A breezy, anecdotal memoir by the funky saxophonist who reveals himself to be an uncommonly decent man.
Though fans of James Brown and Parliament-Funkadelic know Parker as one of the finest saxophonists in the genre, even he admits that his first name is his claim to fame, particularly after his first recorded solo on “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” when Brown exhorted him, “I want you to blow, Maceo.” That huge hit elevated Parker beyond the ranks of talented but little-known sidemen, spreading the word even among international audiences who thought that “Maceo” was some kind of exotic slang rather than an actual man’s name. Though the book’s repetitiveness could have used a strong editor and another writer might have mined the material for more dramatic detail and narrative momentum, the author’s conversational tone makes for genial companionship. He relates his upbringing in a musical, churchgoing family, the financial struggles of his alcoholic (but much beloved) father, the adventures of a Southern black musician during segregation and the civil rights movement, and his attempts to avoid the draft during the Vietnam War. He tells how his drummer brother first commanded the attention of Brown, who agreed to hire Maceo as well to fill a need for a baritone saxophonist (which he had never played). The contrast between the strict discipline in Brown’s band and the comparative anarchy under P-Funk’s George Clinton (with whom many Brown alums decamped), as well as that between the early, whipcracking Brown and the later, drug-addled one generate much of the interest in the book. Yet even more compelling is the author’s self-portrait, as one who has “stayed away from drinking and drugs my entire life” and who was “most comfortable traveling in the slow lane when it came to women” (and lost some because of it).
A lightweight but enjoyable memoir from a humble man who has enjoyed a career he can be proud of.