Son of a bitch. What else do you call a guy willing to sabotage the futures and success of his children, the ones he helped bring in to the world, and the ones who presumably have the most to gain from his support? Of course, there are always two sides to every story, but I figure when the tale involves even a little of the supposed foul play this one does, somebody is going to come out dirty. So, what did the kids think of father, then? No, not father-- Godfather. And it could've been a breakout success if only his reach hadn't extended so far.
This is the family feud that was James Brown's scene. Sometime in the spring of 1970, big brother Maceo Parker, Brown's main sax man since '64, got the idea that living under the funky thumb of the hardest working man in show-business was perhaps not a great deal. Some say he rebelled, others say that it was simply time for a change of scenery, but whatever the case, bad deeds were done, and the only stuff to come out on the sunny end were a few sides of classic funk.
Father Brown had discovered Maceo (and his little brother, drummer Melvin) during a tour stop in North Carolina. The pair was only just out of high school, but Brown knew a good feeling when he heard it and quickly snatched up the duo. The brothers Parker joined the touring band, and were also featured on Brown's hit "I Got You (I Feel Good)," before getting picked up by another charismatic unit, the U.S. Army. So, they served a different kind of tour for a few years, but returned in the late sixties (Maceo in '67, Melvin in '69).
Of course, going on the road with James Brown wasn't exactly all good times. Eating from papa's bag could be an infuriating exercise in humility. Brown had the nasty habit of accepting any and all credit for the music issued under his name, despite the fact that riffs, arrangements and sometimes even entire tunes were created by his sidemen soldiers. On top of that, he was never known as the highest paying bandleader. So, it came to pass in May of 1970 that Maceo led a mini-walkout, taking almost all of JB's band with him.
The first record they made was under the moniker Maceo and All the King's Men, which is a good indication of the rebellion Maceo must have known he was committing. They cut nine songs for the album Doing Their Own Thing ("Thank You for Letting Me Be Myself Again" is a bonus track here), and issued one single in 1970. Their music was tried-and-true funky soul and bar-band balladry, and not a lick of it was ever going to see the top 40 if Brown could help it.
Now, I should add that there's a considerable amount of uncertainty (at least on record) as to the exact happenings regarding Brown and this band of upstarts. The prevailing story is that the Godfather actually paid disc jockeys across the land not to play tunes by Maceo's bunch. There's also the notion that the record was subject to merely bad distribution. Whatever the case, all the King's men only had the opportunity to make one more album before disbanding. Most of the guys went back to Brown, who seemingly welcomed them with open arms. It's a dicey story, but in any case, some pretty nice music was left behind by one of the best bands never to have had a chance.
Fittingly, the album begins with "Maceo," a slow, churning piece of hard funk. It's basically an excuse to have this band's leader blow a few choruses of his patented razor-sharp vamp-jazz. He sticks to tenor here (Maceo didn't switch to alto until 1973), but there's no mistaking his tone and style for anyone else's. The tune features only the barest of melodies, and in fact, was probably the kind of thing that would've been stretched out to lather up a crowd in concert. "Got to Get 'Cha" is more classic groove, and is actually still in the touring book of Maceo's band today. This one actually features the sax man's distinctive vocals, owing much to Brown's guttural pounce. Brother Melvin lays down a tight, mid-tempo beat, and the horns (including L.D. Williams on tenor and trumpeters Richard Griffith and Joseph Davis) nail the punches harder than Kool's Gang or a Tower of Power ever dreamed possible.
The band pays its respect to the Apollo showtune in jams like "Shake It Baby" (double time, rock-n-soul revue party fare) and "I Remember Mr. Banks" (jazzy, hard-blues ballad, in the style of Allen Toussaint's early organ trio sides). These are the kinds of tunes that sound best in a room of crowded, sweaty people. For the first, make room to shake everything you got; for the second, grab your girl and slow jam every waking second that Griffith's aching, muted trumpet wails.
After the short stint on their own, most of the band's members would continue to perform with Brown, in addition to further solo ventures and stints with other acts (most notably the P-Funk mob). Today, Maceo leads his own soldiers across the world playing the same old funky music he's been playing over the course of the last few decades. And from what I've read, he doesn't hold any grudges against a certain mentor who may have stalled this initial effort. Of course, Parker has long since been given his due by a new generations of fans, but I still wonder what old JB thinks of the kids that tried to branch out into their own thing. You know what they say about payback.
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Review by Dominique Leone