Maze and Frankie Beverly are ready to take the Soul Train Cruise party to new heights! The greatest live band in R&B will rock the boat when fans “get up offa that thing” and dance through the night. Frankie talks to the 411 about his early days in Philly doo-wop, Sam Cooke, mentor Marvin Gaye and how he wanted to join Soul Train Cruise the moment he heard about it.
For nearly four decades, Maze has set the standard for what an R&B show can — and should — be. The energy and power of lead singer Frankie Beverly. The musicians who are among the very best in the business. The fans who start the concert on their feet and finish dancing down the aisles. And the songs that move and groove and stir the soul: “Happy Feelings,” “Lady of Magic,” “While I’m Alone,” “Workin’ Together,” “Golden Time of Day,” “Southern Girl,” “Joy and Pain,” “We are One,” “Running Away,” “Back in Stride,” “Can’t Get Over You,” “Silky Soul” and “The Morning After.” Frankie Beverly and Maze attribute it all to a lifetime of hard work, the unwavering dedication of their fans, and a bit of good advice along the way from a couple of guys named Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye.
“At first, I had a singing group named the Butlers in Philadelphia, a doo wop group,” Beverly says, recounting the path that brought him to Maze. “We did that for years and years, and then when the ’60s came, the whole music thing changed and this self-contained band thing happened with the pop groups like The Rolling Stones. There, in the middle of it all, was Sly and the Family Stone, who really influenced me. They showed me that you could be a singer, but have your own band as well — and that’s what we decided to do.” He held onto the Butlers name as the group grew to three singers and a three-piece band, but their sound began to change so much that Beverly needed a new name to match the music. “We moved to San Francisco and called ourselves Raw Soul and starved almost for three or four years,” he says with a laugh. “Then we were lucky enough to play a local nightclub there. Marvin Gaye was in the club and just fell in love with us.”
Gaye went on to become the group’s mentor, helping them land their first recording contract, bringing the group on tour with him and influencing their music forever more. But, as Beverly is quick to point out, Marvin Gaye was behind something even bigger. “First thing he said to me when I met him was, ‘that’s the ugliest name, please change that name.’ And within four or five months we changed from Raw Soul to Maze and have never looked back.”
For a decade, Maze sent hit songs up the R&B charts. And then came “Joy and Pain” in 1989. One of the group’s most powerful signature songs, Beverly wrote it after reading philosopher-poet Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet.” The song, buoyed by an irresistible sing-along chorus, was a reminder to fans and peers of the growing strength of Beverly’s songwriting.
“When you have your own band, you’re doing everything together and it allows you to stretch out in more ways than if you were always working with a band that doesn’t know you as well,” he explains. “So we started doing original music. Having a band and working all of these things out and working together really turned it into a whole different world.” Beverly would eventually take on production and arranging duties as well, carefully constructing every aspect of the songs Maze performed. “We’ve been together for so long that when I’m writing now I know what my band is going to do. So I’ll write it and play and work it out in the studio, and then I’ll introduce it to the band, and then when it’s time to get down and dirty, I’ll play what I did, and then the band will take it to this other place. You can change things and do things, and that’s what music is. I’ve been blessed all my life, and I’ve had some of the best people performing in Maze. We still have one or two guys who have been with me for 40 years.”
But the performances and the songs are just two parts of Maze’s magical formula. The third, and — according to Beverly — most important is the fans. “We have a fan base that’s second to none. We just do our thing, and people love us for who we are,” Beverly says gratefully. “We’ve never had a big pop record like some of the other groups, we never had this pop breakout kind of thing, and yet to this day when we play concerts — even big festivals — we have to headline the thing because our fans come out by the busload. It’s amazing, whenever we go to Europe and England and when we go to Japan it’s like The Beatles or something,” he marvels.
Beverly’s relationship with his fans and the heartfelt, mutual respect they share for each other is rooted in an encounter he had with soul legend Sam Cooke as a teenager. “I was a kid, maybe 15, maybe 14, and backstage outside at the Uptown Theater in Philadelphia. He walks up to the door, and I ask for an autograph. “He walks over to us and he’s signing and he asks me, ‘You guys ever been backstage? Well, come on!’ He brought us backstage and gave us food and sodas. And I think that had a big impact on who I was going to be because I try to be the same way now to the people who are so kind and supportive of us.”
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