Mutual admirers, Prince and Maceo Parker were introduced by pure happenstance. Both of them separately came upon the idea to collaborate on a new project in the late '90s. The only problem was, Prince thought the legendary saxophonist was dead.

"I remember a conversation at the piano at Paisley and we were talking about Maceo, about how much I loved him, about how much Prince loved him," Candy Dulfer, an occasional member of the New Power Generation, told the Current in 2018. "But then Prince said to me, 'Yeah, he's not alive anymore is he?'"

Parker was long past the initial burst of stateside acclaim he earned while working with James Brown and Parliament-Funkadelic. He'd done a stray overdub on an album Prince was producing for P-Funk mastermind George Clinton in 1991, but then began spending a lot of this era plying his live trade in Europe.

After so long away, Prince began to fear the worst. Then Parker had an interesting idea for a new album that he figured would provide the long-hoped-for chance to officially collaborate.

"I was working on a concept that we called Dial: M-A-C-E-O, and the concept was that I try get people to come into the studio and help me – rather than me go out and help them," Parker told Marquee in 2005. "During the same time we were working on that, Prince had recorded something that he wanted me to play on."

No small amount of credit for the meeting goes to Dulfer, who broke the happy news to Prince. "I said, 'Are you killing me? He's so alive!'" she said. "'He's very much alive and doing great.' And he said 'Get him over here.' And then I had somebody call him, and from then on we were together."

Maceo's first released appearance with Prince was on "Prettyman" from 1999's Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic, while Prince's "The Greatest Romance Ever Sold" and "Baby Knows" ended up on Parker's Dial: M-A-C-E-O in 2000.

"Somebody who represented him found me in Spain and asked me if I would come in and play on the track," Parker told Marquee. "I figured it was my opportunity to tell him 'I would love to have you breathe, or belch, or something, on my new record,' just so I could say 'It's Prince,' you know. So, I did a couple of his tunes and he did background on some of my stuff. It turned out to be really, really great."

Listen to Prince Perform 'Prettyman' With Maceo Parker

Over the next decade, they became all but inseparable – both in the studio and on the road. Parker appeared on Prince's One Nite Alone ... Live! in 2002, then 2003's C-Note, 2004's Musicology, 2006's 3121, 2007's Planet Earth, 2008's Indigo Nights and 2009's Lotusflow3r.

Asked back then if he still enjoyed working the concert circuit, so long after his outsized successes in the '80s, Prince said: "Are you kidding? I get to say: 'Maceo, blow your horn!'"

Of course, Prince was following in the footsteps of James Brown, who memorably shouted "I just want you to blow, Maceo!" on his breakthrough single "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag, Part 1" in 1965. With that, Parker had arrived.

"Worldwide I'm just known, and I know that's what started it,” Parker told the Calgary Herald in 2014. "That's what gave me that shot, that put me in a lot of homes throughout the world, because of my stay and all of the stuff I did with James Brown."

Born on Feb. 14, 1943 in Kinston, N.C., Parker studied music at North Carolina A&T in Greensboro before becoming part of a group of Kinston natives – including a brother – who joined Brown's band. A celebrated stint in P-Funk followed in the '70s, then work with Ray Charles, Keith Richards, De La Soul, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Bryan Ferry, among many others. Parker went solo in the '90s, releasing critically heralded albums like 1992's Life on Planet Groove and 2007's Roots & Grooves.

Watch Prince Perform Live With Maceo Parker

For Parker, however, one musical association ranks above the rest. "Prince," he told the Mercury News in 2012. "As far as something to pat yourself on the back about, my relationship with Prince stands as No. 1."

And it was just that, a relationship. In time, a bond deeper than any before – deeper than music – began to take shape for Parker.

"Oh man," Parker told Forbes in 2019, "I'm telling you, I almost can't put it into words how that felt – just being that close to him, walking around Paisley Park, coming up with new stuff ..."

He was there for signature moments, including a 21-night engagement at the O2 Arena and nearby indig02 club in London, and a similar residency a few years later at the Forum in Los Angeles. Parker also appeared with Prince on the Rave Un2 the Year 2000 and Live at the Aladdin Las Vegas concert films.

Prince's sudden death in 2016 hit Parker particularly hard. "The times I spent with Prince," he once told the Calgary Herald, "they're cherished times — really, really, really, really special for me."

The very-private Prince clearly shared that deeper trust. He used to present sidemen with a document pledging media silence, Parker said, but that didn't apply in his case.

"When I was playing with him, he'd tell everybody, 'I don't want to be part of your interviews, now,'" Parker told the News-Observer in 2016. "He had this thing to sign and I just said, 'I enjoy who I am and the relationship I have with you, and I just want to shake your hand and tell you I won't say much except I think you're a sweetheart and a real genius.' He was the tops."

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