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Fred Wesley & The Horny Horns

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Biography

Trombonist Fred Wesley, saxophonist Maceo Parker, and trumpeters Richard "Kush" Griffith and Rick Gardner comprised Fred Wesley & the Horny Horns, one of the many Parliament/Funkadelic spin-offs that George Clinton worked with in the late '70s. Back then, the Horny Horns were Parliament/Funkadelic's horn section and they also backed Clinton associates like Bootsy's Rubber Band (led by singer Bootsy Collins), Parlet and the Brides of Funkenstein. But Wesley and Parker (who plays both tenor and alto sax) were embracing hardcore funk and soul long before they became part of Clinton's Parliament/Funkadelic empire; in the '60s, the thing that made them famous was their association with the seminal Godfather of Soul, James Brown. Like Augusta, GA's Brown, Wesley and Parker are both from the Deep South, Wesley was born in Mobile, AL, in 1944, while the slightly older Parker was born in North Carolina in 1943. And both of them were in their twenties when they joined Brown's horn section in the early '60s. A true perfectionist, Brown was notoriously demanding. He was rightly exalted as the Hardest Working Man in Show Business and Brown expected a lot from his sidemen. But Wesley and Parker were up for the challenge -- they were superb musicians who could handle jazz, as well as soul and funk. Though Brown is primarily an R&B singer, he has always identified with jazz, and the fact that Wesley and Parker were quite capable of playing jazz was a definite plus in the Godfather's mind. In the '60s and early '70s, Wesley and Parker played on many of Brown's major hits. But by 1976, they had left his employ and gone to work for a different funkster who was heavily influenced by the Godfather's innovations: George Clinton. Of course, Clinton is a major innovator himself and when Wesley and Parker joined Parliament/Funkadelic's horn section, they continued to be on the cutting edge of funk. After working with them on Parliament classics like The Mothership Connection and The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein (both released in 1976) as well as on Bootsy Collins' debut album, Stretchin' Out in Bootsy's Rubber Band, Clinton decided to oversee a spin-off group that was dubbed Fred Wesley & the Horny Horns. In 1977, Clinton and Collins produced the Horny Horns' first LP, A Blow for Me, A Toot for You for Atlantic. Part of the record is pure p-funk, although it also contains some jazz-funk instrumentals. The same goes for the Horny Horns' second Atlantic LP, Say Blow by Blow Backwards, which Wesley produced with Clinton and Collins in 1979. Like the Horny Horns' first album, Say Blow By Blow Backwards ranges from vocal-oriented p-funk to instrumental soul-jazz. Neither of those LPs were the big sellers that many of Parliament and Funkadelic's albums were, but they did catch the attention of diehard p-funk collectors. By 1982, Clinton had quit using the names Parliament and Funkadelic and was officially billing himself as a solo artist, but fans continued to call his horn section the Horny Horns. Wesley and Parker went on to record jazz-oriented instrumental albums in the '90s -- Wesley for Antilles, Parker, for Verve -- in addition to doing session work for a variety of artists. ~ Alex Henderson