The music world holds a number of mysteries, including why certain extremely talented artists never achieve massive success. One such example is Frankie Beverly, the gifted soul singer who heads the R&B group Maze. While they have scored hits on the R&B charts, and some of their classic singles still receive airplay on urban contemporary radio, no other stations air their incredible work. Beverly and Maze never received any Grammys, despite over 40 years in the business. Beverly’s melodious, sublime voice deserves more recognition among broader audiences, and his vocals should rank right up with such all-time great soul singers as Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson.
Before founding Maze in 1970, Beverly performed in some of the best soul bands of the ’50s and ’60s. At only 12, he joined The Silhouettes (best known for “Get A Job”) in 1959; four years later he founded The Butlers, a Philadelphia-based group that recorded for several local labels, including Gamble Records. That name should sound familiar—the label’s CEO, Kenny Gamble, was one half of the powerhouse songwriting duo Gamble and Huff; both men would go on to experience greater success with their hugely influential label Philadelphia International. After The Butlers disbanded, Beverly formed the group Raw Soul, who recorded a few singles for local Philly label Gregar. Believing their sound did not fit the smooth, orchestral tone of the emerging Philly soul scene, Beverly moved his band to the San Francisco area in 1971. After catching their live performances, fan Marvin Gaye helped them land a deal with Capitol Records in 1976. However, he disliked the name Raw Soul; therefore, after much consideration, the band came to be known as Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly later that year.
Maze finally released their debut album in 1977, scoring hits with the classic tracks “When I’m Alone,” “Happy Feelin’s,” and “Lady of Magic.” An irresistible mixture of jazz and soul, the album brought Beverly’s distinctive, smooth, emotive voice to appreciative audiences. Their followup, 1978′s Golden Time of Day, contained the R&B hit “Workin’ Together,” and subsequent releases continued to rack up sales primarily in the R&B community. However, as AllMusic states, “on pop stations, Maze couldn’t arrested.” In 1989 Beverly and Maze left Capitol for Warner Brothers; they soon issued “Silky Soul,” the single from album of the same title. A lovely, heartfelt tribute to mentor Gaye, the song became an instant soul classic. Their 1993 album, Back to Basics, was a solid effort with catchy, funky tracks like “Laid Back Girl” and the smooth ballad “The Morning After.” They have not recorded a new album since then, but continue to tour. In addition, their music has been sampled by rap artists, most notably Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock on the 1988 song “Joy and Pain” from their landmark It Takes Two album. Unfortunately the duo sampled the Maze song of the same name without permission, prompting Beverly to threaten them with legal action.
What makes Beverly and Maze so special? While the group plays good, tasty soul, alternating between funk-tinged grooves and silky jazz, it’s Beverly’s smooth and expressive voice that anchors the band. Like Gaye, he can make audiences dance with grooves like “Running Away,” or ride a funky bass line as on “Southern Girl.” But his crooning also evokes longing, such as on “Before I Let Go,” or just simple romance, as on “I Wanna Thank You.” He never over-sings, and carefully considers every word he vocalizes. Similar to Smokey Robinson, Beverly’s voice remains in the upper ranges, but like Gaye, he can also alter his singing to sound raspier or more sultry—whatever mood the lyrics evoke. In addition, he has never compromised to fit what the music industry deems popular. While he’s often expressed disappointment that record labels such as Capitol considered him soley an R&B act, he’s refused to modify his style to suit pop audiences. In any case, why Beverly’s name is not mentioned along with some of the best R&B singers remains a puzzle.
What follows is a guide to some of their best work; delve into their catalog and experience the joy, romance, and passion of their music. Many of these songs can be found in one place, Anthology; superb live versions of other tracks can be found on their album Live In New Orleans. For more information, visit Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly’s official site and AllMusic’s Maze artist page.
- “While I’m Alone” (Maze, 1977)
- “Happy Feelin’s” (Maze, 1977)
- “Golden Time of Day” (Golden Time of Day, 1978)
- “I Wish You Well” (Golden Time of Day, 1978)
- “Travelin’ Man” (Golden Time of Day, 1978)
- “Joy and Pain” (Joy and Pain, 1980)
- “Southern Girl” (Joy and Pain, 1980)
- “Before I Let Go” (Live in New Orleans, 1981)
- “Feel That You’re Feelin’” (Live in New Orleans, 1981)
- “Running Away” (Live in New Orleans, 1981)
- “Never Let You Down” (We Are One, 1983)
- “We Are One” (We Are One, 1983)
- “I Wanna Thank You” (We Are One, 1983)
- “Back in Stride” (Can’t Stop the Love, 1985)
- “Magic” (Can’t Stop the Love, 1985)
- “Silky Soul” (Silky Soul, 1989)
- “Can’t Get Over You” (Silky Soul, 1989)
- “Somebody Else’s Arms” (Silky Soul, 1989)
- “Laid Back Girl” (Back to Basics, 1993)
- “The Morning After” (Back to Basics, 1993)