ARTHUR LEE MAYE (By Shaun Mather)
Born 11 December 1934, Tuscaloosa, Alabama
For me, Arthur Lee Maye was one of the top 20 doo-wop leads of the '50s, possessor of a beautiful tenor voice with just the right amount of pleading thrown in. As well as his music career he was a professional baseball player for thirteen years, which necessitated his recordings being made during the off-season. Although he was born in Alabama, the family moved to Los Angeles when he was young.
During his high school years at Jefferson he was surrounded by wannabe doo-woppers (there's a rumour that one guy graduated from Jefferson High School in the late '50s who didn't join a group!). Maye's first school band was the Carmels, but they appear to have gone unrecorded. Other singers/groups to come out of the school included the Coasters, Platters, Penguins, Medallions, Jesse Belvin and Young Jessie. 1954 was to be a banner year for him. He began playing ball for the Milwaukee Braves' Boise, Idaho minor league team, and made his recording debut. He teamed up with ex-school buddies bass Johnny Coleman and Richard Berry (Flairs/Louie Louie etc). They cut sides for Flair Records as the "5" Hearts ("The Fine One"/"Please Please Baby") and as the Rams ("Sweet Thing"/"Rock Bottom"). Around this time he formed a group called the Crowns, whose first job was to back Berry (uncredited) on "Please Tell Me". The Los Angeles scene was an incestuous one at this time and no-one had more partners than Richard Berry, who was working concurrently with the Flairs, the Crowns and the Dreamers as well as a solo artist. The Crowns had their first release under their own name in late 1954 with "Set My Heart Free"/"I Wanna Love" on Modern.
Further releases came on the RPM subsidiary, but fed up with the meagre royalties on offer, the Crowns moved to Specialty Records with similar results. Their March 1956 single coupled the glorious "Gloria" (not that one!) with "Oh-Rooba-Lee". The next off-season saw Maye hook up with Johnny Otis where he sang with the Jayos, who included in their numbers, Mel Williams, another beautiful singer. They cut a series of sessions for Otis' Dig label, mainly doing cover versions. The Jayos were augmented on some of the sessions by Jesse Belvin and Richard Berry again. Maye did the lead vocals on "Honey Love," "Earth Angel," "Gee," Only You," "At My Front Door," and "One Mint Julep". The Crowns also recorded for Dig although when the sides were released they only came out under Maye's name. The same thing happened when "Hey Pretty Girl"/"Cause You're Mine Alone" came out on Flip. It was almost repeated on Cash records but "Will You Be Mine" and "Honey Honey" were credited to "Lee Maye of the Milwaukee Braves." A bit like Chris and Glenn of the Spurs!
By the early 60's his baseball career was so high profile that he assigned the leadership of the Crowns to Henry Strogin whilst Maye went solo. "Halfway Out Of Love With You" came out on Lenox in 1963 and he recorded for Jamie the following year. The rest of the decade saw him move from the Milwaukee Braves to the Houston Astros on to the Cleveland Indians, then the Washington Senators before finishing his major league career at the Chicago White Sox. For those who are intereted in baseball, his career stats are impressive I think - he played in 1,288 games with an overall batting average of .274 (including four seasons over .300), hit 94 home runs and 419 RBIs, and scored 533 runs.
Musically he cut for Jetstream, Guyden, Tower, Pacemaker, ABC Paramount, Buddah and Antrell. He was a regular at the Doo-Wop Society of Southern California's shows during much of the '90s but finally succumbed to liver cancer and diabetes at the age of 67.
Surely it's time that Ace brought out the definitive collection of his work. There was a bootleg on Dig (?) in 1997 which included a lot of the early singles, but a proper job from the big boys is now overdue. They've issued a lot of his stuff on their various label anthologies as well as the stuff on the Johnny Otis Rock 'n' Roll Hit Parade in 2000.
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