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Thursday, Jun 20, 2024

Fans Still Think Maceo Parker is a Funk Master

Author: Andrew Zrike

Revered as one of the great funk sidemen in history, over the last 10 years Maceo Parker has also established himself as a solo artist to be reckoned with. Through his work with James Brown, George Clinton and now with the popularity of his solo outfit, Parker has been bringing his special brand of funk to the masses for 40 years, including to the diverse and sweaty crowd at the Higher Ground in Winooski, Vt., last Tuesday.

Parker got his start playing with family members in his native North Carolina, developing his now notorious, single-chord groove-oriented style. However, it was not until Parker and his brother attracted the attention of James Brown, and joined him at packed houses around the country, that Parker received any much-deserved recognition.

Eventually Parker earned notoriety all his own due in part to his solos on several of Brown's hits, such as "I Feel Good," and "Papas Got a Brand New Bag" and also to Brown's countless yells and grunts of "Parker! Blow your horn!" His later work with George Clinton and the various over the top and wild incarnations of Parliament established him as an attraction all his own and demonstrated his ability to bring his distinctive touch to any group and any audience, young or old.

After years of playing second fiddle in some of the greatest hit-making funk outfits, Parker decided to finally take center stage and form his own touring funk machine.

Parker's days with Brown and Parliament during the height of their popularity meant an instant carry-over audience for his solo work.

However, a testament to Parker's talent and ability to get any crowd moving, is the youthful audience, which is probably just hearing his music for the first time, that Parker is able to attract now. While James Brown and George Clinton have been relegated to greatest hits has-beens, Parker has managed to stay contemporary enough to continue to sell records and pack performances around the world. Recent work and collaborations with such wide and varied artists as De La Soul, Ani Difranco, the Dave Matthews Band, James Taylor and Prince have helped Parker to change the way in which funk music is perceived.

The diverse crowd that packed into the Higher Ground for Parker's performance is a testament to his long and distinguished career as a sideman, collaborator and bandleader. Made up of fans of all ages and appearances, they where drawn together by a willingness to get up and dance. Though the audience definitely lacked rhythm — the majority of the people doing a special brand of out of sync arm swinging and twirling present at most Burlington-area concerts these days — they made up for their poor dance skills with consistent energy throughout the show.

Parker and his large, well-practiced touring band ripped through countless Parker originals and funk classics throughout the night. Giving the crowd the music they wanted to hear, Parker played several old James Brown and Parliament classics, and mixed them with his well-known tracks such as "Pass the Peas" and "Shake Everything Ya Got." The latter of these did draw on a bit at a tedious 12 minutes, but during this time Parker showed his generosity as a big band leader by giving all the members of his touring band, including the singers, an opportunity to solo. Parker demonstrated that he has learned a thing or two from James Brown and George Clinton; he kept the audience engaged by shouting out to the crowd, in the style of these funk masters. Parker's often quoted catch phrase describes his music as "2 percent Jazz, 98 percent Funky Stuff." His performance at the Higher Ground, and his new album "Dial M-A-C-E-O," definitely confirm this description.

The album features upbeat, funky tunes with a pop edge and humorous lyrics, including the opener "Rabbits In A Pea Patch." Above all, Parker's recent work confirms that the Parker sound is here to stay.