Funkmaster Maceo Parker
By Brian L. Knight
Before Maceo Parker arrived in Charlotte, The Southern Vermont Review got a chance to speak with him while he was at his birthplace and present home of Kingston, North Carolina. Maceo and his band had just returned from an Asian tour and were taking 8-9 days off from playing. What does Maceo do when he is not thrilling crowds with his "98% funk and 2% jazz: " Father Stuff. Taking the kids to school, going to the library, taking the garbage out. I like the balance. I like the work and I like being at home. I have gotten to the point where its time to go to work, I go to work; when its time to go home, I'll go home".
Maceo Parker grew up in a musical family. His father was played the piano and drums and his uncle played in a band called Bobby Butler and the Mighty Blue Notes. Following the steps of his peers, Maceo and his brothers, Kelvin and Kellis, formed the Junior Blue Notes. The Parker musical tradition has obviously carried on. Maceo's son, Tory, is now a permanent member of the band. The musical relationship between father and son is reciprocal. Maceo provided musical guidance for Tory while Tory fills Maceo in on new music: " I do not know about current bands. I don't have time to see what is out there. We are so busy. I am not in a position to check out new bands. I learn about music through my sons when they place a tape in stereo when we are driving." As for fellow musicians, Medeski, Martin and Wood, Maceo has not heard them but he has "heard good things about them." This Funk Festival Tour is the first time that they have played together.
Besides the family influences, Maceo Parker attributes a lot of his inspiration to Ray Charles. " At an early age, I liked Ray Charles. He was the most outstanding performer that I have ever heard. I was in awe of his singing. And when I saw him play the saxophone, it was great for me." Maceo had an opportunity to play with Ray Charles a couple of years ago when the two did a 15 day tour together.
Maceo Parker spend a quite of time touring. To be precise, he and the band play 320 days a year. Maceo simply commented: "I have a bunch of guys who don't want to go home. We stay busy." Maceo and the band especially like playing in Europe. Maceo said with laughter:" I like going where they like me. They like me everywhere, so I like playing everywhere." The band plays a pretty standard format of songs for every show with very little deviation. "I work the stuff out in my head and it works good. So I change very little." The lack of change from show to show doesn't seem to bother the fans, for the keep on coming back for more. The band also likes to play in their clean suits, which is not often seen onstage these days. Maceo said that every now and then the jackets would be taken off on a hot summer day, but the shirts and ties would always stay on. The sharp dressing simply add to the professionalism of Maceo and the band. They mean business when it comes to playing music.
After playing with his brothers, Maceo got his first big musical start playing for James Brown and then George Clinton's Funkadelic/Parliament. Maceo claims that Brown provided Maceo with some insight on how to run a band. "Starting out at ground level, you learn what to do and what not to do. When I was on-stage, I would ask myself 'why and how did he choose songs to sing?' There were things I liked and didn't like. All of these years, I have gotten things together that I call my own." Despite their influences, Maceo doesn't want to play with Clinton or Brown again: " It would be a step backwards. It would have to be special project like a tribute or something. I wouldn't tour."
Maceo Parker has a reputation for having a lot of interaction with the audience. He loves to see all the smiling faces. He commented on what he sees when he plays to a crowd: " Sometimes it is a ratio of male over female or female over male. If it makes a difference, I prefer to have more females, but sometimes the guys beat them to the front. Most of the time, its people who know the music and know what to expect. This makes my job easy. Other times, it is people who want to slap a "high-five", get a handshake or sign an autograph. I try to weave amongst the people in the crowd from left to right to make sure that they know that they made the right choice to come to the concert."
For the forty days during the year that Maceo doesn't play, he will return to Kingston, North Carolina. What would he do if he didn't perform music? "Probably teaching music. I would have High School Band somewhere preparing for a half-time show or a parade." Will he do this when he retires from live performing? " No way. I will be shooting pool and playing ping pong. This is my only job. If somebody would pay me to walk around with my hands in my pockets, I might do that."