parker somewhat of a household name on many of Brown's numerous smash hits during the 1960s and '70s. What's more interesting is that got the gig mainly due to the fact that Brown loved Parker's brother Melvin's drumming style and chops, needless to say the rest was Soul-Funk history.
For some time now Parker has been in the spotlight fronting his own bands and has become a star in his own right. Parker's Verve albums, Mo' Roots and Roots Revisited, showcased his Soul-drenched alto sax over a sizzling hybrid of Funk, R&B, Jazz, and some Blues, too. On those aforementioned recordings, Parker also brought along his ex-James Brown horn section consisting of trombonist Fred Wesley and saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis, who were also known (both in the studio and on record) as the James Brown Horns.
Parker quit James Brown's band on many occasions, but reunited with Brown on and off during the 1970s. It's also interesting to note that when Brown was jailed, Parker was there for him and released a song urging that the Godfather of Soul should be immediately released. Parker also worked with Parliament Funkadelic (of which some of those P-Funk band members currently reside in Parker's band to this day) and he also worked with Bootsy's Rubber Band (Bootsy Collins, of course).
I recently had the very good fortune to chat with Parker right at the time his new, live double-CD Roots & Grooves, on Telarc Records, was charting mightily on various formats around the digital and radio dials.
Bob Putignano for BluesWax: How you doing, Maceo?
Maceo Parker: I'm fine, I'm fine.
BW: Welcome back to New York. I see you have two gigs in the area.
MP: Yeah, we're still doing the Funk, taking our music to as many places as we can, and just trying to enjoy life.
BW: That's great. I saw you and your band about a year and a half ago at the Montreal Jazz Festival and you guys smoked the joint.
MP: Thank you.
BW: Is the band I saw in Montreal pretty much the same unit that you tour with here in the U.S.A.? It's a very different band than the one you have on the new CD.
MP: The U.S.A. band is pretty much the same band you saw in Montreal, but the Roots & Groove group on the CD was a project that I just happened to come by my way, and gave me the opportunity to get my Ray Charles thing going, so we figured why not give it a go.
BW: I dug the Ray Charles stuff on the new disc and I also dug the more old-school Funk you did on the second CD with a European big band. Was this a difficult project to do with different non-American big band, especially considering that you did it live?
MP: No, no. It was very natural. I just did what I've been doing, that being going out there and having a great time. But it's different when I perform with the big band in Europe as opposed to when I perform with my group here. My group is really like I am in the control room where I can direct my musicians to bring the music up or down volume wise and let the tunes run as long or as short as I want, plus I can let the music vamp for days if I want. So everything is pretty much centered on me. Now with that Roots & Groove Euro big band I have to follow their schedule as the music is all written out. So when I am not soloing I have to be counting bars, I have to be ready at a certain specific time, which is not the case with my band here in the U.S.A. So with the big band I really have to be more prepared, and you know how I like to play with the crowd and smile and have fun with them, but I have pay more attention.
BW: You've been doing this Funk for a long time now and I've seen guys around your age starting to slowdown, but not you.
MP: Well, you know I still enjoy what I do, especially the music we play, it sends people in a good mood, our audiences seem to marvel at what they see and hear. So we try to entertain and put out the kind of music that a lot of other bands cannot do. You know it's like sports, you try and hit that baseball and throw the ball with consistency, so a lot of what we do has to gauge on this type of accuracy, with spontaneity as well. We love the feeling of being able to give our audience something that makes them feel good, that also makes them feel a little bit more healthy, and to hopefully make them stronger to do what they need to do within their lives.
BW: You definitely send out that positive high energy, you always have. What always fascinates me about your audiences is the fact that unlike a lot of Roots music bands and artists, your shows are always attended by a wide age group, so for me it's neat to watch teens, mid-aged, and baby-boomers dance and party with the mesmerizing groove you set.
MP: It is great and what's really cool is that the people who have known us for years and years now bring their kids, which makes what we do very rewarding. You know, man, people bring stuff for me to autograph and sometimes people bring pictures that were taken fifteen to twenty years ago of me and those people with their children in the photo, and now that kid is twenty years old and still coming out to see us, that's just too cool for me. We try to be very family-oriented so that parents can be comfortable to bring their kids to our gigs, we don't do that crazy stuff onstage or sing those lyrics that might offend anyone. We just love what we do and we love the people, too.
BW: Are there any new plans for you, Fred Wesley, and Pee Wee Ellis to do anything?
MP: Last year we did some shows in Japan together and it was fun to go through that old stuff, but currently there is nothing planned. We also did that one track on that Fats Domino tribute CD Goin' Home, which also had Lenny Kravitz, the Rebirth Brass Band, and Trombone Shorty on it, and that was a blast. And people always keep asking us to do things together all the time.
BW: One of my favorite records that you were on was that Soul On Top CD of James Brown's that was re-released about two years ago on Verve, where the big band was Louie Belson's and the arranger was the great Oliver Nelson. Do you remember those sessions?
MP: Yes I do, I remember this session well, and it was a very long time ago.
BW: Maceo, it's been a pleasure, is there anything else that you would like to add before we go?
MP: Well, as you know we do these concerts all over the world trying to promote peace, love, and happiness, to the point where you hear me say more than once, "On behalf of all of us, we love you!"
Bob Putignano: www.SoundsofBlue.com