Sounds Visual Radio
Sounds Visual Radio
Episode 134: Maxayn Lewis

There are vocalists whose names transcend the confines of era and genre and become immortal… and then there’s Maxayn Lewis. She stands apart. That’s because she’s an accomplished pianist and songwriter who once helmed a psychedelic funk supergroup. Although she has lent her voice to innumerable projects, commercial blockbusters and cult favourites, in every decade since the 1960s, her talents are best captured by a trio of bold, visionary philoso-funk albums issued between 1971 and 1974, the work of the group that took her name for its own.

The passing years have burnished their legend. Each of these genre-defying works was ahead of its time; now the times have caught up. Cultists, critics and tastemakers never stopped listening to the Maxayn trilogy, but this music, by turns mind-expanding, socially aware, sensual and acerbic, was never intended solely for initiates – Maxayn is for everyone whose ears can hear, whose hearts are open and whose minds are switched on. 

“It was hard for us then/It’s hard for us now/Life, liberty, pursuit of happiness/Seemed to miss us somehow…” Powerful words, sung over driving, bottom-heavy, telepathically tight funk, announced Maxayn’s arrival in 1972. Each member was already a music-scene veteran. They came together with the intention of doing something completely new. Such vaulting ambitions were in no small part made possible by the participation of Maxayn Lewis. Hers is a voice not well-served by comparisons, but perhaps Julian Coleman, writing in Billboard in 1972, came closest with “a cross between Aretha Franklin and Roberta Flack”. It is elegant and plaintive like the latter, but it also has the grain, grit and electric passion of the former. Today, when the talent-show trend is to showboat your way through a song, Maxayn understands the power of holding back as much as letting go. She inhabits a song. She knows when to apply vibrato and when to withhold it. She knows when to adorn a melody with grace notes and melisma and when to leave it alone. She understands dynamics and knows exactly when to breathe to assist phrasing. She senses when a melody can accommodate rubato and when it demands strict adherence. This isn’t to say that she’s all technical mastery and surface flash. There’s experience and texture in her voice. There’s that sought-after and misapplied word – authenticity. When Maxayn sings, it’s the sound of love, struggle, defiance, wonder, outrage, beauty, dismay and triumph. It encompasses the full spectrum of feeling and then some.

Born Paulette Parker, Maxayn was more – far more – than just the decorous female focal point so often seen out front in other groups. Her gifts had emerged during infancy. The first of four children born to Emzie and Lorene Parker in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Maxayn grew up in Greenwood, at the time a segregated neighbourhood once dubbed ‘Black Wall Street’ because of its progressive, African-American businesses. It was an area shaken by the 1921 race riots, in which white residents murdered their way through swathes of the black community, destroying homes and offices, before using rezoning laws to try to prevent the vitiated community from repairing itself. “My parents were very much political activists and they loved music”, she recalls. Theirs was a household that throbbed with song – Duke Ellington, Muddy Waters, Mahalia Jackson, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald. “They were a powerhouse in a gentle and loving way. My grandfather on my Dad’s side was part-Cuban and he was really influential. He understood how to thrive in any situation. He passed that on to us, to never feel defeated no matter what, to know that you can get around the tough stuff and succeed.”

Maxayn experienced a paranormal pull towards the piano. “I always knew I wanted to play. If I couldn’t see a piano, I would draw one and pretend I was playing.” At the Latimer Conservatory, she made light work of scales and music theory. “I just flew through that stuff,” she adds, “but I wanted to play things that I heard – different things”. Conservatory requirements stipulated that pupils learn more than one instrument. “I learned French horn, flute and a little bit of cello”. Once her aptitude became apparent, Maxayn’s Godparents, Cora and Charles Valentine, gave her a piano. Despite founding an all-female singing group, The Continentals, in fifth grade, she didn’t view music as a career and turned instead to science. “I thought I would be a doctor. You know – you have to think of something ‘serious’ to do with your education.”

Enrolling at Oklahoma State University, she was dismayed to find the campus decorated with confederate flags. After surviving a violent, racially-motivated assault, she came home for Christmas and fell into a post-traumatic depression. “I couldn’t wake up. I just wanted to sleep. I listened to music in my room. I didn’t want to eat, I didn’t want to talk, I didn’t want to go anywhere”. An invitation to sing at a local club lifted her out of the gloom. “I was paired Karl Day, who was like a white version of James Brown. He could really sing. We were booked as ‘Night and Day’. There were horns and we’d get that big Stax sound.”

Two weeks later, Maxayn received the call that would catapult her into the upper echelons of the music business. “I had worked on Friday night and I was sleeping late.” When a male voice introduced himself as Ike Turner, Maxayn assumed it was a prankster. “I hung up and went back to bed. Five minutes later, there was another call. This time, a woman’s voice said, ‘Please don’t hang up the phone again’. I could tell, being a fan, that this was Tina Turner.” It turned out that Ernie Fields, fabled bandleader and trombonist, had given the Turners Maxayn’s number. The Ike & Tina Revue was in town and Tina promptly invited Maxayn to audition. 

Later that winter day in 1967, friend in tow, she arrived at the Mayo Hotel, 115 West 5th Street, and proceeded to the Turner suite. “Ike is on the phone, ranting and raving at somebody. There’s a table laid out with refreshments. He says, ‘Make yourself at home, eat what you want’. Then, all of a sudden, boom! Tina Turner walks through the door. She’s got the bellman with her and tons of packages. She’s been shopping. She looks straight at me and says, ‘You’re Paulette. Come with me’. She leads me into a room. There are all these outfits for the Ikettes and people working on them, running around, sewing, steaming. They’re like the little birds fixing Cinderella’s dress. Tina sits me down with my back to a mirror and starts making my face up right there on the spot. She’s interviewing me! She asks if I can sing harmony. Yes. Can I dance? Yes. She tries a variety of wigs on me and finds me a dress.”

Moments later, head spinning, Maxayn was motioned into an adjoining room. “It’s filled with the other girls and the road managers, and Tina says, ‘This is our new Ikette’. I say, ‘Hold it – one thing – I have to tell my parents. Do you think you could talk to them?’” That night, the entire Ike & Tina entourage rolled up at the Parker home. “It was midnight,” recalls Maxayn. “My mom, in true Oklahoma style, says, ‘Are you hungry?’. Tina asks, ‘Can I sit in your bathtub?’ My mum shows her all the stuff, bubble bath and towels and Tina goes up and ravishes in the tub while Ike is talking to my dad. My mum makes Tina salmon croquettes and Tina changes clothes and falls asleep on my mom’s bed. Ike goes into my dad’s study, where he’d smoke cigars, and they stay there 45 minutes. My dad comes out and says, ‘Ok. You can go’”. Hastily prepared suitcase in hand, Maxayn set off into the future.

The parting from her family was not without pathos. “My dad gave me three $100 bills and said, ‘Hide this. If you need to leave, to get on a plane or bus, you can always come back home’. He had tears in his eyes. It made me want to cry because as I got on the bus, he and Mom were standing there, holding hands like two little kids”. The bus left Tulsa for Memphis, Tennessee. “I had only been out of state once. I had never really been anywhere. Everyone on the bus was really nice to me. They showed me my bunk and told me how everything worked. I looked out of the window and thought, ‘Am I really doing this? Yes. I’m. Really. Doing. This.’ It was surreal. I wondered if it would all be over tomorrow. But it turned into this whole big thing.”

This whole big thing included a European tour and then another year of domestic touring, 341 shows in 356 days. Ike Turner schooled his young protégées in the business aspect of music, explaining contracts, riders and taxes. “He said he would be my father-away-from-my-father. This was before his fall from grace and he was an excellent businessman. It was my first job and we were making $1500 a week without fail. When we landed at Heathrow, there were people outside the fence with signs welcoming us. It was almost the same pandemonium as when the Beatles came to America. A crazy time.” Before long, the young Paulette was at the epicentre of Swinging London, rubbing shoulders with Michael Caine at Annabel’s on Berkeley Square. She bonded with Tina on a creative and intellectual level and the two established an enduring friendship. She immersed herself in the history and culture of each destination, making coin-operated phone calls to her parents. “By the time we came back to California, everybody was spent. I couldn’t sit down anywhere for five minutes without falling asleep. We had hit the wall every night, where you can’t talk, you just have to breathe. We perspired so much on stage, water would splash out of our shoes. That’s how how hard we worked.”

When the revue ran its course, Maxayn went home to rest. Ernie Fields Jr. invited her to join a tour of blues festivals, opening for Bobby Blue Bland. She jumped at the chance. “Big festivals were just starting to be a thing, with 300,000 people showing up. I met Buddy Guy, BB King, Muddy Waters, Big Mama Thornton. It was amazing”. She crossed paths with label executive Don Dietrich Robey, owner of Peacock/Duke Records. “He was from Leonard Chess school – a gangster, with a pearl-handled 38 on his hip, dude suits and cowboy boots. But when he spoke, he had this tiny little voice – it didn’t match his look. He was known to be mean and with all the songs on his label, he took the publishing. He used to go to prisons and give people five dollars in exchange for lyrics. All this great music, big hits, were written by people in prison who never saw more than five bucks”. Despite her misgivings, Paulette cut four sides for Duke/Peacock (destined to become staples of the UK’s Northern Soul scene) – ‘Gimme Back My Love’/‘Should I Let Him Go’ and ‘Driving Wheel’/‘I Pity The Fool’ – before calling a halt to the partnership. 

After a show in Chicago, Maxayn found herself at a crossroads when two opportunities presented themselves. First came Donny Hathaway, in a three-piece suit and apple hat. “He said, ‘I’d like to produce you’. I’d seen him at the Troubadour and he’d killed it. He was Donny Hathaway!”. Maxayn noticed two men standing to one side, waiting to get her on her own. “They looked like they’d dropped from space – crazy clothes, tall, slim and beautiful. They were looking at me almost with predator eyes.” They were Andre Lewis and Marlo Henderson, bandmates in the Buddy Miles Express. “They said, ‘You can go with the guy in the three-piece suite and the apple hat and maybe you’ll have a nice life. Or you can come with us because we’re going into space. The decision is yours.’ It was too good a proposition to pass up, so I chose to go with them, to the final frontier”.

Exactly what was meant by final frontier would become clear upon the unveiling of the Maxayn’s eponymous debut on Capricorn Records in 1972. The cover alone said that this was something different – Maxayn’s profile in silhouette, emphasising bone structure a runway model would kill for, against a molten sunset. The album, recorded in Miami and New York, was the fruit of a dreamlike year in which the bandmates, including Emry Thomas on drums, collaborated in a Tudor mansion at 233 Grand Avenue, Boston. The patronage of songwriter/producer, Luther Dixon, gave them time to experiment. While the men went on tour with Buddy Miles, Maxayn worked on songs. “They would come back on Sunday nights and work with me. It was inspirational. One of the things that made me take notice of Andre was that he understood at a deep level that the blues informed all popular music. He would say, ‘it’s all blues’”.

The bulk of the sessions, some including Buddy Miles cohorts Hank Redd (guitar/sax/), Billy Rich (bass) and Stemsy Hunter (sax/flute), took place at Record Plant, New York, and were, says Maxayn, “very organic. It wasn’t my first time recording but it was the first time I could actually ask about how the machinery worked”. While Jack Adams, who’d helmed Buddy Miles’ A Message To The People, oversaw production with Andre, Maxayn hit upon the possibility of harmonising with herself. “The guy said, ‘Yes, but I don’t think you could really do it because you couldn’t match it up’. It wasn’t digital then, you couldn’t see sound on a screen. I said, ‘Oh, I bet I could’ and he was like, ‘You won’t know where you come in and where you stop’ and I said, ‘I can remember that!’ ‘For a whole song?’ ‘Yes, for a whole song’. He put me to the test and I sang four-part harmony to a track from memory. He ran down the hall and got a bunch of engineers and said, ‘Listen! It’s all her! She’s singing all the parts’. That was one of my credits on the album – singing all the background”. 

The group name came about more by expedience than design. The masters were labelled ‘Maxayn’. “It seemed natural”, remembers the lady herself. “It wasn’t a wrestling for power. I wasn’t saying, ‘I’m gonna be the star out front’. It was just what was on the box”. The transition from ‘Paulette’ to ‘Maxayn’ had been similarly unforced. “My uncle used to call me Maxayn when I started singing because Maxayn was a Mayan Goddess of the wind. I wanted to have one name, like Tina, that one-name identity”. 

The debut opened with a song that encapsulated what they were about. ‘Trying For Days’, a civil rights battle cry, spoke simultaneously to the head, heart, conscience, the hips and the feet. The lyrics have since been included in college-level psychology books at Hofstra University, New York. “The black struggle in America has been going on since black people were forcibly brought to this country and that’s what it’s about – overcoming. You fight one battle and then somebody comes up with a new way to cheat you out of your rights. If you’re black in America, you live in a constant storm”. 

The remainder of the album mixes five originals with two Rolling Stones covers. ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ and ‘Gimme Shelter’ are radical reworkings. The foursome enter the material and reconstruct it from the inside out, infusing the former with a slow, laconic beat and the latter (which features Maxayn on French Horn) with a menacing, portentous groove. It’s a testament to their willingness to experiment that both songs sound like Maxayn originals. 

And as the for the originals themselves, it’s impossible to resist the two dramatic soul arias – ‘Song’ and ‘Let Me Be Your Friend’. “I was younger and more naive,” reflects Maxayn. “And hopeful for the future. When you’re young you think you can fix anything. You can’t but you think you can. I was writing from that bright-eyed, optimistic, ‘you can get past anything and make anything ok’ place”. 

With ‘Doing Nothing, Nothing Doing’ comes a shift of mood, a febrile, miasmic swirl pulling the listener into a place of spaced-out rumination. Stemsy Hunter’s prominent flute adds to the sultry, far-out vibe. “We were indulging in Marijuana,” Maxayn confides. “We were trying to do something that was unconventional. It was one of those laid-back, super-hot days in California when you don’t want to go outside. Every night, we played at a place called Earth on Mission Beach, opening for a lot of artists – Taj Mahal, Ravi Shankar, Bonnie Raitt. We made a lot of friends”.

After that spike in temperature, the concluding track feels like a cooling balm. ‘Beloved’, by Marlo Henderson, is a love ballad with a stateliness reminiscent of Roberta Flack’s version of Ewan Maccoll’s ‘First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’, but entirely unlike it in every other respect. “I love that song,” says Maxayn. “There’s some cool stuff that happens on it electronically, an ambient sound”. You can hear that shimmering sound, Andre’s electric piano pulsing back and forth, as Maxayn sings the lavish, roomy, sun-kissed melody. 

“Former Ikette and Bobby Bland star transcends R&B and rock with a great impact,” read the ad in the May 27, 1972 edition of Billboard. Marty Silva’s liner notes spoke of “four very beautiful, very high people, working hard at expressing themselves and loving it”. The listener was invited to merge with the band, seduced by the tantalising possibility: “Listening to them might just make you a part of Maxayn”. Becoming Maxayn, once you’d seen the back cover, was no bad prospect. They had an uncontrived glamour. On the beach in San Diego, near La Jolla Cove, Andre, Marlo and Emry are clad in fashion-forward, rock-star apparel. Maxayn is in a sleeveless gown. “I look like a hostess! It was really, really cold and I do not look happy. The guys have jackets and I’m freezing”. 

The timing couldn’t have been better. Maxayn were more coherent than the by-now-unravelling Sly & The Family Stone. They were more oddball than Labelle, who had yet to be fully launched into outer space by Nona Hendryx, playing it comparatively safe on their first two albums, on which, incidentally, both Andre and Marlo played. And they were a year ahead of Rufus.

The band threw themselves into a hectic live schedule. “We had the opportunity to open for Earth, Wind & Fire and then we got a tour in Europe”. In Portugal, they ran into trouble – since the 1950s, the country had held on to its African colonies despite the opprobrium of the international community. “War broke out in Lisbon but they didn’t talk about it on the news,” recalls Maxayn. “The American embassy had to get us out and prove that we weren’t African terrorists. We got to the border of Spain and they wouldn’t let us bring our equipment because they thought we were smuggling something. We called up the promoter and he said to leave it in Portugal, that he’d pay us for it. We got across Spain and into France where we played for two months. They tried to get us to stay, but we had work to do”.

That work was Maxayn Album No. 2, Mindful. This time, guests included former Ikette, PP Arnold, who’d notched up several big UK hits, PP’s sister Elaine, Claudia Lennear, Clydie King and Venetta Fields. In 1972, Maxayn had sung on her friend Lalomie Washburn’s album with High Voltage. On Mindful, Lalomie returned the favour. Tony Maiden – soon to join Rufus – participated, too. Andre, Emry, Marlo and Maxayn, at the apogee of their powers, created what would be their most conceptual album. When it appeared in 1973, the cover illustration depicted the group as hemi-decapitated busts. “It’s to show us as open-minded”, explains Maxayn, “that’s what the concept is. All the songs on Mindful are about being aware. One of the slangs that Millennials use is ‘stay woke’. This was our idea of how to ‘stay woke’”.

Mindful opens with a simulation of a radio station being tuned into. “We’re saying, ‘tune into yourself – tune out the static and tune into your true being’”, says Maxayn. And so it begins: ‘Moan To The Music’ is like a mission statement, the band declaring that whatever ails you, you can and should avail yourself of the emotionally renewing power of music. With its call-and-response structure, the song validates the presence of the listener, letting them know they’re on the same page as Maxayn, in the spirit of the moment. The production is cutting-edge; just listen to the frenetic interplay between instruments and the chromatic, electric-piano figure after the ‘moan…moan…moan’ refrain. 

‘Love Is Near’, a crie de coeur with echoing keyboards and ethereal backing vocals, was supplied by Becky Rife, a friend of the band’s. “We used to see her at Earth in San Diego. She played the song for me and I came up with a completely different arrangement for it. The words spoke to me more than anything. ‘I’ve been thinking back on times of sadness/when I thought sorrow my only release/no happiness/no peace’. Then as the song goes on, it turns out that there is more to life than sorrow, there are ways you can overcome. That’s why it appealed to me”. 

Emry and Marlo’s sprightly ‘Good Things’ brings back happy Record Plant memories for Maxayn. “They loved us and gave us a lot of leeway. They’d take messages for us and act like they were our office”, she says. It’s a moment of light relief before the high drama of ‘Stone Crazy’. “I wrote all the lyrics and Andre helped me with the music”, Maxayn says. The arrangement, its timpani and horns recalling big, wall-of-sound soul ballads from the 1960s, is well-suited to this tale of romantic disillusionment.

The down-tempo groove of ‘Tellin’ You’ is what originally closed Side One, and it’s a powerful statement to make before an intermission. “It’s saying this is who I am – I shouldn’t have to fit into anybody’s mould.” The song was written, in part, as a response to criticism. Some observers had noted that Maxayn’s lyrics looked beyond the limitations of religion and turned, instead, to philosophy, protest, activism and spirituality for the answers. “They made it into this big controversy,” she recalls. “In interviews, people would ask – did we not believe in god, were we agnostics”. 

Mindful is informed by state-of-the-art, sonic experimentation, as evidenced on ‘Feelin’’. “We were doing a lot of beta-testing for Roland,” Maxayn recalls. Andre’s prescience regarding technology was well-known. “He was really concerned about digital sounding so brittle. He said the challenge would be for it to have the feeling of analog because the human body doesn’t feel comfortable with it. It makes you anxious. He said, ‘digital isn’t going away, but they’re gonna have to make it more in tune with the flow of human energy’”. 

Next comes the one-two-three punch of ‘The Answer’, ‘Check Out Your Mind’ and ‘I Want To Rest My Mind’, a gapless song-suite. “We got a lot of fan mail from people who had listened to ‘Trying For Days’”, says Maxayn. “They wanted to know how to keep fighting against the evil and the unfairness. Black people in America can be battle-fatigued from childhood to adulthood. ‘The Answer’ was saying, ‘don’t look for the solution to fall out of the sky – you have to dig deeper inside yourself, be sure, stand your ground and don’t be discouraged”. This philosophical slow-jam, written by Andre and Maxayn, precedes the group’s biggest hit, a  cover of the Curtis Mayfield-penned Impressions classic, ‘Check Out Your Mind’. Its slinky, polyrhythmic arrangement practically forces the body to its feet.

‘I Want To Rest My Mind’ takes us from musical theatre to bossa nova to orchestrated soul anthem via a structure which, in scope and ambition, is Jimmy Webb meets Rotary Connection. “There are so many things we talk about – trouble, the answers, finding your true self, your true place, never letting darkness overtake you. And since it is a constant battle, at some point you have to rest your mind. So this song was written for that place on the album. Bags Costello wrote some of the music, but Marlo and I wrote the lyrics”. 

Like a kindly breeze on a blistering day, ‘Travelin’’ is Emry Thomas’s ode to the road – summery, bossa nova-meets-r’n’b. “We had fallen in love with Brazilian music”, Maxayn remembers. “Emry wrote that song because we had cabin fever from being in the studio and he was happy to hit the road. When we’d travel, I would fly – they wanted me to fly. The guys would go in a purple van, tricked out with white seats and Maxayn emblazoned on the side and on the license tag.”

A front-page ad in the March 17, 1973 edition of Billboard announced Mindful. It was an album ‘bound to broaden the distance between its listeners’ ears’. In April 1973, Mindful was connecting with its audience, making the Billboard ‘Bubbling Under’ charts. Aided by the band’s triumphant appearance on Soul Train, by June 1973, the album had broken into Billboard’s Top 50 Soul LPs, with ‘Check Out Your Mind’ at #35 on the Soul Singles list. 

Keeping up with the album-a-year treadmill of the 1970s was no problem for Maxayn. “We worked all the time, so we never felt the pressure of deadlines. We were always recording because we had the beta-testing going on. Andre was working with Roger Linn on the Linn Machine. Roger used to hitchhike to our house to work on it”. They decided that for their next album, a change of scene was in order and set off for New London Studios, Homewood, Alabama. “All these unbelievable recording palaces were popping up, like Caribou Ranch in Colorado. A guy wanted to show us his studio and made us a really good offer. It was a beautiful home and a beautiful studio”. In contrast with the expanded cast of Mindful, the sessions for Bail Out For Fun! were pared down to the four band members, with just minimal outside support. Production was shared between Andre and Maxayn.

The cover of Bail Out For Fun! launched what has since become the most iconic of Maxayn’s looks. Beneath the logo carried over from the first two albums is a black and white shot of the front-woman, cracking up in a platinum wig. “Because the band was in black leather, I’d wear white. I’d been wearing purple hair but I wanted to do something different. I went to a store and when I tried a white wig, the lady said, ‘You should do that! It looks good on you’. I rolled with it. I thought, ‘if it’s crazy, if nobody likes it, then I won’t wear it’. And that’s why I’m laughing in the picture – everyone was teasing me, saying funny stuff”. Before long, devotees of the group, true Maxayn-iacs, began coming to their shows in replicas of the Bail Out wig.

Bail Out For Fun! is an album with half an eye on the dance-floor. It reflects the band’s growing interest in electronica and Brazilian sounds. As before, there’s a blend of outside writers and Maxayn-composed material. DJ Rogers, a friend of the band, had written ‘Bail Out’ as the concluding track of his first album the previous year. Maxayn’s version is quicker and tighter, with an insistent, propulsive arrangement. “That’s me singing an octave apart with myself,” says Maxayn.

There’s barely time to draw breath before Buddy Miles’s ‘Life Is What You Make It’ bursts in. The song is thoroughly Maxayn-ised, with clavinet, moog, organ, electric piano and Andre’s stylised lead vocal. “One of the main things I teach at the LA College of Music,” says Maxayn, “is if you’re gonna do a cover, do something different to the recording itself. That’s where you entertain your own muse.”

No Maxayn album would be complete without a show-stopping ballad and here it’s Randy Richard’s ‘Cried My Last Tear’, allowing Maxayn to take her voice to its outer limits. The two Brazil-flavoured cuts, both band-composed, are ‘You Don’t Have To Be Lonely’ and ‘Everything Begins With You’, the latter picking up on one of the key Maxayn motifs – self-awareness. “We wanted to inspire people to be confident in their own power”, confirms Maxayn. “A lot of young musicians would come to us and say, ‘How do you do it?’ You’ve got to be solid about who you are – then you can effectively share with other people”. 

‘Fun’ is all effervescence and froth. “Ricky Holley is a great writer,” says Maxayn. “A friend of mine from Oklahoma City. I’ve sung on a lot of his demos and I thought this one was reminiscent of what Sly would have done, if he had kept going”.

Perhaps it’s fitting that the penultimate track is an extended reimagining of ‘Trying For Days’, the Maxayn story ending as it had begun. “The message never gets old and that’s why we recorded it twice”. 

Bail Out For Fun! hit the shelves in early 1974. Although it was one of Billboard’s FM Action Picks, unlike Mindful it didn’t have a break-out single to give it a shot in the arm. The foursome were also dealing with distribution problems, Warners seemingly unable to get the albums onto the shelves. Taking matters into their own hands, Maxayn commandeered the stock, sending it to stores themselves. Problems like this prevented turntable hits from becoming sales hits. 

Maxayn wasn’t meant to end there. The band signed with Motown-distributed Manticore Records in 1975. They were five tracks into an album when things fell apart. “It had nothing to do with us,” says Maxayn. “The label, their business model, they just couldn’t get it off the ground. I have those tracks and they’ve never been released. The industry fell, not only from under us, but from under a lot of artists at the time. It was disappointing because we had a lot of momentum and songs I’d written but no outlet for them”.

In an already well-documented move, with Maxayn on board as a collaborator, Andre re-emerged behind the persona of Mandré, exploring his interest in electronic music over a series of futuristic disco-funk albums for Motown. Andre passed away on January 31, 2012. 

Maxayn became the Zelig of backing vocalists, singing with a musical Who’s Who the size of several phone books. To name just a few – Bonnie Raitt, Steve Marriot, Tata Vega, Sammy Hagar, Brenda Russell, Billy Preston, Rosanne Cash, The Gap Band, Gino Vanelli, Tower of Power, Smokey Robinson, BB King, Simple Minds, Duran Duran, Midge Ure, Ricky Martin, Celine Dion, Will Downing, Jon Bon Jovi, Taylor Dayne, Henry Rollins, Jerry Lee Lewis and thousands more. She toured with Donna Summer and Rufus and played piano/keyboards on albums by Earth, Wind & Fire and Lowell George. In addition to writing for the Mandré project, she supplied songs for Mary Russell, Wornell Jones, Rufus, Phylliss Bailey and Greg Phillinganes. She spent over ten years recording and touring with Japanese artists.

Bio courtesy Charles Donovan.

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