Maceo Parker: Yeah, yeah, everything's going like it's supposed to. The place we're playing is called Jazz Alley-we got in last Tuesday and play through Sunday.
OffBeat: Jazz Alley? Are you still sticking to your theory of "2 percent jazz, 98 percent funk"?
Maceo Parker: Yeah, I have fun with that. They try to keep it sit-down, like a dinner theater thing or supper club, with a big ol' marquee that says Jazz Alley on the front. When we leave here somebody's probably gonna think about changing that sign. They love it, man, we've played here four or five times already, and they like havin' us here 'cause we have [fans] standing in the aisles and the walkways, and before the end of the show we actually get 'em up and have 'em shake around a little. It seems people really do want to do that, but it's almost like a Simon Says type of thing, you've got to be commanded to do it.
OffBeat: To get up and dance?
Maceo Parker: Yeah, like, "I'm not really doing this, but I've been commanded to do this and it's not my fault, I'm just following orders," so to speak. You know what I'm sayin'?
OffBeat: So that's your job, to get up there and give orders?
Maceo Parker: Exactly, exactly, in a place like that. It's a lot of fun, a lot of fun to see the smiles and everything. And we have 'em-well, somebody brought in like an eight or nine year-old in there, on up to maybe 65.
OffBeat: You've got a pretty wide-ranging audience, age-wise.
Maceo Parker: [Laughs] Right, and they were all standin' and bouncin' around, smilin' and wavin' their hands and all that.
OffBeat: So are you on a big tour right now?
Maceo Parker: Actually this [stand] is the last of the dates in the States right now. When we finish Seattle we're going to go home and rest up for a week, then we're going to Europe for four weeks. That's prior to coming down to where you are. We'll just be getting back the latter part of November.
OffBeat: For the 27th.
Maceo Parker: Is that right? Yeah, in fact-I just remembered now-we fly into New Orleans from Europe. I think we may have a day off, and then right then we've got that show. It's going really well right now.
OffBeat: How do things go in Europe? I spoke to George Clinton a couple months ago and he says you're huge over there.
Maceo Parker: I don't know, man, they really like us. I try to put my finger on it, try to figure out exactly what's the reason for it, but I keep comin' up with blanks. People are just really, really into what we do. A lot of James Brown stuff meshed in with the George Clinton and Bootsy, and I sort of represent all three of those, you know, and maybe that's one of the reason people take to what we do.
OffBeat: Excited to come back to New Orleans again?
Maceo Parker: Oh yes, it's always nice playing New Orleans. I'm wearing a jacket right now that says "House of Blues" that was given to me at the last show there. I tell you about that jacket, I was really in need of a jacket just like the one they decided to give me. I didn't even know they had jackets, and I'm about to go shoppin', and my manager turns up and says, "Oh yeah, here's a jacket from the staff of the House of Blues." The timing was really great, and that has become the number one jacket. [laughs]
OffBeat: On your last record, Southern Exposure, you had a bunch of New Orleans musicians on it, members of the Meters, the ReBirth Brass Band-do you feel a strong musical connection to New Orleans?
Maceo Parker: Well, if you look at it like music is music, then yeah. I just love music, all different styles and types, and I'd decided that it was time to get kind of a New Orleans flavor to what we normally do. That's how Southern Exposure came about. I heard, you know, I grew up listenin' to everything, man, and in that sense it could be a "yes" to your question, because I heard all the stuff out of New Orleans-you name it, I heard it-as a young kid, so who knows, that may have been what got my mechanisms going, got me thinking that maybe I could be an entertainer.
OffBeat: What was your history prior to joining the JBs in '64?
Maceo Parker: It was pretty typical-elementary school, startin' right in the home. My uncle had a band and they would practice at my place, and as a little kid just watching 'em play, tappin' your foot. As you get older, you try this instrument, try that instrument. I thought there was a lot of pride in playing the saxophone, 'cause I noticed that a lot of singers would sing and they'd also have a lot of saxophone solos on their recordings. I thought there was great pride in that, so I decided on the saxophone.
So I played all through elementary school and high school, half-time shows at football games, marching bands, and things like that. I kept playing in college and then worked with a military band, but from elementary school on up through the military band I was always doin' what we called giggin', I was always in a gig band, somewhere to make money and just get experience playing. There was a wide range of playing in that, so I was well into what I was doin' and what I wanted to do-well into Maceo-when I met James Brown. One of the reasons he decided to use me on so much of the stuff is because I try to be different-well, I'll put it this way, I try to have my own style, and James heard that something different.
OffBeat: You were playing with your brother Melvin then, right?
Maceo Parker: Oh yeah, we were hired on the same day. All the times I worked he was there, we were always together, always had a group. We played with cousins, neighbors-just a local group, and even when we went away to college, when we came back from spring break or Christmas break or whatever, you were right back with the group, the local group, so to speak. So my brother's always been there, his story is almost parallel to mine. He had the experience from starting at such a young age, and he was well into drumming and trying to get his own beats and stuff, and the same thing happened with him and James Brown that happened to me. In fact, James Brown heard him before he heard me. James was crazy about my brother Melvin. He recorded earlier stuff like "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag," "I Feel Good," with James Brown.
OffBeat: What was the difference in playing for George Clinton and the whole Parliafunkadelicment Thang after playing in the JBs?
Maceo Parker: It was a lot different. George was freer, and what I mean by freer is, he didn't have a lot of rules or stipulations. It was almost like whatever you feel like doin' is okay. "It ain't nothin' but a party," was one of his mottoes. Sometimes I sum it up like, if you get an invitation to come to a party by James Brown, the invitation may read, "James Brown is having a party, evening attire is appropriate," you know, with the bow-tie and cummerbund and everything. George Clinton's invitation would be, "George Clinton is having a party, and if anything is required it's maybe just shoes." And I'm serious, if you showed up at George's party not wearin' anything, totally nude, it's okay with him. And that's the way it was playing in his group, whatever it was that you the individual wanted to do-and get away with-it was okay.
Sometimes I don't know if I agree with that, just 'cause it gave the guys a lot of rope and some of the would use it, you know? I liked some of the restrictions and stuff that we went through with James, 'cause he tried to have a kind of family-oriented deal, where you had pride in what you were doing and what you were saying, and your show and all that. And you didn't mind bringing your mother along. Now, you have to kind of question whether you're going to bring your mother to one of George Clinton's shows [laughs]. But, as far as funkiness and excitement goes, it was about the same.
OffBeat: Did the freer atmosphere of the P-Funk thing help you grow musically?
Maceo Parker: No, it just let me know how other people are doing it. As far as Maceo-what I'm about and what goes on in my head-it didn't help that much. I cherish the days that I spent with George, and Bootsy, and like I said earlier that may be one of the reasons why we get the response we do. But I don't think it changed anything creatively inside of me.
OffBeat: So how about you, how do you run your band? Somewhere in-between the two, a little bit looser than James but not as free as George?
Maceo Parker: Right, right, exactly. We're wearin' the ties and the suits, and sometimes they don't put the jackets on, but they have the ties on. We don't do any regimented routines, but on one or two tunes we may sway from side-to-side and all that. The guys seem to like the way we do our thing, and it's kind of like the way Bootsy was a spin-off of George, he was a lot like George, but different-although he was closer to the X- rated stuff than what I do-but my guys, they like what's goin' on.
OffBeat: Is Fred Wesley playing with you right now?
Maceo Parker: No, he decided to get his own thing and get his own name out there a little more, and try to hit his own groove. I don't know if he's really done that yet, but I think he's still workin' on it. I saw Fred about a month ago, in fact he worked with me in my home town [Kinston] 'cause he's doing a special thing for me, back in North Carolina where I'm from. They presented me with a key to the city, you know, with the mayor and all that, so I invited Fred along 'cause he's in the next state over, over in South Carolina, so he came and brought his trombone. He always says, "You know, if something comes up that you think is really important that you think I need to be on, I'll work it out." We're doing something called the Rhythm and Blues Foundation awards next year, but as far as daily work, he's not doing that anymore.
OffBeat: When you were here last fall you had the ReBirth open for you and did a little jam session with them. This time around the Dirty Dozen are opening, do you think something like last time may happen again?
Maceo Parker: I doubt it, just 'cause I don't really know those guys. It's always nice to let people do their own thing. But I don't know, if I'm invited up to kinda fool around with them I may just do that, but I have to be invited.
OffBeat: Do you have a new record in the works right now?
Maceo Parker: Well, yeah, we've been working on some stuff. I've been doing some stuff for about a year now, but we're negotiating with different record companies, and I experiment with stuff in the shows. Since I didn't have Fred I kind of had to change it-not the whole concept, but change it a bit-and I think you'll like it when I come over [laughs].
OffBeat: One last question I've got to ask you, there were a few shows the JBs did with the Meters over in Europe in the earlier '90s that are pretty widespread on bootleg tapes. Have you ever considered collaborating with the Meters again, maybe for a legitimate live record?
Maceo Parker: Well, no, I haven't really thought about it. I enjoyed working with the Meters at the time, and it had to be bootlegged 'cause the business had not been done properly. I have managers and staff whose job it is to think about that stuff and then bring it by me to see if I like it, but that's just not my thing, to sit and think about who I'd like to record. I just try to see what I can do about making this saxophone sound better.