To be grooved is to be tickled by music until the body bends and fingers snap and eyes close and the liquid of the notes dribbles across eyelids and you forget all your worries and are transported somewhere but you don't know where and you don't care. Because all that matters is the music.
Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly, the legendary band, grooves people, and they keep coming back for more, chasing the first hit of that "Silky Soul" album kind of groove, trying to connect with the words in his song: "joy and pain. It's like sunshine and rain . . ."
"I love me some Frankie Beverly," says Sharon Banks. Her eyes are closed and she is dancing in her seat at a house party in Upper Marlboro. She is simply grooving. She croons: "Sing, Frankie, sing."
And he does. He is there and not there. The music pours out of the stereo and right into her lap. And he is singing solely to her. Nobody else, at this moment, matters.
Frankie has got a fix on the District and nobody seems to be trying to shake it. The city has claimed him and he keeps coming back to sold-out concerts--every year, twice a year since 1976--despite the fact that he hasn't had a new record in nearly a decade. Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly will be playing at 7 tonight at MCI Center.
"We are a strong R&B band," says Beverly, the lead vocalist for the eight-member band, which released its first album in 1976. "D.C. is one of the strongest R&B towns in the world. It makes sense they would feel that way about us. It's something special."
Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly is soul proprietor of the groove and you "could justifiably tag Maze the black working folks' band, the salt of the earth, the one group you can count on for delivering real music, 24-7, 365 days of the year," read the liner notes on their anthology release.
During the '70s and '80s, Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly had been at the top of the R&B list for consistently turning out hits, one after another--eight gold albums. The hit singles are lasting, including "Travelin' Man," "Feel That You're Feelin'," "Joy and Pain," "The Look in Your Eyes," "Back in Stride" and the classic "Happy Feelings."
And even when the hits subsided, as the band decided to keep playing its old music, people came, packing auditoriums and concert halls across the world and in the District, following them like the loyals of the Grateful Dead followed Jerry Garcia. It doesn't matter how many times Maze comes here, its fans--as the song says--"Can't Stop the Love."
"What Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly has is one of the best bands in the land," says Bill Washington, president of Dimensions Entertainment Inc., which is promoting tonight's 20th anniversary of the Budweiser Superfest at MCI Center.
"The band is tight and Frankie grooves people," Washington says. "That is the key. He grooves them. When they come see Frankie, they know they are going to get a very strong show. I've never seen them do a lousy show, never, never, never. . . . We bring him here at least twice a year, and that is without a record. It's almost like he doesn't need a record."
To prove the point, Andre Roberts, 34, a salesperson at the landmark Sam "K" Records on Georgia Avenue, slides in a tape. It is the "Anthology." "Happy Feelings" is transporting him. Back, way back to the '70s, when he was growing up and dime candy was dime candy, and he had only a dime's worth of worries.
"He's smooth," Roberts says, bopping his head. "Frankie is smooth."
Roberts is behind the counter of this store, which has survived the big chains that have pushed other small shops out of business. One of the reasons it has survived is that customers can go in the shop and groove before they buy when they want to.
Roberts admits that Beverly is a lady's man, but men like him, too.
"Now, I'm not going to lie," Roberts says, beating his fingers on the counter. "I have all his CDs. The main song in D.C. is 'Before I Let Go.' You can play that over and over again and they will party--all groups 15 to 65 will party."
Roberts says that at night, when his work-job is done and he is cruising and his sunroof is open, and his windows are down, and D.C.'s summer air is wiping his face, and the sounds of the city are mixed with the crickets chirping, he will turn on Frankie's "Greatest Hits."
"If you pull up to a stoplight, a group of people next to you will turn their music down and jam to yours until you pull off," Roberts is saying. It's the truth as he knows it.
When LaDonna Shorter was a little girl growing up in Barry Farms in Southeast, her sister brought home a poster of Frankie Beverly, and that is where the love affair began. "We always had his poster in the bedroom," she says.
That was long ago in Southeast. Now that Shorter is 31, she lives in Northeast and she can't stop the love, as the song says. "Every time he comes to Washington, we go. I like his style of dress. I like the way he wears his little caps. He sings. He is smooth and he's handsome. We never get enough of him."
Beverly, a 52-year-old hunk of a man with just of touch of salt in a peppery beard, says age is slowly slowing him down. The band that used to tour four or five times a year for months at a time now goes out once or twice a year. But that is so that they don't wear themselves out, and so that the music doesn't get tired.
"It's hard enough getting here," Beverly says. "But when you get there and feel you are worthwhile, you want to do everything you can to keep it there. I want to be remembered for all the struggle. I don't want this to cave in. To pay all those dues and then blow it and be forgotten because you did some silly thing or put out some inferior music."
He is talking from a hotel room in Houston, where he just finished a show. His usually smooth voice is jagged, roughed up by the night's concert. He says he has a problem with vocal nodes, which are bruises on the vocal cords. He calls it a job hazard, "as long as there is nothing sinister going on down there, I can make it." He refutes a widely circulated rumor that he has throat cancer. His voice is hoarse now, but he is well and he is patient and he will talk about the music--the groove--as long as you need him to. He is working on a song now called "Sunday Morning," but he isn't ready to record it until his voice gets better.
"Please don't believe the rumors," he begs. "If I had throat cancer, I would say it. I would want all the love I can get and I would tell you."
Beverly was reared in the Baptist church in Philadelphia. His father, who made money as a truck driver, was a deacon on Sundays. His mother was a housewife.
"I had to go to church and I had to sing and I loved it," he says. But when he was still a child he slipped into the "secular" world of music when he heard Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, whose big hit was "Why Do Fools Fall in Love." They made an imprint on him. So much so he changed his name from Howard to Frankie.
"I just changed it," Beverly recalls. "People in the neighborhood who knew me started calling me Frankie. I'm 12 years old telling people I don't want to be called Howard anymore."
During junior high, Beverly joined a local group and he became known as "Little Frankie," leading his first professional gig at 12. He went through a series of local groups; the Blenders, the Butlers. Then he saw Sly and the Family Stone and again he was moved. He changed his music and the band became Raw Soul.
Seeking more musical independence, Beverly moved the band away from Philadelphia in 1971 to California. He landed in Oakland. Soon the group was spotted by Marvin Gaye's sister-in-law.
They were playing a three-day-a-week gig in a San Francisco club called the Scene when she noticed them. Gaye was going out on a new tour and was looking for someone to back him up.
"When she told me, I was excited about the prospects of meeting him, but I wasn't interested in backing him up. I said, 'Do you think that will make a difference?' She said, 'I don't know. Let him hear the music and he'll decide.' "
Gaye heard the music and decided to go to San Francisco and see for himself who was making it. The band was so good, he understood why they didn't and couldn't back anybody up.
"If it wasn't for him," Beverly says, "I wouldn't be where I am now." Gaye took the group on the road with him, letting them perform some of their original material as an opening act. He paid their rent and "he loved me like a little brother," Beverly said.
'We Have Been Blessed'
Beverly is laughing about the so-called Maze Craze in the District, and he is trying to explain the hook on people here.
"We try to keep it real. We're not a pretentious band. What you see is what you get. In the end, people want that. . . . It should really send a message to younger artists that they don't really have to go around pulling their pants down."
The addictive draw is in the music, he says. "We have been blessed to do some pretty good music over the years. When you touch people, they don't forget. It's not like a hit record."
It's hard to put a finger on it, the it that makes some people react to one artist over another or that creates a classic, that makes a song stick, conjuring all the wonderful things that were going on in life when the song was playing on the radio and times were good.
Maze's music is more like the blues, the real uncomplicated stuff that carries a pulse, that connects and prods. "We simply want to make you move, make you feel good and there goes the groove, says Beverly. "A groove makes you move, makes you feel good and you don't know why."
CAPTION: Frankie Beverly singing "Joy and Pain" at the St. Lucia Jazz Festival in May. "We try to keep it real," the singer says. "We're not a pretentious band. What you see is what you get."
CAPTION: "I have all his CDs," said Andre Roberts of Sam "K" Records on Georgia Avenue. "Frankie is smooth."