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12:00 AM Monday, 12/14/98 |   |

WHEN FANS HEAR JAMES BROWN -- IN THAT distinctive, soulful voice -- call out during one of his grooving tunes "Come on Maceo! Play your horn," they know exactly what's on the horizon.

To some, it's that in-the-pocket style of playing, fitting the rhythms produced by the thick bass lines and tight drumming like some perfectly designed puzzle piece.

Others consider the sax man's solos, covering the range of sounds from the highs to the lows with his then-tenor saxophone, as complimenting Brown's songs better than ice-cold milk does to fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies.

Personal reasons aside, when it comes to Maceo Parker's sound, most everybody can agree on one thing: it's some phenomenal -- and funky -- horn blowing.

For nearly three decades, Parker has been a driving force within the funk movement, always at the forefront of the scene. The talented alto saxophonist has displayed his abilities as a soloist and in some of the genre's premiere funk outfits, including those with Brown and George Clinton.

Just having Parker explain his start in James Brown's group during the '60s is like hearing a part of musical history unfold. "I was hired as a baritone sax player," Parker told POLLSTAR, "but then -- my major instrument at that time was the tenor saxophone -- the situation came where I was able to start playing tenor.

"When [Brown] heard my style, eventually I was the premiere saxophone soloist with him, where he would call my name on the records, you know, 'Come on Maceo, play your horn.'"

Parker has come a long way from his days with Brown's group. In the years since then, he has embarked on a successful solo career, releasing albums while making guest appearances on records by artists including Jane's Addiction and De La Soul, among others.

This year, after taking a lengthy recording hiatus in order to accomplish some serious touring in the States and across the pond, Parker and What Are Records? teamed to produce Funk Overload, his debut for the Boulder, Colo.-based label.

Unfortunately, the chances of mainstream radio picking up one of the 50-some-year-old's groovy tunes are slim. But, as any concert-goer who has seen Parker will probably say, hearing the sax master on vinyl or disc is no substitute for the real, live thing.

"I really enjoy entertaining," Parker said, "but it means more to me now because I can say that, hopefully, through the music, through the show, through the performance, I can also try to promote love and peace and harmony and togetherness, try to uplift people and give them something to feel good about."

Parker's hippie-like attitude toward performing and music is a fresh statement in a world so focused on the bottom line. His many years of experience in the scene have no doubt affected his attitude.

"I learned a lot and you sort of still [continue to learn] what you feel could be useful to you," Parker said. "When you get to a point where you're going to have your own group, in other words, you learn how and how not to do things."

For example? "To sort of lead your audience, like when to do a slow tune ... or when a tune is too much, too fast, you've done it long enough, now let's go to something else."

Parker almost takes a fatherly attitude with his audience, providing guidance to the wild bunch on the dance floors. "For somebody to say, 'Everybody move from side to side,' like I do from time to time, or, 'Shake everything you got,' I think that we as humans may need this," Parker said.

"I am thankful to be on this end of it where people come and feel a little bit uplifted because of the show," he said. "Within our lives, there's going to be downfalls and tragedies and all that, and music can fill in to sort of balance out what commonly happens in life."

It seems that concert-goers have turned on to the uplifting feeling that Parker's music conveys. On his recently finished European tour, he hit the 1,000-capacity venues; some he encountered were not big enough. "We did about 1,000 people ... that's what we primarily do and it works for us," he said. "A lot of times ... there's a lot of people that can't get in.

"Now we're thinking about finding larger venues that hold 2,000 people just to see what happens, or I gotta go back to booking more than one night ... because there are a lot of people who are into what we do. And if you catch them at the right moment, right time of the year, then they're there."

Yet, Parker isn't picky when it comes to playing a venue. "I kind of like to go with whatever the time is. If it's time to do the small [venues], we'll do the small ones. If it's time to do the not-so-small, we'll do that."

Parker's cool, easy-going attitude doesn't reflect the vast commitment he has toward performing. "As I get older, I think I may be looking toward when I could work for maybe half the year or something like that," he said.

"I haven't gotten to that point yet, but it sounds good to my wife and kids when I say, 'Oh, don't worry about it, another two or three years maybe.'"


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