Maze are recognised as Capitol's premier jazz band; but they really cut right across the board and sell to disco, funk, pop and rock fans alike…
RARELY has a band made such an impact with a debut album as Capitol's premier jazz band, Maze. But, though their basic roots may be into jazz, their music has tremendous disco appeal and has also sold to the hard-core funk fans. In fact, it's been a genuine case of selling across-the-board because the pop and rock fans also supported it quite heavily.
The Maze front-man is Frankie Beverly, whose name should be already known within the stalwart soul fraternity in this country because Frankie (aided by his band of the day, Raw Soul) had a massive disco success some four years ago. And, coincidentally, it was called "Color Blind" — the name of the current Maze chart-riding single in this country.
"We actually first recorded 'While I'm Alone' (their recent and debut American single) during our time with Gregar Records, too," Frankie explained.
"However, whilst with 'Colour Blind', the version on our Capitol album is totally different — though the same actual song — we virtually did 'While I'm Alone' over again because I never felt we got the fullest mileage out of that particular song. 'Color Blind' has been deliberately turned into a more jazzy disco item than it originally was, that's the basic difference."
The actual roots of Maze can be traced, via Frankie, to his Raw Soul Band although his own roots can be referred back to his Philadelphia home town some fifteen years ago when he set out with a local group called the Blenders. The group never made headway and Frankie went on to front the Butlers and that's where he gained his first recording experience — for the local Jamie Guyden group of labels and Gamble.
In 1970, though, Frankie took his first major stride forward and formulated Raw Soul and was joined by three of the current band — McKinley 'Bug' Williams, percussion & vocals; Ronald 'Roame' Lowry, conga: vocals; and Sam Porter, keyboards.
In 1972, they began a historic journey to San Francisco and never looked back. However, the actual journey does have a story attached to it and for that information, it's over to Bug Williams.
"Well, we left Philly in this old, broken down 1946 bus — you know, just like it always is in the movies! We must have gotten about halfway and to a little town called Stuart, Iowa, and we pulled off the road to fill the bus up and stop for the night. Anyway, as we always did, we had our own jam session in the back of the bus and some college kids happened by and they joined in and it all ended up like one big party.
"Eventually, the local sheriff happened by and told us to stop making all that noise but by this time we had attracted such a crowd and the people were so happy and enjoying themselves that the mayor himself over-ruled what the sheriff had said and it all mushroomed from there.
"We ended up staying for close on a month and we were invited into the people's homes for food and shelter and we made the front page of the local newspaper and became celebrities.
"When we eventually moved on, it left us all with such a nice, warm feeling that we'll always look back upon that period as one of the most important periods in our career. It was a great experience and the kind that we had never experienced before.
"No, we've never been able to get back to Stuart but we've stayed in touch with some of the folks back there and we'd love to just get there again to see all of the people."
The Raw Soul ensemble — then numbering eight — finally arrived in San Francisco, their planned destination. After building up a name for themselves in the local clubs, they signed with the RCA-distributed Gregar Label and that's where they had the one big hit, "Color Blind" — which was followed by "While I'm Alone" but the label itself folded and the Raw Soul ensemble were free again.
Gradually, the original group started to split up until it left the original quartet (already named) and they added three local musicians and then altered their name to Maze last year. The other members are: Robin Duhe, bass; Wayne Thomas, guitar; and Joe Provost, drums. So, Maze was born.
And their real break came indirectly via Marvin Gaye.
"Marvin's girlfriend had seen us at a club up in Frisco," related Roame, "and she was so taken aback by us that she got Marvin to come up and see us. We had only just changed our name and Marvin had us come down to Los Angeles and through some friends of his, he got us a meeting with Capitol Records.
"We had actually already recorded this album and played it for several companies but they all turned it down and yet Capitol said 'yes' immediately. Looking back, I admit I'm pleased because the company has been really good to us and for us. Anyway, they released the album early this year and it took off fairly immediately.
"The single? Well, we all felt that 'Happy Feelings' would be the one but it turned out that 'While I'm Alone' was the track that the disco-jockies favoured.
"Now, we are preparing material for our next album but since we are on the road so much now, it doesn't look as though we'll get into the studio much before September or October and that means a release early into the new year."
Did the immediate acceptance surprise the a-Maze-ing group?
"No, not really," Frankie bashfully replied. "In my heart, I have always felt that we were better suited to album product. With Gregar, we only recorded four sides so we didn't get the opportunity to express ourselves in the way we knew we were capable of doing.
"We are honestly happy with the album — especially knowing that the public seems to like it, too. Now we are itching to get in and cut a second album!"
Of course, the thing that is keeping the guys out of the studio is the demand to see their 'live' show. "We're not really a visual group," suggests Joe Provost. "That is to say that we don't go in for theatrics and light shows and all of that kind of thing. We aim to give good music and happy, friendly vibes because we are all down-to-earth guys who are just like the people we are playing for.
"There's none of that special effects stuff because we are into music and that's all.
"The future? Well, I'm the newest members of the band so I'm perhaps not the best to say because I don't have a long history within Maze. However, we'll strive to continue in that same direction because the people said they liked us by buying the first album, right?
"I guess we may become a little bit more jazzy, a little bit more complex. But so much of it is down to timing. Take George Benson — he happened to be in the right place at the right time because a track like 'Breezin" only comes along once in a lifetime. Happily, he has been able to build on that and good luck to him because he deserves it — and a lot more, too!"
I have to confess that when I frst saw the name 'Maze' appear in the American trade magazines, I was expecting a rock band and so paid very little attention to the guys until the album actually hit the streets.
"Well, a lot of other bands are using the name," Joe pointed out, "but we have it registered. The name was actually Roame's idea, I believe."
Their immediate future? "Well, apart from the tour and the album that you know about, there is talk that we may be coming to Britain with Marvin Gaye in the fall (autumn). We're keeping our fingers crossed!" laughed Frankie.
Certainly, the Maze vibes are currently at their strongest and although I doubt that you'll ever see their name on the British pop charts (surely, we'll never become that educated, will we?), Maze is a name that will be around for many years and a British tour at this stage of their career would do them the world of good. And us!