Frankie’s weakened vocals ‘no problem’
for longtime, dedicated fan-base
By Timothy Cox
BETHESDA, MARYLAND — Concertgoers who attend any Frankie Beverly & Maze show, these days, are quick to notice that the band’s leader know longer possesses the soulful, strong gritty vocals that made the group a house-hold name decades ago, amongst their committed fan-base.
Even though the group took a “minute’ before kicking off their recent Nov. 29, 2019 show at the Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club, no complaints were registered. That’s because the Maze fan-base treats their guys like family. Therefore, if Frankie doesn’t enter the stage promptly at 8 pm, you’ll hear no audible complaints from the audience. That’s because the mindset of Maze’s fan-base – is not to worry, ’cause Frankie and his boys are gonna give it up big-time, even if takes all-night.
Well, just about 8:45pm, the cool cats originally based in Philadelphia, hit the stage clad in their customary white gear, including bandleader Frankie. Interestingly enough – Mr. Beverly was born Howard Beverly, but at age 9, he re-named himself “Frankie” in homage to his favorite performer of the era – Frankie Lymon, of Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers fame.
It was 1956, and corner vocal groups throughout most African-American neighborhoods, were cookin’.
Longtime Maze fans appreciated the up-close and personal show during Thanksgiving weekend of 2019. The band offered two sold-out performances to SRO crowds at Bethesda Blues and Supper Club near Washington, DC. (Photo by Timothy Cox)
Seven decades later, Frankie and HIS boys lit up the stage at what’s easily becoming the hippest live-music soul/funk venue in the DMV, the Bethesda Blues and Jazz Theater on Wisconsin Ave. in the heart of Bethesda, Md.
In what was billed as Maze: Up-Close and Personal, the 3,000-seat Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club provided both the band and their patrons an opportunity to enjoy two, sold-out shows where customers could see the band close-up and the band could appreciate seeing the audience close-up, instead of the typical concert-hall venues where Maze performances have typically shined their proverbial lights.
Ever since their first recorded self-titled hit LP from 1977, on Columbia Records. For longtime Maze fans, you never grow tired of hearing Frankie recite the legendary tales about how the band drove from Philly to LA — encountered the late Marvin Gaye. The DC-born, Motown hitmaker then advised the guys to change their name from Raw Soul to Maze.
Interestingly, on this particular night – the band’s sound truly reverted back to their original flavor, cause they were certainly raw and soulful all-night long.
Howard “Frankie” Beverly, left, and percussionist Roame Lowry, are the remaining original members of the band formerly known as Raw Soul. (Photo by Timothy Cox)
While many of Beverly’s forever fans recognize that the crooner no longer has the vocal chops he once had as recent as 15 years ago, his vocal shortcomings doesn’t really seem to matter, based on the reaction of his fan-base that was in attendance on this evening. The crowd typically starts singing along with all of those hits, and at times, you can even hear his faltering vocals – something interesting to witness.
They kicked-off the evening with an instrumental that appeared to steal a lead guitar line from “Time Is On My Side,” one of their debut LP singles from Summer, 1977.
But the party began when they delved into non-stop renditions of “Back in Stride,” “Feel That You’re Feelin’,” ” We Are One,” “Can’t Get Over You,” “Runnin’ Away,” “Golden Time of Day,” featuring the expected lead guitar solo of John “Jubu” Smith. Jubu has developed into one of the all-time star side-members of the Maze historical organization. Other legends are of course, Frankie’s longtime child-pal, the late McKinley “Bug” Williams; drummer Michael White, keyboardist Philip Woo, original guitarists Waune Thomas and Ron Smith; and of course, original bassist Robin Duhe.
Jubu Smith has become a crowd-pleaser on most Maze dates, mainly based on a style which strongly mimics the late Riley “BB” King – with his strong, slow melodic, bluesy tone. Smith, like other members of the Maze band, including keyboardist Carl Wheeler, are alumnae of the Tone Toni Tony band. The gospel and soul sounds of Oakland, California – is the sweet foundation that keeps the Maze sound pertinent and authentic, year-after-year.
Amazingly, although the group was formed during a period when most RnB bands featured horn sections, the Maze unit has never featured not even one sax solo. They keep the groove, tight, soulful, raw and funky – with their patented background harmonies which flavors the down-home gritty sounds of famous quartet groups like Bobby Womack’s Valentinos, the Swanee Quintet of Augusta, Ga. or Lee Williams and the Spiritual QC’s.
The group’s patented gospel, spiritual moments are mostly evident on tunes like “Thank You,” when Frankie offers his personal side, including the fact that he’s never been married, but has three grandchildren via his son. “And, by the way, I’ll be 73, next week, y’all.” That fact created reverberation throughout the auditorium, as folks stood up and gave the senior-citizen his props for an ability to keep-on keepin on – regardless of his vocal challenges. His birthday was Dec. 6.
By 10:45p, they ended the soulful session with “After the Morning After,” their all-time anthem, “Happy Feelin’s” and their gospel-like, “I Wanna Thank You.”
But before those tunes were played, the band performed their all-time, universal crowd-pleaser “Before I Let Go,” to a rousing stand-up crowd who danced throughout the theater. Credit Beyoncé Knowles for covering the Maze classic last summer – turning the tune onto a whole new generation of listeners at the outdoor Indio, California-based Coachella Festival in April 2018. The release helped spread some royalty-copyright love to Mr. Beverly and the composers of this ’70s classic.
A couple hours after the jam session ended, the lights rose, the band clasped hands in their customary united bow – and show-time was over. Until the next Maze experience.
After all their success, it’s amazing and almost sad to note that Maze & Frankie Beverly have never won an American Music Award or a Grammy Award – and they should’ve long-been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – but amongst African-American soul music fans – they are forever American Music Hall of Famers, regardless of major media polls. They have been lauded by BET for their legendary status.
An unidentified Maze fan, simply known as “Sassy,” expressed her jubilance while watching the band from a close-up view. She and her partymates thoroughly enjoyed the two-hour Maze performance. (Photo by Timothy Cox)
EDITOR’S NOTE: Upcoming shows at the Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club include, Kenny Lattimore and Regina Belle, Sylena Johnson, Nona Hendryx, Earth, Wind and Fire and Prince tributes, the SOS Band and a special solo appearance by Eddie Levert for Valentine’s Day 2019. For more information, call the Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club at 240.330.4500 or access www.bethesdabluesjazz.com.