Many musicians come and go on the popular music scene, but few are still kicking strong at the age of senior citizenship. At 65, though, saxman Maceo Parker is no mere musician. He’s been one of the planet’s greatest ambassadors of funk for more than four decades and—if his recent Fillmore show was any indication—shows no sign of slowing down in 2008.
Parker and his band, aka “the tightest little funk orchestra on Earth,” rolled into San Francisco for a triumphant show that proved age has little to do with the ability to conjure a groove. Parker hit the stage to deliver a performance that easily stood in vitality alongside those of musicians still wombside when he first began funking it up.
The vibe at a Maceo show is something special, likely because those present understand how privileged they are to witness this American civic treasure do his thing. Parker is without doubt one of the most influential players in modern music history. He was a stalwart with James Brown in the ’60s, helped catalyze the Mothership Connection with George Clinton in the ’70s, and has collaborated with the likes of Bootsy Collins, Ray Charles, Prince, Keith Richards, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dave Mathews, Ani Difranco, and more. That Parker is still around to help music fans get their groove on is nothing short of a blessing from the music gods.
Artists with a jazz background generally don’t tour behind albums like rock bands do, so despite the fact that his latest album, Roots and Grooves, is a big band-style tribute to Ray Charles, this show remained about “2 percent jazz, 98 percent funky stuff.” Parker did don some shades for a tribute to Charles that slowed things down a bit to give fans a slight breather. But for the most part, he and his band laid down one funky groove after another during a dance party that had the crowd moving all night.
Although the average age of the crowd was a bit older than a typical Saturday night at the Fillmore, there was still a wide range. Younger gals shared grooves with older pals, and no one blinked an eye—the funk is, of course, a cross-generational phenomenon. Parker was on top of his game throughout the evening, spicing up the show with little stories and anecdotes about—what else—the funk. “It’s all about the funk, all night,” Parker proclaimed early on to mass approval. Later, he referenced Shakespeare’s famous “to be or not to be” question. “I always thought the question was to be or not to be… funky!” For Parker, there’s no doubt that the answer was, is, and always will be positive: he’s made a career out of being just about the funkiest cat around.
With a little help from his superb band, of course, who made sure the funk stayed strong throughout the show. Bassist Rodney “Skeet” Curtis laid down some compelling low-end during an early bass solo and kept it thumping all night. Trombonist Dennis Rollins and trumpet player Ron Tooley joined with Parker throughout the night to form a stellar three-piece horn section that covered all kinds of musical ground. Guitarist Bruno Speight frequently used a nifty, neck-picking style for extra slinky funk vamps; that same style exploded late in the show in a sizzling guitar solo that showed his chops were only on hold in service of (what else?) the funk.
The band threw in memorable teases throughout the night of songs like “Iko Iko”, “Hey Pocky Way”, and “Atomic Dog”, with Parker even singing a line of “bow wow wow yippy yo yai ay.” At the end of the show, the band returned for a high-energy romp through the classic funk anthem “Pass the Peas”, during which Parker displayed just as much vitality as earlier in the show. Available evidence would seem to indicate that the funk works as some kind of fountain of youth: Maceo Parker is 65 and still in his prime.