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April 09, 2013

Maceo Parker's '98% Funky Stuff' Shares Life Stories

by Doug Levine

Maceo Parker is best known as the dynamic saxophonist for legendary soul man James Brown.  But, Parker recently entered the world of publishing with his autobiography, “98% Funky Stuff - My Life In Music.”

Maceo Parker was the heart and soul of James Brown’s horn section, performing funky sax riffs on hits like “I Got You (I Feel Good).”  While his illustrious career as a sideman and soloist is well-documented in “98% Funky Stuff,” he says the book is anything but confessional.

“You can’t tell everything.  A lot of things are really, really, really private, which may not even concern me," he said. "But there are other people who I happen to be working with; you see things and hear things you just consider private.  You just can’t share everything with the world.  So, you go through and sort of sift out those things, and then you come up with something that’s almost like 98% funky stuff.”

Maceo Parker's '98% Funky Stuff' Shares Life Stories

Parker recounts his childhood in Kinston, North Carolina, where he inherited a love for music from his parents.  His father played piano and drums, and both his mother and father sang in their church choir.  Parker’s uncle was also a musician, and sometimes invited him and his brothers Melvin and Kellis to perform during intermission at his band’s nightclub shows.

Parker says he will never forget meeting James Brown for the first time. Writing in his book, he recalls how Brown immediately hired him to play sax in his band, after offering to hire his brother Melvin to play drums.  

“At that time I was playing tenor saxophone, but the first thing he ever said to me was, ‘Do you play baritone sax?’  So I answered him like this: ‘Yes sir.’  Then he said, ‘Do you own a baritone sax?’  And I go, ‘Yes sir.”  Then he said, ‘I’ll tell you what.  If you can get a baritone sax I’ll give you two weeks, three weeks, whatever, then, you can have a job too.’  And he stuck his hand out to shake my hand the same as he did with Melvin.  That was James’ little process of sealing the deal,” he said.

Parker also discusses working with George Clinton of the famed 1970s funk group Parliament, as well as his reaction to the death of his musical hero Ray Charles.

Parker’s latest solo album, a live collection of R&B cover songs called “Soul Classics,” appeared in 2012.   Now 70, he continues to perform throughout the world, bringing his brand of “feel good” music to fans of all ages.

“When I look out into the audience - and I may see a 10-year-old, or eight-year-old or nine-year-old there in the audience for my show - that makes me feel really, really good," he said. "People know that they can bring their kids to a Maceo Parker show and I don’t have to see a lot of stuff or hear a lot of stuff that they don’t need to hear or see.  That makes me feel good too.”