STILL HORNY AFTER ALL THESE YEARS

SAX LEGEND MACEO PARKER ON MUSIC, JAMES BROWN AND THE KEYS TO FUNK.

For three decades, two words have described saxophone playing at its funkiest: Maceo Parker. Parker joined James Brown's back-up band in 1965, and before long he'd created the immortal, punchy riffs that dominate Brown classics such as "Poppa's Got a Brand New Bag," "Popcorn," "Lickin' Stick" and "Cold Sweat." Along the way, the saxophonist became a household name and a mainstay of Brown's act. When the Godfather of Soul stopped his shows to shout, "Maceo, I want you to blow!" Parker would do just that. And he hasn't stopped yet.

Now 52 and enjoying a thriving solo career, Parker exudes a funked-up, yeah-I'm-the-man attitude. "It may sound kind of corny, but I believe that we all do have a responsibility and a place and a purpose and all that," he says. "Especially those of us who are on the stage and entertain. See, everybody can't do what we do. Everybody cannot entertain. And I feel like it's our purpose to entertain and bring it to those who need some entertaining. That's really what keeps me going--when I can go to different places all over the world and make somebody smile or make them feel good or make somebody's day okay just because I am there doing what I do. That's fuel enough for me to continue to do what I do as long as I can." He laughs as he adds, "Plus, the pay is not bad."

True, Parker's made a good living, but he's also kept his feet planted solidly on the ground; he still resides in Kinston, North Carolina, where he was born and raised. It was there that Parker (then playing tenor sax, rather than his trademark alto) formed his first band, the Blue Note Juniors, with two brothers, drummer Melvin and trombonist Kellis. Shortly thereafter, Melvin--who'd enrolled at a college, North Carolina A&T--was offered the drum chair in the Hardest Working Man in Show Business's support group. With Melvin's assistance, Maceo subsequently was hired by Brown to play baritone sax. Today the saxophonist is the only Parker to concentrate on music full-time: Kellis is a law professor at Columbia University, while Melvin spends most of the year working as a teacher. During summer breaks, however, Melvin tours with his brother's band.

In his ghostwritten autobiography, James Brown: The Godfather of Soul, Brown speaks fondly of Parker--but he also makes note of friction between them. "Over the years he has quit and been fired more times than either one of us can count," he claims. Parker hotly denies this allegation. In fact, it was Uncle Sam, not Brown, who insisted that Parker leave the act the first time; he was drafted in late 1965 and spent the next 24 months playing in the Army band at a base in Augusta, Georgia. "At the time it was a drag, because I had worked with James for about a year, and I'd really gotten into traveling all around," he recalls. "No, man, I didn't want to stop doing it. But then I decided that if I had to go into military service, I was going to make the best of it--be part of the military band and party-party. And that's what I did."

Following his discharge, Parker rejoined Brown's outfit--and while he was absent from the lineup numerous times over the next twenty years, he insists, "I was never fired. That's just something that James decided to put in his book. I guess it just sounded good to him. To be honest with you, I quit a few times because it got to the point where nothing was happening production-wise and he didn't have that many jobs. And because of that, he couldn't pay the whole group.

"Now, I knew that I had a talent and I could go work with other people or I could do my own thing," he continues. "A lot of people in the band didn't have that flexibility. I could work with George Clinton. I could work with Bootsy Collins. I could work with anybody. But a lot of guys over there didn't have that option, so they started depending on James Brown. So a lot of times when he couldn't make the payroll, I just left because I felt that if I were not there, he could pay the people who had to be there."

Brown, though, saw Parker's independent streak as a sign of disloyalty. "The second time I left, I took James's whole band," Parker remembers. "We called it Maceo and All the King's Men. But James did everything he could to make sure that the group didn't make it. He had a lot of power then, and a lot of people listened to him. He even sent money to people to tell them not to play our records and not to advertise us. That's what was happening back in the Seventies."

Still, Parker looks back on the Brown years without bitterness. "I like to say that James Brown was like a college or university," he explains. "And, you know, nobody stays at a university their whole life. You eventually graduate. Time marches on, and you have to go with it."

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