Just like with people who try to criss-cross between music and acting, people will give you a hard time if you try to do both music and sports. In some cases it's understandable why-- no one will confuse "The Superbowl Shuffle" for a seminal old-school Rap disc, and on the other side, people naturally thought Marvin Gaye was out to lunch for trying out for the Detroit Lions (at the age of 30). An examination of the career of Arthur Lee Maye reveals that as a baseball player or an R&B singer, the man definitely had what it took.
First of all, as a ballplayer, Lee Maye was no slouch. A respectable lifetime batting average of .274 is highlighted by three .300+ seasons and 44 league leading doubles in '64. He played for such colorful teams as the Milwaukee Braves, The Houston Colt .45's/Astros (Where he was among the first to play upon the newly named "Astro Turf), The Indians, The Washington Senators and the White Sox of the early 70's. But even before he was rocking big league pitchers he was making hit 78's and 45's. These were the days before big leaguers averaged over a million dollars a year, and when playing pro ball meant you were going to have to find another job that would let you have six months off a year, so Maye had to keep up his musical career throughout his hardball career. And even though the Tuscaloosan born outfielder may not be one of the most outstanding players in the record books, he did make some outstanding short players in some record collections.
Personally, I always had a vague idea of Arthur Lee Maye--as much as I love early R&B and Rock & Roll, Maye to me was always just another name on some various artist R&B collection. I mean, even when you honestly like the music and seek out all the obscure music you can, some people are just bound to get lost in the shuffle, right? Can't buy everything! However with a little help from Jake and a collector in New York named Michael Brown(see ad on p.3) I was able to hear, via tape, a few of the singles he made over the years, and it's an impressive bunch. I don't have dates for all the songs, but judging from the technology and the songs themselves, I'd guesstimate that hey run from about 1954 to the late sixties. (NOTE: I know this article may seem a bit excessive to some since I'm not writing about someone who--ahem--gets "played on the radio" a lot---haw haw---but last I looked this was Rocktober, and not Rolling Stone, a magazine that's gathering moss by the months, so on with the show!)
The one song that Maye was identified with most was "Gloria"(not the Shadows of Night/Van Morrison or The Doors Songs), which is considered something of a West Coast Doo-Wop standard. Nice romantic music of the kind you can expect to hear on Richard Pegue's Saturday night Dusties show on Dusty Radio 1390 (AM, for those of you who don't know but would like to)in Chicago, during his monthly "Way, Way, Back" nights. Sounds really good next to something like "Earth Angel" by the Penguins. But like that Penguins cut (plus just abour every R&B single of the time), if you cut a drooling ballad on one side of the 45, you made a hellbound rocker on the other, so we also have "Oh Rooba Lee", a musical takeoff of "Mary Lou", the old Young Jessie/Ronnie Hawkins song. Original material wasn't as much a priority as it would become years later, the ways of molding recording stars were much different from today, and the business seemed to focus more around songs than artists. When Billboard magazine listed their Top 40 chart for the week, you'd see a song followed by the original artist , trailed by about five or six other jokers who tried to get a cut of the action with records of the same song. Three of Maye's singles I've heard ("At My Front Door" b/w "Honey Love", "Sincerely" b/w "Sh-Boom" and "Gee" b/w "Only You") are pretty much note for note cover versions of the day's R&B hits. If you've never heard the originals, Maye's versions might as well be, and if you have, these versions are quite redundant. Probably my hands down favorite on the tape is "A Fools Prayer". Arthur Lee Maye did quite a few slow, almost sentimental sounding numbers like many a doo-wopper of the era, but here he turns off the hokey waterworks and jumps headfirst into some heat. Back then, artists who worked in the vocal group style either went for a poppy style that was like a (slightly) soulful version of what white pre-Rockers like Patti Page or Rosemary Clooney were doing, or they went back to the church for a decided Gospel influence (like the Five Royales or Hank Ballard and the Moonlighters). Myself, I think they both have their merits, don't get me wrong, but my money goes with the latter style, and "A Fool's Prayer" is a good standout example of that. The singer/narrator is in a desperate situation, and any song of this caliber needs to be beefed up with some intensity. The single "Halfway" b/w "I Can't Please you" was done on the Lenox label (owned by Kenny Roger's brother!) whose biggest claim to fame was R&B singer Esther Williams doing Soul versions of Country songs, and this 45 (which sounds like '62 or '63), the top half anyways has that same Country-Soul sound---a moody, Gospelly Soul number with this tinkling Patsy Cline-piano and a twangy bassline (the forerunnner of the popping bass sound that funk guitarists used from late '70's on?) . Brook Benton and Joe Henderson (not the Jazz musician) had hits with this kind of sound in the early sixties, and "Halfway ranks with the best. "Can't Please" on the other hand sounds like the producers had New Orleans on their minds, and this is a pale recreation of that sound. Many of the post-50's discs he made were pretty much mirrors of the styles of the day, and "Only a Dream" is one of the least successful, ripoff of the Drifters early style ("Under the Boardwalk", "Up on the Roof", etc.)
For the most part Maye continued to make great records as years and styles passed, and although he's generally identified as a fifties artist, he made better records after that time than Jackie Wilson, who, great as he was, made some truly forgettable Soul records (as opposed to the earlier R&B style) in the early '70's. "I'm Happy & in Love" b/w "Moonlight" sound like a later early-60's New York street corner Doo-Wop sound (yes, there is a difference!), "Loving Fool" is an uptempo dance number, like The Coasters or the Olympics (a poor man's Coasters, but still a great group!) would do, and "At the Party", a weak version of a great song by Texas ballbusters Big Sambo and the Housewreckers (available on a great various artists compilation album called-of course-AT The Party!) I really love "How's the World Treating You", where the narrator tries to get back together with an old flame, and is a must for anyone who has tried to carry on after a breakup(the unwanted, involuntary kind). The 1969 song "He'll Have to Go" brings Maye fully into the Soul era. This is an excellent soul version of the time honored Country standard. Fans of Arthur Alexander, the celebrated 60's singer who worked in the same vein, will love this.
Arthur Lee Maye (Sometimes, on records and baseball cards billed as Lee Maye, and on records sometimes as Arthur Lee Maye and The Crowns) is supposedly living in LA and still performing. There are a number of LA R&B stars from the 50's, like Johnny Otis and Richard Berry, who are still alive, well and active (and even wealthy, as Berry recently won back the rights to "Louie,Louie", the great Rock standard he wrote and originally recorded), and so the possibility of Maye still doing shows is not totally out of the question. At least I hope it isn't. All in all, Maye may prove to have been the truest Baseball/Rock & Roller of them all!
One album currently in print is THE GOLDEN GROUPS, a various artists comp, (Specialty), on cassette and Vinyl, featuring "Gloria", "Cool Loving" and "Don't You Know I Love You So". Maye repro 45's are available from Norton Records, PO Box 646 Cooper Station New York,NY 10003. Write for a catalogue. OR...just send a blank tape and three stamps to Rocktober, and I'll dub the tape we have for you.