Maceo Parker was born on February 14, 1943 in Kinston, North Carolina. Parker's mother and father both had an appreciation for music and sang in their church's choir, but it was his uncle who had the strongest influence on the youngster's musical development. Parker's uncle led a local jazz and R&B band called the Blue Notes, and Maceo would sometimes watch them rehearse; in time, Maceo would take up the saxophone, while his brothers Melvin and Kellis respectively learned to play the drums and trombone. Their uncle was impressed enough with the youngsters' abilities that he dubbed them "the Junior Blue Notes" and had them perform between sets at Blue Notes shows. The Parker brothers were seasoned professionals by the time they enrolled at North Carolina A&T, where they studied music. In 1963, Melvin Parker had graduated and was offered an audition with James Brown, who was looking for a new drummer; Melvin landed the gig, and when he asked if Brown could use a new sax player as well, Maceo was also offered a spot in the band.
Originally playing baritone sax, Maceo eventually switched over to tenor, and his style on the instrument was ideal for the band — rich, rhythmic, and full of sharp, staccato lines that meshed with Brown's taut and funky sound. After lending an inspired solo to Brown's 1965 smash "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," Maceo became one of the key members of Brown's recording and touring band, and his solos were an integral part of some of Brown's best-known songs, including "I Got You (I Feel Good)," "Mother Popcorn," "Sex Machine," and "Cold Sweat." However, Brown's well-documented reluctance to part with a dollar and a firm hand over his sidemen led most of Brown's band to quit en masse in 1970; Maceo was one of the musicians who walked, and he soon formed his own group, Maceo & All the King's Men, with his brother Melvin on drums. Maceo & All the King's Men had released an album by the year was out, titled Doin' Their Own Thing, but despite the strength of their live show, they didn't fare as well as they had hoped commercially. In 1973, Maceo rejoined Brown's touring band, though he found time to cut a solo album, Us, in 1974. The following year saw another revolt sweep through the ranks of Brown's group, and Maceo, trombonist Fred Wesley, and bassist Bootsy Collins all jumped ship to work with George Clinton's various projects, including Parliament and Funkadelic.
In 2004, Parker's impressive live show was documented on film for the documentary My First Name Is Maceo, which featured interviews with Maceo discussing his life and music along with extensive footage of him and his group in full flight. In 2007, Parker performed a series of concerts in Europe with the German ensemble the WDR Big Band; highlights from the tour appeared on the album Roots & Grooves, including a set of tunes made famous by Ray Charles, one of Parker's early influences. And Parker paid homage to a handful of other R&B greats on another collaboration with the WDR Big Band, 2012's Soul Classics, with Maceo putting his stamp on classic numbers by Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Isaac Hayes, and his former employer James Brown. Parker spent the next several years touring the United States, but spent more time in Asia and Europe. To that end, Minor Music reissued 1990's Roots Revisited: The Bremen Concert in 2015. In 2018, Parker released It's All About Love on which he was backed by Michael Abene and WDR Big Band Cologne on a collection of classic soul and funk covers. Later in the year, Minor issued Life on Planet Groove - Revisited on which the saxist re-recorded his classic album alongside new material. His band for the date included Candy Dulfer on alto sax, Larry Goldings on organ, guitarist Rodney Jones, and his longtime compadres trombonist Fred Wesley and saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis. It's All About Love was released in the United States the following year. ~ Mark Deming