Maceo Parker was just out of college when his brother smooth-talked their way into James Brown’s band.
The funk/soul saxophonist — who played with Brown in the 1960s and ’70s — soon became a glittering star in the James Brown universe. Typically, Brown would yell “Maceo! Blow your horn!”
And he would.
Parker, who brings his eight-piece funk band to Victoria tonight, recalled it was his drummer brother, Melvin Parker, who was originally invited to join Brown’s band in the early 1960s.
Brown had caught Melvin’s band in performance and was impressed. The Godfather of Soul introduced himself and invited the young drummer — then still in college — to join his band when he finished his education.
One year later, with Maceo in tow, Melvin approached James Brown to remind him of his handshake and promise. “And then he said, ‘Oh yeah, Mr. Brown. This is my brother. He’s a saxophone player. He needs a job, too.”
Brown asked Maceo if he played baritone saxophone. Yes, said Maceo, who’d only tinkered with the instrument in high school. Then he asked him if he owned a baritone. Maceo did not.
“So I go, ‘Ah … yes sir!’ He said, ‘I’ll tell you what. If you can get a baritone sax, you can have a job, too. Here’s a handshake.’ And that was my beginning with James Brown.”
The Parker brothers were hired for Brown’s band in 1964. Maceo can be heard on such classic recordings as I Feel Good, Cold Sweat and Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag. Later, he went on to join another funk juggernaut: Parliament-Funkadelic. And then Parker became a bandleader in his own right.
His ebullient live recording Life on a Planet Groove (1992) was his breakthrough — especially striking a chord with the college crowd.
Parker, who this year published his autobiography 98% Funky Stuff: My Life in Music, is 70 years old. Part of what’s allowed him to continue as a musician who tours globally (about 250 dates annually) is his healthy lifestyle.
Parker has never indulged in alcohol or drugs. And he stays active — he used to jog; now he walks regularly for exercise.
The saxophonist decided to abstain from drink as a 12-year-old. He listened to neighbours who were critical of musicians “getting drunk and acting silly.” And he saw how alcohol affected some of his relatives.
“I just made a decision, if that stuff just makes you loud and funny and crazy and all that, then I have to stay away from it,” said Parker, interviewed this week from his hometown of Kinston, N.C.
In part, he credits James Brown’s habit of calling out his name for his successful solo career. Parker realized that Brown’s music was popular all over the world. And if Brown was calling out “Maceo!” in performance and on recordings, that meant audiences knew who he was, too.
“But I didn’t know about love then,” Parker said. “I try [in concert] to throw out as much love as I can. So people just smile and have almost kind of a Garden of Eden kind of deal.”
Some fans have been so stirred by Parker’s music, they’ve given their children his unusual first name. The musician is aware of at least 50 youngsters who have been christened Maceo after him.
“It’s crazy, man. I even ran across a couple who said, ‘You know what? We don’t even know what gender our baby will be. But the name is gonna be Maceo, whether it’s female or male.’ ”
Parker says he intends to perform as long as he can play well. Although if he gets to the point where he has to sit down on stage, he may pack it up.
“I just enjoy making other people feel OK through the performance … to give people something,” he said.
Parker fan named coffee shop for him
He may be the biggest Maceo Parker fan in Canada. Certainly in this city, anyway.
Sam Jones, 41, owns Victoria coffee company 2 Per Cent Jazz. He has coffee shops at The Hudson and farther north on Douglas Street, beside the Times Colonist building.
The shops are named after Maceo Parker’s famous description of his own music on the album Life on Planet Groove. Parker declares his sound to be “two per cent jazz, 98 per cent funky stuff.”
In college, Jones was a diehard James Brown and Maceo Parker devotee.
When he decided to run his first coffee shop, in a wooden purple kiosk in front of the Times Colonist, he wanted a special name. He chose 2 Per Cent Jazz in honour of Parker and his horn-fuelled funk,
“I wanted it to be personal. And that was as personal as it got. This feeling you get when you listen to the funk music is such a happy feeling, not much else matters when you’re in that groove,” said Jones, wearing a Maceo Parker T-shirt.
Jones asked Parker’s manager, Natasha Maddison, for permission to name his coffee enterprise 2 Per Cent Jazz.
Later, he met Parker backstage after a performance at Legends nightclub, and the saxophonist personally gave his blessing. “He said, ‘Oh, that’s you. Very cool.’ ”
Once, Jones invited the entire Maceo Parker band to visit his purple coffee kiosk. And they did, the day after a show here.
“I think I said, ‘I really want you to come and see what I built for you,’ ” Jones said with a laugh. “I think it was a blue bus — these funkateers coming out of the blue mothership.”
Jones cannot count the number of times he’s seen Parker perform, mostly in Victoria and Vancouver. He usually visits the band backstage — often supplying them with ground coffee for the road.
He will be in the audience tonight at Upstairs Cabaret. Parker’s manager put him on the guest list — no charge.
“I don’t go out very much anymore,” said Jones, who has young children. “But I definitely make a point of seeing Maceo when he’s in town.”
What: Maceo Parker
Where: Upstairs Cabaret
When: Tonight, 7 p.m.
Tickets: $40 (Lyle’s Place, Ditch Records, ticketzone.com) (Note: few left at press time)