Cherry Red’s SoulMusic imprint has recently delivered a heaping helping of rare R&B with a powerful 3-CD box set collecting the albums of Maxayn, the band fronted by vocalist Maxayn Lewis. Reloaded: The Complete Recordings 1972-1974 presents the three albums recorded by Maxayn for Capricorn Records, all of which pushed the envelope of soul, funk, and rock.
The Oklahoma-born, prodigiously gifted singer born Paulette Parker joined the Ike and Tina Turner Revue in 1967. Upon “graduation” from the ranks of The Ikettes, the powerful-voiced singer and accomplished multi-instrumentalist was opening for other artists like Bobby “Blue” Bland and recording future northern soul classics for the small Duke/Peacock label. Her next big adventure came when she teamed with Andre Lewis and Marlo Henderson of the Buddy Miles Express to form the band named Maxayn. With the support of music veteran Luther Dixon (The Shirelles, Chuck Jackson), the trio plus drummer Emry Thomas began work on a debut album. Lewis and Miles collaborator Jack Adams helmed the album that would be named Maxayn after both the band and its charismatic frontwoman; Charles Donovan’s liner notes reveal that Paulette had adopted the moniker after a nickname her uncle had given her: “Maxayn was a Mayan goddess of the wind. I wanted to have one name, like Tina, that one-name identity.” (Maxayn added her Lewis surname when she married Andre.)
Maxayn brought all of her virtuosity to the 1972 debut album consisting of original songs penned by the band and a couple of well-chosen Rolling Stones hits, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and “Gimme Shelter.” Sessions were held primarily at New York’s Record Plant, with additional recording at Miami’s equally famed Criteria Studios. Infused with powerful social consciousness and with a space-funk vibe, Maxayn featured its namesake on lead and background vocals as well as acoustic and electric piano; she even played French horn on one track. Electrifying and dramatic, Maxayn was well-received, leading to an opening slot on an Earth, Wind & Fire tour and a second album.
Sophomore LP Mindful, again produced by Andre Lewis and Jack Adams and recorded at the Record Plant, emphasized original songs – this time plus one Curtis Mayfield cover, “Check Out Your Mind.” A “who’s who” of vocal talents joined the already-incendiary voice of Maxayn, including former Ikette and solo artist P.P. Arnold (“The First Cut is the Deepest”), her sister Elaine, Clydie King, Venetta Fields, and Delaney and Bonnie/Joe Cocker alumna Claudia Lennear. The band took the title “Mindful” to heart, lyrically emphasizing awareness both of yourself and those around you. A true concept album, the band also expanded their musical horizons with an uninterrupted, three-song suite (“The Answer,” “Check Out Your Mind” and “I Want to Rest My Mind”) and a nod to Brazilian music (“Travelin'”). The LP also yielded the band’s biggest hit. Mayfield’s “Check Out Your Mind,” excerpted from the suite, became a Billboard top 40 R&B chart entry, while the album itself “bubbled under” the Billboard 200 and earned a top 50 placement on the Soul Albums survey.
A change of scenery to New London Studios in Homewood, Alabama led to Maxayn’s third and final LP, Bail Out for Fun! Andre and Maxayn produced the LP which was a more intimate affair than its predecessor, eschewing the special guests and concentrating on a lean, band sound. Synthesized, electronic sounds continued to be a part of the band’s approach, as well as the softer beats of bossa nova. The nominal title track, “Bail Out,” was penned by D.J. Rogers and first recorded on his 1973 self-titled Shelter Records album, for which Maxayn Lewis had provided background vocals. The group also tackled Buddy Miles’ “Life is What You Make It” in a sleek, funked-up version, and other songs came courtesy Randy Richards (the ballad “Cried My Last Tear”) and Ricky Holley (the ebullient “Fun”). Maxayn then revisited their own “Trying for Days” from their debut album in a new, extended jam arrangement. Bail Out for Fun! arrived on store shelves in early 1974 but was lost in the shuffle. The band initially pressed on, signing with the Motown-distributed Manticore label. Though an album was never completed, Andre Lewis would reappear on the Motown roster as Mandré. Maxayn collaborated on his 1977 debut album which went even further into the realm of spacey, psych-funk and disco.
Maxayn Lewis has remained an in-demand background vocalist, while Andre Lewis passed away in 2012, having finally been given credit for his role as an electronic-funk innovator. Marlo Henderson continued in music as a session player and prolific songwriter, and died in 2015. Emry Thomas, too, never abandoned his drum kit. Reloaded marks the first CD appearance of these three all-too-unknown albums which built on the sound of Sly & The Family Stone and paved the way for the success of Rufus as well as Labelle’s most successful period.
Each album is housed in a mini-LP-style paper sleeve within the compact clamshell case. The copiously illustrated booklet features introductions from Maxayn Lewis and Alan Abrahams, as well as testimonials from luminaries like Brenda Russell, P.P. Arnold, and Bobby Watson. Charles Donovan has vividly chronicled the band’s history in his illuminating essay, and Simon Murphy has freshly remastered all three albums at Another Planet Music. Look for Maxayn’s genre-bending Reloaded: The Complete Recordings 1972-1974 at the links below!
CD 1: Maxayn (Capricorn CP 0103, 1972)
- Trying for Days
- You Can’t Always Get What You Want
- Jam for Jack
- Gimme Shelter
- Let Me Be Your Friend
- Doing Nothing, Nothing Doing
CD 2: Mindful (Capricorn CP 0110, 1973)
- Moan to the Music
- Love is Near
- Good Things
- Stone Crazy
- Tellin’ You
- The Answer
- Check Out Your Mind
- I Want to Rest My Mind
CD 3: Bail Out for Fun! (Capricorn CP 0125, 1974)
- Bail Out
- Life is What You Make It
- Cried My Last Tear
- You Don’t Have to Be Lonely
- Trying for Days
- Everything Begins with You