Maze is quietly amazing

August 12, 1994|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

Frankie Beverly may be the biggest R&B star you never heard of.

His name won't be unfamiliar to anyone who studies the R&B charts, of course. Thanks to such hits as "Joy and Pain," "Back in Stride" and "Can't Get Over You," Maze featuring Frankie Beverly has been a consistent presence there since the early '80s. The band's live show is legendary, and Maze has been a major attraction on the R&B circuit for more than a decade.

But if all you know about R&B is what crosses over to pop, odds are this is all news to you. It's almost as if Maze is the R&B equivalent of the Grateful Dead -- a band with a great live show and a large and loyal audience that nonetheless has made almost no impact on the pop mainstream.

Beverly, for his part, is more than happy with the comparison. "I'm very proud of that analogy," he says, over the phone from the band's headquarters in San Francisco.

"If you want to compare us to those guys, that's a compliment, because they have some sort of magic going on. Maybe it's not that normal, commercial thing that we associate with being successful in this business. But art is art is art, man, and somehow, they have something going on there.

"And we do, too. That's why it doesn't bother me that we haven't had that big splash," he adds. "Yeah, I wish more people did know who I was, but if it's at the expense of me giving up this thing we have, then I just have to wait until they find out. 'Cause whatever we have, whatever this thing is that we seem to have a part of, it's a cult kind of thing."

Maybe so, but there's nothing mysterious about what makes Maze fans so loyal. Truth be told, this is a great live band -- one whose sound comes alive onstage in ways even its best recordings don't capture, and whose performances convey a sense of community that seems to make every audience member feel like part of the family.

Beverly agrees that the concert stage is where the band is most at home. "I love recording and all that, too, but you can tell what this band loves," he says, adding that there are two reasons Maze is so good live.

The first has to do with when the band cut its teeth musically. "Unlike the young folk nowadays, who don't have the clubs, we came up in the nightclubs, playing five sets a night, five nights a week," he says. "You really learn your craft that way. We didn't have the samplers and all that stuff when I was coming up, so you had to learn the basics."

The second, most important, reason has to do with the way band members relate to one another.

"I like to hope that we've learned to love each other over the years, and learned to get over those things that usually break up bands," says Beverly. "Like the egos and the thises and the thats. The guys have been loyal to me, and I've been loyal to them. They are a family. Five of us have been together some 30 years now. So whatever that hump is, we got over that."

No doubt some of that has to do with the fact that it's Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, and not just the Frankie Beverly Band. Beverly, for his part, definitely believes in teamwork, and even though he admits the band isn't quite a democracy -- "Business doesn't seem to work with that," he explains -- its strength stems from the fact that Maze is a unit and not a one-man show.

"You cannot do anything in this world alone," the singer says. "You can forget that. And the more people you have on your side that are going in the same direction, the better off you are.

"I'll give you an example. I think Jeffrey Osborne was better off with LTD. I think when he left them, he not only hurt himself, he broke up what they all had. It doesn't make sense to me. It would make better sense to me if they swallowed their pride and said, 'Hey, we were special when we were together.' Work it out and get back together."

Maze has no such worries. For one thing, band members are too busy to do anything but stay together. At the moment, the band is finishing up the last leg of a yearlong American tour; after that comes a tour of Japan. Then, once all that is behind them, the band will begin work on its next album.

"I haven't actually started on anything, or even considered particular songs on it yet," says Beverly. "But there's just a clock that kicks in at a certain point, when your mind starts shifting from the road to the next thing, and I'm in that vibe now."

Between the end of the tour and the start of the new album, zTC though, Maze has a project on the agenda: a concert taped for television. At this point, Beverly doesn't have a deal sewn up yet -- he's hoping for HBO -- but he knows where he's going to make the tape, and that's in his old hometown, Philadelphia.

"We're one of the few groups from that town that the town really respects and supports," he says. "It's very rare that your hometown comes out and supports you in a big way. But they still love us there."

Of course they do. Because as any fan could have told him, to know Maze is to love Maze.

Music by Maze

What: Maze featuring Frankie Beverly

When: Tonight at 8

Where: Pier Six Concert Pavilion

Tickets: $27.50 reserved seating, $15 lawn

Call: (410) 625-1400 or (800) 638-2444

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