Thirty-five years after his band's first album, Roame Lowry is aMazed [cq] at the group's durability.
"It has been awhile," says the Maze co-founder and conga player, who started working with frontman Frankie Beverly during 1969 in their native Philadelphia and even came up with Maze's name when the group changed it from Raw Soul in 1976.
"I think we're still around just because of the love we have for the music and each other. We've always been a family oriented band. We've always had a lot of guys come and go, and we've been fortunate enough that everybody was always in the Maze mold -- family oriented guys that love music and have mutual respect for each other, the camaraderie.
"It's just been a close-knit family, always."
Also making Maze a unique proposition -- the group hasn't released a new album since 1993, yet it remains a top draw on the soul circuit and holds a standing spot as the closing act on the annual Essence Music Festival, proof that its legacy of eight studio albums, two live sets and 15 Top 20 R&B singles is potent.
"We've never been a recording act, per se. We're more of a touring band," Lowry explains. "Frankie is the type of person who pretty much takes his time when it comes to recording. For the most part he's been comfortable with us just being a touring band. That doesn't mean we won't be going into the studio again, but we still have major support from our fans. They come out in droves, which is unheard of when you have no new material."
Maze's journey to this stature began with the Philadelphia group the Butlers, which later became Raw Soul. The band had a regional recording deal but in 1971 relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area to work in the same scene as favorites such as Sly & the Family Stone and Santana. "It seemed like all these hot, self-contained bands were coming from the Bay Area," Lowry says. "We thought we might do better out there than we were" in Philadelphia.
An early booster was Marvin Gaye, who Lowry says paid the Raw Soul members' rents, bought the group equipment and took them on the road with him. "He was just a wonderful brother, a beautiful cat," Lowry recalls. "We'd play basketball with him and go to his house and have dinner with him. And he was essential in us getting our recording deal" with Capitol Records.
It was also Gaye who suggested Raw Soul change its name, which Lowry came up with during a brainstorming session.
"I just came up with Maze," he remembers. "It wasn't like divine intervention or anything like that. We were just throwing out names, and Maze was the one that stuck. The (Capitol) art director came up with this seven-fingered hand -- 'cause there were seven guys in the group -- and it's an actual maze. You can start at the thumb and come out at the pinky."
Maze hit big early on with the gold debut "Maze featuring Frankie Beverly" and the hits "While I'm Alone" and "Lady of Magic." The group's peak, however, came in the 80s, when 1985's "Can't Stop the Love" and 1989's "Silky Soul" were back-to-back No. 1 albums, spawning chart-topping hits like "Back in Stride" and "Can't Get Over You." "Back to Basics" peaked at a not-too-shabby No. 3 in 1993, and Lowry says that Maze is finally has the itch to get back into the studio again, with plans to release a new album possibly in 2013.
"Frank's been writing; I don't think he has enough for an album, but he has some songs and they sound fantastic," Lowry says. "I don't think (the sound) is going to change any. It's just Maze music, what people are used to, just great songs with universal messages they can relate to.
"And I think people will love it just because it's been such a long time coming. It's gonna be 20 years, y'know? That's a long time, and I'm sure our fans can't wait to hear it."
Maze featuring Frankie Beverly headlines the Summer Music Festival at 6:30 p.m. Friday, July 13, at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township. Patti LaBelle, the O'Jays, Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds and Tank will also perform. Tickets are $125.75, $85.75 and $55.75 pavilion, $39.75 lawn. Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.
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