Renowned keyboardist Brian Maes is loyal to his roots. After decades of performing with legends across the globe, the Lynn native still makes taking the stage at North Shore venues a priority. In his new, three-part book series, Brushes with Greatness, Maes describes with candor and passion his lifelong, illustrious musical career, while paying homage to friends, family, and his humble beginnings.
The seeds for Brian Maes took root at his childhood home in Lynn, where music served as the “accompaniment” to his life. The early exposure and support of his immediate and extended family ultimately led Maes on a musical journey to Berklee College of Music, collaborations with rock legends Barry Goudreau (formerly of the band Boston) and Peter Wolf (of the J. Geils Band), and openings for megastars like Aerosmith and U2 on the world’s largest stages.
“If great music wasn’t playing, somebody was singing,” Maes says of the Harrison Avenue home where he and his two brothers grew up. Family gatherings at his grandparents’ invariably ended up with cousins, uncles, and great uncles joining Maes’s grandfather for renditions of wartime or Belgian folk songs. That ever-present background of music translated into happiness.
In elementary school, it was music class that most excited young Brian. After hearing a trumpet player perform during a third-grade assembly, Maes ran home and begged his parents for one of his own. They delivered a day later, and Maes soon found a community with his school’s marching band.
Maes’s mother, Jeanette (president of the Massachusetts State Poetry Society), knew that “turning off the music was not an option for Brian.” The unwavering familial encouragement and guidance were “gifts my family gave me,” says Maes.
Brushes with Greatness begins as an attempt to encapsulate encounters with well-known musicians, but Maes never strays far from his theme of gratitude for the countless people who helped him—many of whom hail from Boston’s North Shore.
In the autumn of 1982, Maes recounts, an audition with Lynnfield’s Robert Ellis Orrall Band led to a live television performance days later on 5 All Night, Live All Night (Boston’s Channel 5, WCVB). The performance happened to be the same day Maes started a new job at Kelly’s Roast Beef on Revere Beach Boulevard.
“I was in the weeds, with customers five rows deep at the takeout window,” he recalls of his first shift during the chaotic after-work rush. “I got so overwhelmed and nervous, I started shouting out the prices of their orders,” Maes recalls, “instead of the actual orders.”
When Maes reported back to work the very next morning after his television appearance, “the windows were full of my new coworkers cheering for me,” Maes says of the staff who offered celebratory high fives and pats on the back. He stayed with Kelly’s for another two years, and devotes a section of his book to that impressionable time, thanking by name coworkers who became his extended family.
For all of his success, Maes remains humble, grounded, and enormously grateful. “True greatness,” he says, “is reached when people give of themselves with the intention of creating a positive change in the lives of others.”
See Brian Maes solo at the Hawthorne Hotel Thursday evenings from 6-9 p.m., with his band at The Breakaway in Danvers on October 15, and with Barry Goudreau’s Engine Room also at The Breakaway on October 22.