Current Photos: Alan Mercer
Make-up: Rudy Calvo
Hair: Leverne Tate
There are singers and then there are Vocal Architects. Maxayn Lewis is the latter - not only a coveted session and touring vocalist but a passionate and conscientious instructor and coach for people in all walks of life to use their voices to their maximum capacity. Just call it "The Max Factor!"
The resume of Maxayn Lewis is an impressive one that includes recording with artists ranging from Dionne Warwick, Diana Ross and Celine Dion to Michael Jackson and Madonna. She has toured with Quiet Storm greats Brenda Russell and Gino Vannelli, jazz legend Les McCann and renowned blues man Bobby "Blue" Bland, as well as many superstars in the Japanese pop world such as Omega Tribe, Toshinobu Kubota, Anri, Akina Nakamori, Sanno Motoharu and Namie Amuro.
Maxayn (pronounced max-ann - the "y" is silent) grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma as Paulette Parker, a region renowned for producing great musicians - from rocker Leon Russell to funk masters the GAP Band (both of which she has worked with). She came upon her vocal gifts naturally from her mother, C. Lorene Parker, who was a fantastic gospel singer but, more practically, a chef by trade. Maxayn cites her as well as the incomparable Nina Simone as major inspirations. She sang in a classical conservatory and later honed her chops in jazz nightclubs and the particularly demanding Marshall amplified music of rock clubs.
Her big break arrived when the legendary Tina Turner blew into town and recruited her for a world tour. On this tour, Maxayn wowed critics and musicians alike including English rock royalty David Bowie and Mick Jagger, who referred her for gigs. Working with Tina required Maxayn to move to Los Angeles where her career truly took flight in the realm of recording sessions for not just pop music but also film scores and commercials for radio and television. It is this multi-faceted professional music background that she called upon when she carved out another niche for herself as a vocal instructor. Who better than someone who not only has and knows what it takes, but someone who has a method and is willing and able to share it with others?
The origin of the vocal building technique began with a gentleman named Gary Catano through whom a wide range of creative people have fortified their vocal instruments, from singers Seal and Mariah Carey to actors Angelina Jolie and George Clooney, even former President Bill Clinton.
While living in Japan, Maxayn became one of only two other people certified to teach "The Catano Method," but developed her own method, "The Max Factor," that goes a great deal further and is helpful to a wider range of individuals seeking to strengthen their voices and communication skills.
"The original method gets you ready to sing," Maxayn shares, "but I added the mechanics of singing which teach you how to drive that new Ferrari you have throttling in your throat!" Maxayn targeted behind-the-scenes professionals such as voice-over actors and session singers, plus became a godsend to production companies by helping them cultivate the vocal prowess of the aspiring superstars of tomorrow.
Beyond supporting the music of others, she recorded three albums as the leader of a funk-rock fusion quartet called – what else – Maxayn. The group consists of Maxayn as lead singer and keyboardist, Andre Lewis on organ and bass, Marlo Henderson on guitar, and Emilio Thomas on drums.
Most recently, Maxayn was featured on rock n’ roll legend Jerry Lee Lewis' critically acclaimed 2007 CD, Last Man Standing, gracing The Killer's take on the Jimmy Reed classic "Bright Lights, Big City."
Summing up her enviable career as a vocal entrepreneur, Maxayn concludes, "It's been a wild ride…but I still feel as though I'm just getting started - building a world of song… one voice at a time!"
AM: Maxayn, I have to tell you how much I love the three Maxayn albums. They are so funky and they were released before other groups like Rufus.
ML: Thank you, yes we were before Mother’s Finest too.
AM: You were before everybody! What was it like being ahead of the curve?
ML: It was a lot of fun. My band originally was the Buddy Miles Band. They were stars already.
AM: How did you hook up with them?
ML: They saw me when I was doing a Blues tour with Bobby Blue Bland. Two of the guys said they wanted to be in a band with me. One of the guys was Andre Lewis and that’s the same day I met Donny Hathaway. Donny gave me his card and said he wanted to produce music for me. Andre told me I could go with the man in a three piece suit or I could go with the men who just came to earth. They looked like they came from outer space, so different; the way they dressed was more rock n’ roll.
AM: What was your personal style at the time?
ML: I was more cutting edge fashion because I had already been with Ike & Tina. I had a lot of clothes from Europe and Asia.
AM: How long were you with Ike & Tina?
ML: Three years.
AM: You must have many stories from that time. Is it worthy of a book?
ML: Oh yes, it is definitely worthy of a book. My book wouldn’t be what everybody might think it would be. It would be about when I met them, before any of the crazy drugs that Ike fell into later in his life.
AM: What were they like when you worked with them?
ML: Working with them was like going to the ‘university of how’ to be in the entertainment business. Ike made sure we all understood what contracts were, what riders were, he felt very responsible for this big group of young people that he had on the road. He didn’t allow anything out of order on the buses. They were always clean. He wanted to keep us safe and to get enough rest and good nutrition. He said it was a hard job and you have to be ready for it.
The Ikettes 1968 (l-r) Ann Thomas, Paulette Parker aka Maxayn Lewis , Pat Powdrill & Jean Brown
Photo courtesy of The Rudy Calvo Collection
AM: And you were ready for it.
ML: We were. We did 347 one-nighters in 365 days.
AM: Did it ever get too much for you?
ML: No, when you’re young you are fearless and you think you are immortal. When you’re nineteen and twenty years old you don’t have any pains. We’d be super tired but we could dance. We worked really hard. We didn’t have knee pain and back pain yet.
AM: When did you leave the group?
ML: That was when Tina considered leaving. She was going to psychic readers and they were telling her all sorts of things like in the future she would be doing something else. Nobody knew what it was though.
AM: Do you believe in psychics?
ML: I think everybody has a bit of psychic energy in them. You can see to the corner but you can’t see around it. (Laughter) Tina was always wanting to drive out of the city and go where no one would know her to go to a psychic. I would often ride with her.
AM: So you got along like a good family.
ML: Very much so. She was like an athlete so we all had to be athletes with her. I was already an athletic person before I ever went on the road. The job was tough on a daily basis but it made me and everyone else mentally tough. We were ready for everything.
AM: I don’t think that happens as much today.
ML: No the young kids today have their ups and downs because they really don’t have any role models of how to be professional. Your family can’t teach you that. They can teach you how to be polite but not professional. There is no school you can go to in this industry. You have to learn from those who have come before you. I was very fortunate to meet Ike & Tina at that time.
AM: How did you get the name Maxayn?
ML: My uncle is who came up with that. He used to ask me to sing for him and he would call me the Goddess of the wind. I’m from Oklahoma so Native culture was always big. In the Mayan culture there was a Goddess of the Wind named Maxayn.
Jewelry: Claudia Tate