Tuesday, November 21, 2017

NEVERENDING GROOVE

How Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly came to define R&B longevity.

BY KIMBERLY BAILEY-TUREAUD

One of the most enduring acts in soul music history, Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly is still selling out arenas all over the world. On Jan. 2, the band will bring its high-energy show to the Orleans Hotel & Casino.

Maze released its debut LP nearly 40 years ago. The band is one of the few acts from its era to sustain a large following without changing styles or experiencing heavy turnover in personnel. Their secret: a string of hit songs that include “Can’t Get Over You,” “Before I Let Go,” “Joy and Pain,” and “Silky Soul.”

“They [fans] know what they are going to get with us,” said Beverly, the band’s leader. “They trust us as musicians. You’ve got to be a good live act. You’ve got to know how to entertain. It goes beyond having hit records. You have to know how to present the music on stage.”

Beverly added: “Our honesty comes through. We don’t compromise on being honest with music and being honest with our approach to our music. We are honest with our fans — and I hate to use that word, ‘fans,’ because they are more than that to us. They are our family. They believe in us night after night, year after year. And you can’t ever lose with your family’s support and love. We recognize that, and love them for loving us.”

As for his own musical heroes, Beverly drew inspiration from the legendary Sam Cooke and a certain namesake. “I was Frankie Lymon crazy when he came on the scene,” said Beverly. “People would call me ‘Little Frankie.’ My real name is Howard, but I took the name Frankie from Frankie Lymon. I use to sing Frankie Lymon songs on the street corners. People would throw me money.”

Las Vegas Black Image Magazine also spoke exclusively with original Maze band member Roame Lowry. The conga player has been with the group from its earliest days, and offers a unique perspective on its long-lasting success.

How and when did you join Maze as a band member?

I met the band in 1969, because their bass player went to school with my brother in Pennsylvania. I was invited to see the band in downtown Philly one night — and at the time, I was really into jazz and was playing a flute. So I went to their show, and sat in one night with the band — but the flute was a musical instrument they weren’t really needing. But I also knew how to play the congas, because my best friend played them and I learned from him. Frank and I really hit it off as friends, and there was a real great connection with him. He told me, “Man, I really don’t need a flute player, but can you play another musical instrument?” I told him I could play congas and sing — and from that night on I was with the band.

Tell me about those early days of Maze.

It was 1972 when we left Philly and moved to California — the Bay Area. We had no money, and I can remember eating potato chip dinners. We would cook potatoes in every way you can imagine, because that is all we could afford. It was really a struggle for the first three to four years, but we started to build a fan base by performing at one of the most popular clubs in the city. We performed three to four times a week, and Marvin Gaye’s sister in-law was one of our biggest fans. Our band was called Raw Soul back then — and she told her sister, Jan, that she had to come see us. So one day, Marvin Gaye and Jan took some time out to come see us perform. He fell in love with our band, but hated our name. He said he thought it was “an ugly name.” So if it had not been for Marvin Gaye, our name would still be Raw Soul to this day. We all worked on coming up with a new name for the band, and in the end the group liked the name I came up with: Maze. I came up with this name because our first songs took you on a musical journey — and none of the songs sounded the same. Songs like “Joy & Pain” and “Happy Feelin’s” could have been packaged as pop songs.

Why do you think the band is still going strong today?

We sell out our concerts in America and internationally. I believe that our music relates to the soul in everyone, regardless of race. There aren’t many bands from our era that can still do this. We are one of the few bands still around that hasn’t changed our music or style. We survived the disco and hip-hop music craze. I think it is due to our strong fan base. We haven’t had an album out in 25 years, and still sell out everywhere we go. Who does that?

You have lasted the test of time.

It is truly amazing, and we are so blessed, to have people who love and adore us from all over the world without having any new product out. It says a lot for the music and songs. We are blessed to have Frank, who is a great writer, along with the other guys in the band. Although we have changed some of the band members, I have been with the group for 45 years.

Nevertheless, on Frank’s recent birthday, he let us hear some new songs he has written. So before it’s all said and done, there will be a new album from Maze. All of the Maze band members have been beautiful. Sometimes you hear about other groups who have had problems because of egos and drama, but we never have any problems with our members. I think the member who has been with Maze for the least amount of time is our drummer, who has been with us for five years. Everyone else has been with the band over 10 years. We are a tight-knit and family-oriented group. We all love each other and have great camaraderie. I would do what I am doing if I never got paid. The true gift is positively affecting people and having them love what you do. We make people feel a certain way that only our group, and our music, can make them feel.

Marvin Gaye was a performer who addressed some of the ills of the world in his songs. Do you think, given our present political climate, that music can make the world a better place?

I have been performing since the 1960s, and I can’t think of any better ways to achieve unity than through music and artistry. The 1960s was filled with politics and strife. Bands such as Sly & The family Stone and The Beatles performed songs that made you respond to the things that were going on at the time. Music is so powerful. A song can make you happy or sad. It can also make you remember a time in your past that is long past.

How do you describe Maze’s musical process when creating a great song?

Frank plays piano, guitar, and drums. So when he comes to the band with music, he may play the piano or the guitar with the Maze style, and we play around that. Frank makes the music first. He may have the melody in his head and sing a verse. The band adds on according to how the beats and groove makes us feel. It’s not like a writer giving you a finished song and you play it as they direct. With us, it’s a musical marriage and we feed off the rhythm and the pattern of the beats. It’s always heartfelt and comes from the soul.

Do you all ever take songs and beats from other producers?

No. It’s exclusively a Maze thing. We are blessed to have Frank, and he is a great writer. He writes all the songs for Maze.

What has been the most memorable moment for Maze?

It was our first big concert, with Isaac Hayes in Philly. That was a big turning point in our career, and that’s when we decided to go to California. Also, when we opened for Marvin Gaye in concert. He took us under his wing and he actually wanted us to be his band. But Frankie wasn’t having that (laughs). It was a great experience performing with Marvin Gaye. He was a beautiful man, and financially supported us in the beginning of our career. It was Marvin Gaye who introduced us to a Capitol Records A&R guy, who went on to sign us to the label. He was a major part of our career.

What is the Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly legacy?

We have tried to make timeless music that makes a difference. The song “We Are One” speaks to our legacy — and being able to say it, and mean it, is a blessing. This is one of the people’s favorite songs, because we all want that. It’s God’s plan.

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