Melvin Parker, best known as James Brown‘s drummer, died at age 77 last week in Baltimore. He performed on a bunch of Brown’s hits in the ’60s and ’70’s, including “Out of Sight,” “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag,” “I Got You (I Feel Good)” and “Get Up Offa That Thing.”
“The Parker family is in the process of making arrangements for a final goodbye,” read an obituary on the website of. R. Swinson Funeral Services, located in Parker’s hometown of Kinston, N.C. “Let’s keep the Parker family in our thoughts and prayers during this time of bereavement.”
“We lost one of the greatest [drummers] that flew under the radar,” wrote Bootsy Collins, who played with Brown before he joined Parliament-Funkadelic, on Facebook. “Thx u my brother Melvin for ur Gifts to the World & our time in the studio. R.I.P.”
Growing up, Parker and his siblings would perform impromptu songs and plays for the adults in the family, setting the foundation for his future career. “Daddy would line us up in the front yard and teach us ‘left face’ and ‘right face’ and ‘about face,’ and even doing half-lefts and half-rights and oblique moves. And we would march to time,” Parker recalled of his childhood. “And he had us doing so well at time that we could do silent cadence … I must have been about four or five years old, and I could march to a silent cadence. But I didn’t realize that he was teaching us time and rhythm.”
In 1962, while attending the Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina, Parker and his band were playing an after-hours club when Brown walked in. The Godfather of Soul was so impressed with Parker’s playing that he offered him a job after graduation.
Shortly afterward, Parker’s brother, saxophonist Maceo Parker, also linked up with Brown. “A whole year went by, and we were back in Kinston,” Maceo told The Washington Post in 2019. “We’re thinking, Let’s see if both of us can get a job with James Brown. We played with other bands, but we were waiting for James Brown. We’re thinking, how are we going to find him? When he came to town [for a show], we rode around the perimeter of the [Greensboro] Coliseum until we saw the limousine and rode in behind him.”
Listen to James Brown’s ‘Get Up Offa That Thing’
Melvin and Maceo Parker contributed to several of Brown’s hit records, though Melvin’s first run with the band ended in the mid ’60s when he was drafted. But he returned in 1969 and appeared on Brown’s classic Sex Machine album.
In 1970, much of Brown’s band, including Melvin, walked out on their leader as a result of monetary disputes. Melvin then joined Maceo’s group at the time, Maceo & All the King’s Men, before rejoining Brown briefly in 1976, at which time he played on the hit “Get Up Offa That Thing.”
“The greatest drummer I ever had in my life was Melvin Parker,” Brown told Mojo in 2004. “‘I Feel Good’, ‘Papa’s Bag’ – nobody ever did that. Nobody. And they can’t do it now. And if I was getting ready to cut a record that was right, I would go get Melvin today, because he’s just like a metronome.”
In Memoriam: 2021 Deaths
Remembering the musicians, actors, producers and others who have died in 2021.