Even over the phone, Maceo Parker exudes cool.
Best known for his years as saxophonist and right-hand man to the “Godfather of Soul,” James Brown, Parker is at his home in Kinston, N.C., just one day after appearing with Prince in Chicago.
When a name eludes him, or just in between questions, the soft-spoken 69-year-old croons a couple “Boop-da-bi-da-Boo’s” until the answer comes to him.
When asked what audiences can expect to hear at his show this Saturday at the Weinberg Center for the Arts, he says he’ll probably play “snippets of [his] career.”
For some artists “snippets” might mean a song from this album and another off that album. But for Parker, it means sampling collaborations with some of the most talented musicians from the last 50 years.
“I’ll do a little bit of James Brown, a little bit of my stuff. ... Try to throw a little bit of Ray Charles in there,” Parker says nonchalantly.
Whatever he plays, Parker promises the show will be a good time.
“It’s real close to partying and I think we need that as a people to get away from what we do during the week,” Parker says. “We play it funky; it has a freedom in it where you do whatever you want to do ... if you want to clap your hands, clap your hands and if you want to dance, dance.”
Parker’s been bringing the party for more than 40 years.
Born and raised in Kinston, both of Parker’s parents sang in their church choir. But it was his uncle, who headed a band called the Blue Notes, who served as Parker’s musical mentor.
Parker says he and his brothers — Kellis on trombone and Melvin on the drums — would often accompany the Blue Notes during their performances at nightclubs. Soon, the Parker boys and their cousins had formed a band of their own the Junior Blue Notes.
It was during his time with the family band that Parker says he first discovered his love of performing.
“We just started playing and never stopped,” Parker says. “Right on through elementary school and high school and we just kept going and going.”
Later, as a sophomore at North Carolina A&T, Parker says a lecture he overheard from a professor to seniors in the music department reassured him that pursuing his dream of becoming a musician was the right thing to do.
“He was saying, ‘You won’t get a job unless I recommend you,’” Parker remembers. “I thought, ‘Maybe I have to get in a situation where nobody has to recommend me.’”
That situation came in the early 1960s when Parker’s brother Melvin was offered an opportunity to audition to play with James Brown and his band. Melvin brought his brother along for the ride.
“It’s kind of like James Brown gave me the stamp of approval,” Parker says. “People said, ‘Golly, if James Brown likes this guy, maybe I’ll like him too.’ ... It’s like he recommended me,” Parker laughs, before adding: “I’ve never said that in an interview before.”
For Parker, who grew up admiring and emulating saxophonists like David “Fathead” Newman , Hank Crawford and King Curtis, having people who wanted to sound like him was a new phenomenon.
“It became a style to play like me,” Parker says.
Parker and Melvin left James Brown briefly in 1970 to form their own group, Maceo & All the King’s Men, but eventually rejoined James and his band.
Parker later went on to play with one of the founding fathers of funk, George Clinton, in the mid-1970s.
Since then, the kid from North Carolina has gone on to collaborate with artists such as James Taylor, De La Soul and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and to record a number of his own solo albums, including “Soul Classics,” released just last month.
On Saturday, Parker will be accompanied by a group of handpicked musicians, including his son and backup singer, Cory Parke,r and his nephew, Marcus, who recently replaced his father Melvin on the drums.
“I got a band full of guys who really desire to work with me,” Parker says of the artists who will back him up Saturday night.
“That’s what makes going to work really, really good.”