Leroy Allen, David LaFleur, Thomas Johnson and Kenneth Crayton are as seasoned an R&B group as has ever existed.
Collectively, the synchronized foursome who call themselves Gifted the Group has more than 160 years of performing experience. And at the moment, they are calling on every one of those years in an attempt to pull Maxwell's (9255 S. Main) apart by the seams.
9255 S. Main, 713-661-1915
Led by Allen's endlessly confident and capable alto, Gifted slithers through "God's Gift to a Woman," their velvety single that lists the qualities of a man who fits the song's title — namely, a man who satisfies a woman's physical needs and occasionally rubs her feet.
The four men move in unison, twisting and turning their hips and hands. The audience, mostly older, well-dressed black gentlemen and ladies, watches in appreciation, and fully erupts when "God's Gift" melts into Johnny Gill's "My, My, My."
"They're very good," says Charles Adams, an observer studying intently from stage right. "If people get up and dance, I will too. I've been dancing here and other places for a long time."
Adams looks to be 70. When asked his age, he says he feels "closer to 40."
"I've been coming here since before I can remember" he continues. "I don't know the first time I came, but it's been a loooong time."
An understandable estimation, considering that the strip-center nightclub near Reliant Park has been around for a loooong time — about 20 years, according to co-owner Wilbert Bass.
Maxwell's started as a smaller space, but has grown to include three separate rooms, each with its own bar, plus a handful of televisions, one large stage with a tangle of cords and wires above it, a few dancing areas and a seemingly bottomless list of regulars.
There's no big, flashy sign outside because Maxwell's doesn't need one anymore. The club exists, and flourishes, on its reputation alone. On busy nights, the club may cycle through 900 or so people, which one glance toward the stuffed parking lot most Friday or Saturday evenings will easily confirm.
One Sunday a month, Maxwell's features live music, but it's best to call ahead to find out which Sunday that is, as it tends to move around. Other days, DJs burn through crates of old-school R&B in the main room, while the two smaller satellite rooms do their own thing. "Max 1" is a miniature sports bar with several televisions, while "Max 2" throbs to a Top 40 beat.
"It's a good location, for one," says Bass when asked why Maxwell's has not only survived this long, but managed to expand. "But when a club begins to fall apart or go down, and they all do that at some point, it's always good to have good friends to help make sure you get through it."
Bass is an older man in matching mustard suit and shoes. More than once, he recalls dates in the past by linking them to when friends have passed away. Nothing about him feels manufactured, not even when he's pumping up his club. His only jewelry is a thin gold necklace, a bracelet and two pinky rings. When he's done talking, he blends into his crowd perfectly.
One of Bass's friends is Arnold Taylor, who DJed at the club from 1997 to 2004. He continues to visit because...well, just because.
"You can come here and just have a good time," Taylor says. "And the people are always real nice."
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Maxwell's may or may not be God's gift to nightlife aficionados, but it will occasionally rub your feet for you. And sometimes that's all you really need.
Gifted the Group
Gifted the Group does not have a proper Web site for you to check them out, but you can see them on YouTube by searching their former, more famous name, "God's Gift to Women" and "Houston." They're in the first two or three videos that pop up. You can also order their latest album and/or find out about upcoming shows via David LaFleur by contacting him at D.LaFleur@sbcglobal.net. They really are a fun group to see, particularly if you're fond of that older style of R&B à la Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. Said Leroy Allen when asked why Gifted concentrates so much on their performance's aesthetic appearance, he replied simply, "It's a show. It ain't no goddawg get-up-there-and-gig." Gotta respect that.