Frankie Beverly and Maze carry out to close the end the 10th yearly Essence Festival in the new Orleans Superdome. James Crump/WireImage because that EMI Music circulation

In 1976, a demo ice cream came throughout the desk of Capitol documents vice president Larkin Arnold. The clunky reel-to-reel featured songs written and also performed by life Soul, an unsigned mountain Francisco combo that had created a buzz opening shows for Marvin Gaye. Arnold cued up the tape and also was immediately struck by the band’s deft reconciliation that groove-intensive rhythm and blues and California-style singer/songwriter balladry. “It reminded me,” Arnold recalled, “of a black, Eagles-type sound.”

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His curiosity piqued, Arnold arranged to to visit a Raw spirit concert at mountain Francisco’s now-defunct Fillmore West. Just minutes right into the band’s performance, it to be clear that Raw Soul’s feel-good vibes analyzed well come the stage, sustained by the soulful voice and teddy be afflicted with charm of frontman Frankie Beverly. “It no a hard-driving, rhythm and blues band,” claimed the now-retired Arnold indigenous his Los Angeles home. “They were much more melodic … a seductive sound. Prior to you realized it, they had actually you moving.”

Arnold to be sold. Together a means of getting Raw spirit to sign up with the Capitol family members of artists, he said he make singer-songwriter Beverly an sell he can not refuse — sign on the dotted line, and you get to retain the publishing legal rights to all your songs. So Raw heart signed through Capitol, house to some of pop’s most prominent acts, from Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole come the coast Boys, the Beatles and Pink Floyd. Once the septet lastly issued the 1977 debut, it to be released under its brand-new moniker: Maze special Frankie Beverly.

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This year, Maze and also Frankie Beverly storage the 40th anniversary of the now-iconic debut. Showcasing the R&B hits “While i’m Alone,” “Happy Feelin’s” and “Lady of Magic,” the self-titled album has long been certified gold. Maze created 10 recordings because that Capitol, consisting of six studio albums, two live albums and two greatest hits collections. 7 of those recordings room gold, consisting of 1978’s golden Time the Day, 1979’s Inspiration, 1980’s Joy and also Pain and also Live in brand-new Orleans, 1983’s We space One, and also 1985’s Can’t protect against The Love. The tape racked up exceptional sales when it defected come Warner Bros. Documents in the late ’80s, scoring two an ext gold certifications for 1989’s soft Soul and 1993’s ago to Basics.

For a tape whose success has actually gone wholly undetected by mainstream media, Maze’s influence and also positive regard in ~ the black ar is nothing quick of incredible.

But despite Maze never delighted in gargantuan crossover success or earned a Grammy, the band is still something like a phenomenon. Standard Maze tracks such as “Happy Feelin’s,” “Joy and also Pain” and “Back In Stride” are necessary listening for black color baby boomers and also many of your kids. To visit a wedding, picnic, backyard barbecue or any similar black American family outing and you’re bound come hear Maze monitor on the playlist, the band’s full-bodied funk mix seamlessly v edgier fare by the rap and also R&B idols of the present day.

Indeed, over the course of that four-decade career, Maze has actually endeared chin to the black ar in a one-of-a-kind way. Some fans mention moments once the band’s upbeat text helped get them through personal struggles, prompting them come prescribe Maze tracks like a doctor can prescribe antidepressants (“Listen to ‘Inspiration’ and also get some rest, girl!”). Various other fans report being so spellbound at very first hearing Beverly’s billowy voice that they mental the suffer as vividly together their an initial encounter v their spouses. For a band whose success has gone completely undetected by mainstream media, Maze’s influence and also positive regard in ~ the black ar is nothing brief of incredible.

And as with just around everything in America, gyeongju plays a function in the saga the Maze and Frankie Beverly. The band developed into a decidedly black R&B phenomenon, yet Arnold to trust Maze’s rootsy sound can easily have actually played across a selection of traditionally “white” radio formats, consisting of Top 40, adult contemporary and even the absent stations whereby white, soul-influenced acts such as Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers organized court. In Arnold’s mind, Maze had actually crossover potential ~ above par through Stevie Wonder and Earth, Wind & Fire, yet Maze never ever breached the multiplatinum stratosphere. The concern is, why?

We’ve to be judging world by colors/ possibly we must all be color blind …”

— “Color Blind,” by Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, 1977

Philadelphia. 1970. Philly soul was do inroads, through manicured, Motown-influenced action such as The Delfonics and The Stylistics and writers and producers such together future room of Famers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff rise Billboard’s R&B charts. Unfortunately, because that a young singer named Howard “Frankie” Beverly, the City of Brotherly Love wasn’t showing much affection to his band, the an extremely raw life Soul. Having recorded some independently developed singles that went nowhere, Beverly boldly determined to pack up the band and also head come the then-freewheeling san Francisco. Life Soul prospered in the multicultural only Area.

Music lover Michael Burton very first encountered the tape in the east Bay, at a 1973 Contra Costa university performance. In ~ the time, the band’s lineup was Beverly, drummer Joe Provost, bassist Robin Duhe, guitarist Wuane Thomas, and also percussionists McKinley “Bug” Williams and also Roame Lowry. “It was a mixed crowd: black, white, and some Spanish,” Burton recalled of the audience. “Frankie played every his own music. He can either sing top 40 or stay Raw Soul, and he chose to song Frankie Beverly. He didn’t veer indigenous his commitment.”

That Contra Costa performance blew Burton’s psychic — it offered the 20something a objective in life. Choose a civilian abandoning his old methods to end up being an apostle, Burton threw his lot in through Raw Soul, coming to be the band’s self-styled stage manager. He purchased a van come haul equipment, then booked raw Soul right into venues follow me the California coast, native Stockton and also San Pablo to Santa Rosa and Tomales Bay. “At the time, a most Grateful Dead-kind of music to be going on, and people would all assistance a particular bar or club,” claimed Burton. “You had actually these venues that already had a built-in following, and also they love the sort of music Frankie played.”

Rumor spread around the no-nonsense bay Area funk band v the dynamic singer, and before lengthy Raw heart had obtained an influential fan in the kind of january Gaye, wife of Marvin Gaye. “Come to find out, sooner or later Marvin was in the audience,” Burton said. “Blew united state away! that was as soon as Marvin opened the door for Frankie.”

“New York was among my hardest industries to break Frankie. It was a disco city … and also Frankie yes, really didn’t fit right into that category.”

Marvin Gaye to be so enamored that Raw soul that he took the tape on the road with him as an opened act in 1976. Gaye even afforded Beverly the opportunity, in ~ the notorious Marvin’s Room record studio, to do on one of his recordings. That distinctive clinking sound heard top top Gaye’s chart-topping 1977 “Got to give It Up” is Beverly play an improvised cowbell. “That’s Frankie on the milk bottle! Marvin to be , and also Frankie goes down there, yet he didn’t lug his ax,” stated Burton. “So Marvin’s like, ‘Here’s a milk bottle. Obtain in the groove!’ ”

But while Gaye love Beverly’s group, he take it a dim see of the surname Raw Soul. He felt that did a disservice to the band’s honey-drip R&B sound. “For the next months, we kicked surname in the butt,” Burton said. “We go ago to Marvin and also say, ‘How around Maze special Frankie Beverly’? we did a surname check and found the end there to be a band currently called Maze. Marvin said, ‘Don’t worry around it, fine take care of that.’ From mine understanding, us bought the name. It’s been Maze special Frankie Beverly ever since.”

As Capitol documents geared up to release the band’s debut album, Arnold instructed the label’s art department to develop an album cover incorporating a maze. They come up with a seven-digit hand in the form of a maze, each finger representing a band member. The puzzlelike style instantly ended up being Maze’s main logo, as identifiable together the roll Stones’ splayed tongue or Led Zeppelin’s cryptic runes.

Maze’s debut album to be released in 1977, the same year as historic albums by Rufus special Chaka Khan, Peabo Bryson, Bootsy Collins and more. It was also the year of standard singles such together Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Serpentine Fire,” the Commodores’ “Brick House,” Parliament’s “Flashlight,” and also the Isley Brothers’ often-sampled “Footsteps in the Dark.” between this funk explosion, artist such as Chic and also Donna Summer were starting to obtain traction v their opulent disco sounds. The year concluded with the relax of Saturday Night Fever, the album that would at some point lift disco from the underground happy clubs of brand-new York into the annals of document sales history.

Caught in the crossfire of every this was Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, an album taped in Tacoma, Washington, by a tape from Philadelphia, that migrated to san Francisco, however sounded choose they came from long Beach, California. Brother music writer David Nathan defined it as “California Soul,” citing the album’s laid-back grooves. “Obviously, the sound is rooted in timeless R&B,” stated Nathan. “It’s acquired a smoothness to it, and of course, sometimes they’re an extremely funky … Frankie’s voice has acquired a kind of yearning to it … smooth however soulful.”

Across the country, plenty of were having the exact same reaction to Maze’s music, and Arnold experienced an chance to shore up his reputation as the male who put Capitol records on the R&B map. A Howard University legislation grad, he’d been offered the job of beginning Capitol’s black color music room from scratch. At the time, the label’s black magazine featured iconic however out-of-vogue jazz artist such as Nancy Wilson and Cannonball Adderly. Yet with the signing that talented up-and-comers such as Natalie Cole, Bryson and also Tavares, Arnold gave Capitol much-needed R&B clout. Yet they were still struggling. “We go from being no any way in contention,” the said, “to choose the seventh or eighth black color music … in the business.”

Armed v the premiere single “While i’m Alone,” Arnold stormed radio stations. “I knew I might bust the the end of Los Angeles, D.C. And Houston; those to be my three biggest markets,” Arnold said. “I went over to Howard University and WHUR, i m sorry is the No. 1 station in D.C. Earlier then, if you damaged a tune in D.C., you can go native Philly under to Baltimore and also Richmond, Virginia. New York was one of my hardest markets to break Frankie. It to be a disco city … and Frankie really didn’t fit right into that category.”

Even there is no the big Apple’s support, Arnold’s cross-country hustle do Maze featuring Frankie Beverly a secure seller. The band required to the roadway in a pair of terminal wagons and a U-Haul, extending the small cash support they obtained from Capitol. That very first national tour saw Maze opening for some of the best acts the the day, consisting of Teddy Pendergrass, the Isley Brothers and the brothers Johnson.

In concert, the band applied all the great learned from around a te of performing. “I’ll tell girlfriend this because that a fact: few of the headliners didn’t want to which after Frankie Beverly,” Burton said. “A many them said, ‘Oh, hell naw! I’m not going on after this male no more!’ Sometimes, they i will not ~ let Frankie close the show. … We offered to call it, ‘Let’s go out and Put The Hand on these m—-af—as!’ ”

Betty Shaw skilled Maze’s engrossing stagecraft firsthand. She to be 25 once she very first saw the tape in 1978. At the time, Shaw to be a recently separated mother of three with dim employment prospects and also a deeply troubled mind. One day, she took her sister up on an invitation to to visit the Kool Jazz Festival in Milwaukee. There, during Maze’s performance of “Happy Feelin’s,” Shaw had actually an epiphany. “It to be such an experience,” she recalled. “I had never even heard ‘Happy Feelin’s’ … however the way Frankie presented the song, it was giving you the emotion like every little thing is going to be every right. The song says, ‘I’ve obtained myself to remind me that love,’ and also since I have this love in me, I’m not going to give up ~ above life. That was prefer a turning point in my mind.”

With Maze to win converts on the road and also Arnold converting the country programming directors, the phase was set for Maze to end up being a crossover breakthrough. Yet, regardless of all the tough work, debut album sales stalled at roughly 600,000 copies. It to be an outstanding showing by ’70s industry standards yet far indigenous the million-plus units that Arnold had envisioned. He believes Capitol didn’t shot hard sufficient to help the album realize its incredible sales potential.

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“I had a the majority of fights through my pop promo department due to the fact that they would never expose the album to white FM,” Arnold said. “That first time I witnessed Maze at the Fillmore West, the totality audience to be white. I recognize if white civilization were exposed to Maze, they’d prefer it, but the id at the time was, ‘Well, white human being really don’t want to listen to black color music.’ and also I’m saying, ‘Look — that not just ‘black’ music!’ ”

Hoping to capitalize on their momentum, Maze repaired to a Colorado record studio to produce the band’s 1978 sophomore album, golden Time the Day. Recording to be an easygoing affair, with Maze refining the necessary sound that made that debut a gold-certified smash. “The means Frankie made records, the didn’t usage a most frills, so the sounded more for-real,” said previous Maze drummer Ahaguna Sun. “There’s a the majority of toys in the studio, and also if girlfriend don’t really know exactly how to create a good record, girlfriend can gain swallowed increase … you can go the end on tour and also not have the ability to play the way. That’s one of the things I admired around Frankie. He maintained close to the method we play them in the studio, so on a great night, we sounded better than the record.”

Maze returned to the road, this time doing well-known shows choose Soul Train. Still, the band just couldn’t clear the half-million sales hurdle. The was it. Worn down from his experiences, a irritable Arnold departed Capitol in 1979. That would ultimately become an elderly vice chairman at CBS Records, where he found a kindred heart in the form of CEO Walter Yetnikoff. Together, they revolutionized Michael Jackson’s Thriller into a crossover sales juggernaut. In a raspberry rebuke to the old radio dictum the whites won’t hear to black color music, Thriller now ranks together the biggest-selling LP of every time.

Burton left the Maze crew ~ above friendly terms in 1979. The still stays in California, working in music management. He believes the recording sector never gave Beverly a fair shake due to the fact that the singer refused to sign over his prized posting rights. “He still hasn’t won an award,” one indignant Burton said. “That’s all motivated since he didn’t open up to these people. You got George Clinton still fighting for royalties. You obtained Sly stone just currently winning a multimillion-dollar claim against the industry. And then you’ve obtained Frankie Beverly, who maintained all his s—. That didn’t go to the crossroads and also sign his spirit over come the devil. And also because that did that, the industry turned their backs.”