Maze featuring Frankie Beverly bring their old-school R&B sounds to the capital city
The band hasn’t had a hit record in more than 15 years, has never won a Grammy—or any other music award, for that matter—and is currently shopping around for a new record label. But that still hasn’t kept Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, the ever-popular soulful band of the ’70s, from consistently selling out its concerts all over the world.
“There’s no question we’re an enigma to a lot of people in the industry,” Beverly explains before a recent performance at the Chronicle Pavilion in Concord. “I’m sure they wonder how we’ve managed along this far. But we’ve never been a mystery to our fans who have remained loyal to us. We’ve never compromised our love of soul music by jumping on any sort of fad wagon and putting out just anything to get a quick hit. I think we’ve put out some innovative music over the years that has stood up quite well. That’s what really has endeared us to so many people.”
There aren’t many R&B bands still playing together that can make such a claim. Despite a history that spans nearly 30 years on two labels—first Warner Bros., then Capitol—which yielded a string of hit singles—“Lady of Magic,” “Workin’ Together,” “Joy and Pain,” “Happy Feelin’s,” “Back in Stride,” “Before I Let Go,” “Running Away” and countless others—this eight-piece band of soul survivors shows no sign of slowing down.
“Why should we?” asks Beverly with a laugh. At age 53, he’s still holding up very well, and his pipes are holding up even better. “If Carlos Santana and Eric Clapton can have a late, successful run, why not us? We can still reach down and pull out some more soul. We’ve still got it in us.”
Anyone who has experienced a Maze show knows the band does, indeed, still have it. You don’t just attend a Maze concert—you truly become caught in the rapture of its groove. The rave reviews are still pouring in from the band’s mind-blowing set last month at the Essence Festival in New Orleans.
“We’re just a bunch of old-school players,” Beverly says. “That’s really the secret to our success.” He claims the group has always believed in the power of great vocals and tight instrumentation, even during its halcyon days when it was known in Philadelphia as the Butlers and, later, as Raw Soul. After a few personnel changes and a move to San Francisco during the mid-’70s, the group became Maze. “What you hear on our records is what you’re gonna hear at our concerts,” Beverly says. “You know how sometimes you go see an act and are all pumped up about it, and then they come out to perform and it’s nothing like what you’ve heard on the radio? Well, we’re just the opposite. Audiences know what to expect from us—and we always deliver. We play and sing from the heart. That’s how we were taught early on how to do this thing.”
Beverly, who grew up in Philadelphia, embraced the Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff Philly sound, but also learned to do his “thing” from watching some of the best R&B acts that would blow through town—guys like James Brown, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke and Eddie Floyd, who set the tone for his musical journey. But he says his biggest inspiration came from Frankie Lymon of the ’50s group Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, whose classic hit was “Why Do Fools Fall in Love.”
“I was so fascinated by that guy, I started singing doo-wop on the street corners,” says Beverly. “People started calling me Little Frankie and I liked it even more than my real name, Howard. So, I dropped ‘Little’ and kept ‘Frankie.’ It’s just stuck with me over the years.”
Much like Maze’s legion of fans.