The story of Arthur Lee Maye is one that's a bit different from those of other R&B singers. Lee also had a second, concurrent career as a professional baseball player. Since baseball was Lee's major concern (singing would always be possible, but a professional baseball career only lasts for a short time), most of the sessions that he was on were recorded in the off-season (October through February). This is why there are gaps in recording session dates, followed by clumps of activity.
Arthur Lee Maye was born on December 11, 1934 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, but his family moved to Los Angeles when he was very young. He attended Jefferson High where he sang in a group called the Carmels - Eugene Taylor (lead), Arthur Lee Maye (tenor), Delmer Wilburn (tenor - he'd later be in the Squires on Combo and the Turks), Norman Manley (baritone) and Charles Holmes (bass). Always into baseball, when he was a junior at Jefferson, he made the All-City team.
Lee's recording career started in early 1954, the same year he was signed by the Milwaukee Braves (upon graduating from Jefferson in June). Working his way up through the minors, he began with the Boise [Idaho] Pilots (a class C minor league team). To sing, he joined up with bass Johnny Coleman and, because he knew the Flairs from Jefferson High (where they would "all go doo-wopping up and down the halls"), Flairs' bass/baritone Richard Berry.
This unnamed trio was brought into the studio twice by Flair Records, a subsidiary of Modern. The first time, the label named the group the "5" Hearts and released "The Fine One"/"Please Please Baby" on Flair in February 1954. Since there were only three singers, this may explain why the company put the number 5 in quotes. The next time, they recorded "Sweet Thing" and "Rock Bottom," but these weren't immediately released. (Unfortunately, Flair's master numbers are useless for determining dates, so I can't tell how close the sessions were. My feeling is that they were probably done within a month of each other.)
Meanwhile, Lee was getting a group together that would come to be known as the Crowns (named after the Crown recording company, part of the Modern/Flair/RPM complex). The group consisted of Arthur Lee Maye (tenor), Charles Colbert (tenor), Johnny Morris (tenor), Joe Moore (baritone), Richard Berry (baritone), and Johnny Coleman (bass). On November 20, the trades announced that Saul Bihari (who ran Modern and RPM Records) had signed the "17-year-old bonus baseball player" (he was actually a month shy of 20).
The Crowns' first appearance on record was "Set My Heart Free," backed with "I Wanna Love" (Modern, November 1954). The group named above recorded "Set My Heart Free," but "I Wanna Love" (done at the same session), has Randy Jones as bass, instead of Johnny Coleman. Jones, who sang with several California groups, including the Meadowlarks and the Penguins, was in the studio at the time and was grabbed for the song. One reason that there is always such a bewildering variety of singers in a group over the span of its career is explained by Lee: "We used different guys 'cause some couldn't follow certain parts; we were all learning how to sing. If someone was there and sounded good, we used him." After this session, Johnny Morris left, and the group became a quintet.
May 1954 saw Richard Berry (a member of the Flairs at the time) moonlighting as lead of the Robins. The story goes that he was hanging around the Spark studios when the Robins were recording "Riot In Cell Block #9," and bass lead Bobby Nunn just couldn't seem to get the part right. Richard jumped in and ended up being the featured voice on the side. (Berry himself said that Leiber & Stoller approached him about doing the lead on the song because he could sing with the gritty sound of Willie Mabon.) "Riot In Cell Block #9" turned out to be a big local hit and the Biharis were none too pleased about this extracurricular activity. To make up for it, Berry recorded another prison song for Flair, "The Big Break"
In September 1954, Richard Berry, backed by the Crowns, recorded "The Big Break," "What You Do To Me," "Please Tell Me," and "Get Out Of The Car." "The Big Break"/"What You Do To Me" were released that month, but only Richard Berry's name appears on the label.
"Please Tell Me"/"Get Out Of The Car" were released on Flair around February 1955, once again not crediting the Crowns on the label. Berry, who loved to sing, was singing with the Flairs, the Crowns and the Dreamers at the same time, as well as doing solo work. Note that the male group backing Richard Berry on "Jelly Roll" (issued on Flair in August 1955) is not the Crowns (the label identifies them as the "Dreamers"; the flip is by the regular female Dreamers).
The Crowns—Arthur Lee Maye (tenor), Charles Colbert (tenor), Joe Moore (baritone), Richard Berry (baritone), and Johnny Coleman (bass)—did several more sides for Modern (all released on its RPM subsidiary). The first of these was "Truly"/"Oochie Pachie," released in February 1955. Lee's brother, Eugene Maye, says that this was the original version and that "Oochi Pachi" by Linda Hayes and the Platters was the cover (they were both reviewed in the same issue of Billboard).
In March 1955, Flair released the other two songs that had been recorded by the trio a year before ("Sweet Thing" and "Rock Bottom"). This time, instead of the "5" Hearts, the label called them the "Rams."
In the 1955 baseball season, Lee played for four minor league teams, all part of the Milwaukee Braves organization: the Boise Pilots (class C), the Eau Claire [Wisconsin] Braves (class C), the Yakima [Washington] Braves (class B), and the Evansville [Indiana] Braves (class B). Lee was clearly moving up.
In May, RPM released the Crowns' "Love Me Always"/"Loop De Loop De Loop." The last RPM sides were issued in October: "Please Don't Leave Me," coupled with "Do The Bop." Presumably all of these songs had been recorded around January, before Lee went off to Boise.
Although singing was done for many reasons (enjoyment and pride being the most common) the lack of money hurt. After the 1955 baseball season, the Crowns left Modern. It was possible to get small advances from Modern, but when it came time to receive royalties, the advances always seemed to have canceled them out.
Their next stop was Art Rupe's Speclalty label, where, with the same five guys, they cut "Gloria" and "Oh Ruby Lee" (which was misspelled on the label as "Oh-Rooba-Lee") on February 1, 1956. These were released in March. While Lee would continue to record with the Crowns, this is the last time their name would appear. From now on, labels would only say "Arthur Lee Maye" or "Lee Maye."
Two other tunes ("Cool Lovin'" and "Don't You Know I Love You So") were cut at the same Specialty session. However, they first appeared on a bootleg RPM 45 (with "Don't You Know I Love You So" retitled to "Please Say You Love Me"). These are not unreleased RPM tracks.
When 1956 baseball ended (a full season with the Evansville Braves, where he led the league in RBIs, hits, and runs), Lee teamed up with bandleader Johnny Otis, who was putting a group together to do a tour of northern California and needed someone who had the time to go. (There couldn't have been all that much time, however, since Lee was soon off to the Dominican Republic to play winter baseball. The Caribbean baseball season began after the World Series ended, probably around early November; it lasted until sometime in January, just in time to grab a change of clothes and report to Spring training.) The other members of this group were: Mel Williams (baritone lead), Harold Lewis (tenor), and Sonny Moore (bass). Otis called them the "Jayos" (that's "J.O.", as in Johnny Otis).
After the tour the Jayos did some recordings of former R&B hits for Otis' Dig label. Since the sides weren't all recorded at the same time, they contain various combinations of six singers - the four touring Jayos, plus Jesse Belvin and Richard Berry. Lee does lead on the following sides: "Honey Love," "Earth Angel," "Gee," Only You," "At My Front Door," and "One Mint Julep." Lee was on "Sh-Boom" and "Sincerely," but not as lead. He was not on any other sides credited to "The Jayos." All these tunes were on a 1957 Dig LP called Johnny Otis Rock n' Roll Hit Parade. (It didn't hurt that Johnny Otis owned Dig.) Recently, Ed Marcus brought to my attention some unreleased tracks recorded for Dig: "Sexy Ways" and "Good Lovin'" (both leading the Jayos), "Fever" (a solo), and "Ko Ko Mo" (a duet with Mel Williams).
In addition, Lee got to record the Crowns on Dig (although only his name appears on the label). By that time, however, Richard Berry had given up on all his groups and the personnel on "This Is The Night For Love," "Honey Honey," "Whispering Wind," and "A Fool's Prayer" were: Lee, Charles Colbert (tenor), Joe Moore (baritone), Johnny Coleman (moving up to baritone), and Charles Holmes (bass). These were all issued in late 1956.
1957 saw Lee with the Jacksonville [Florida] Braves (class A) and, in December 1957, another Crowns' record, this time on Flip. Once again, only Lee's name is on the label, but the personnel on "Hey Pretty Girl"/"Cause You're Mine Alone" is the same as on the Dig sides.
In 1958, Lee started spring training with the Milwaukee Braves, but was sent back to the minors. He was first with the Wichita [Kansas] Braves (class AAA), and then the Austin [Texas] Senators (class AA), ending up on the All-Star team. While Lee was away, the Crowns were brought to Cash by Henry Strogin, an employee of the company. (Cash was now owned by Ruth Dolphin, the widow of John Dolphin, who had been murdered in February.) The Crowns were initially used to back up raspy-voiced Cry Baby Curtis on "I Wanna"/"Did You Think I Care." There were three Crowns at this point: Eugene Maye (Lee's brother; tenor), Johnny Coleman (baritone), and Charles Holmes (bass).
When Lee was again available for recording, he joined the Crowns at Cash. The label of "Will You Be Mine" and "Honey Honey" credits "Lee Maye of the Milwaukee Braves," but the Crowns are there behind him. The other 1958 record on Cash was "All I Want Is Someone To Love"/"Pounding." This one was credited to "Arthur Lee Maye," but the Crowns are, once again, present. Lee couldn't have been around much, however, because he played winter baseball for the Caguas team of the Puerto Rico League.
In 1959, Lee started the season for the Louisville [Kentucky] Colonels (class AAA). In July, he was finally placed in the Milwaukee Braves lineup as an outfielder; he'd play 51 games with them that season. However, baseball was taking its toll on the Crowns. While Lee was on the road, they did back-up work whenever possible (possibly backing Richard Berry on some sides), but had no direction.
In 1960, Lee started with Milwaukee, but was sent back to the Louisville Colonels for 72 games (between May and July) before permanently moving back to the Braves; he'd stay with them until 1965 (although he was plagued with injuries and health issues). Lee held that, because baseball wasn't televised as much in the 50s, more people went to see and support minor league teams. He felt that television killed the minor leagues.
Over the years, Lee was able to spend less and less time with the Crowns, since he moved to Milwaukee and then to Houston. Henry Strogin ended up using the group for some early 1960s recordings on Dynamic, Amazon, and Ball (see discography). Billed as "Henry Strogin and the Crowns," the rest of the group was: Eugene Maye (tenor), Charles Colbert (tenor), Joe Moore (baritone), and Johnny Coleman (bass). While the Crowns finally got their name on a record again, these were their last recordings.
Then, Lee embarked on a solo career (occasionally using a studio group). In April 1963, he did "Halfway Out Of Love With You" and "I Can't Please You" for Bob Gans' Lenox label.
In late 1963, he did some recordings for Jamie-Guyden in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The session producer was Huey Meaux ("The Crazy Cajun"; his name is pronounced "moe").
"Have Love Will Travel" was initially released in January 1964, on Guyden, as by the "Off-Beats" (Lee, backed by a Nashville studio group). The flip, "Doodlum," is an instrumental. There were four releases on Jamie in 1964, followed by a duet ("Careless Hands") with Barbara Lynn in February 1965.
In early 1965, Lee injured his ankle and ended up being traded to the Houston Astros. He'd finish out the season with them and return in 1966.
While he was in Houston, he did some more recording for Huey Meaux (who operated out of nearby Pasadena, Texas). In 1965, there were three records on Meaux' Pic 1 label. Two of them were credited to Lee Maye ("Today Today"/"Touch Me On My Shoulder" and "Total Disaster"/"What's Happening"). The third was by "Arthur Lee Maye": "Stop The World"/"At The Party." "At The Party" was re-issued on Meaux' Tower label in June 1966; this time its flip was "When My Heart Hurts No More."
1967-9 saw Lee with the Cleveland Indians. In January 1967, Meaux released "Have Love Will Travel"/"Loving Fool" (two old Jamie-Guyden cuts) on his Jetstream label. A few months later, there was "Fools Rush In"/"Jes' Lookin'" on Pacemaker (another Meaux label). These cuts also came out on Chess in May. To complicate Lee's life, the Cincinnati Reds hired a first baseman named Lee May, with whom Lee was routinely confused.
In early 1968, there was a release on ABC-Paramount ("If You Leave Me"/"The Greatest Love I've Ever Known"). My guess is that these had been independently recorded for Meaux.
1969-70 found Lee with the Washington Senators. Around October 1969, he released the old Jim Reeves song, "He'll Have To Go," backed with "Jes' Lookin'" on Buddah. These were definitely old Meaux sides.
In the late 60s or early 70s, there were three records on Huey Meaux' Pic 1 label. Two of them were credited to Lee Maye ("Today Today"/"Touch Me On My Shoulder" and "Total Disaster"/"What's Happening"). The third was by "Arthur Lee Maye": "Stop The World"/"At The Party."
Lee's last season in major league baseball was in 1971, when he played for the Chicago White Sox until July. While we've gotten used to obscene baseball player salaries, in his years with the White Sox, Lee was making around $27,000.
Since he couldn't find another major league team that was interested in him, for part of 1971 and 1972, Lee played for the Hawaii Islanders, a class AAA affiliate of the San Diego Padres. In 1972, after 93 games with them (and a .285 average), Lee called it a career. He was 37 and had been playing professional ball for 18 years. After this, he went to work for Amtrak for the next 12 years.
There was a single on Happy Fox, from around August 1976, credited to "Country Boys & City Girls (featuring Lee Maye)." The sides were "Forgetting Someone (Is Easier Said Than Done)" (which made #99 on the R&B charts) and "She Said Hell No! (You Can't Have Any More)." There were other recordings by this group, but I'm not sure if Lee was on any of them.
Lee had one more record. In 1985, he recorded "Moonlight" (not the Orioles' tune) and "I'm Happy And In Love" for Dave Antrell's Antrell label. The back-up harmony was provided by Dave Antrell and Charles Williams.
In 2011, a new Lee Maye CD, called Always, appeared on the Demon S&C/IODA label. Unfortunately, I can find out nothing about the label (including the catalog number of the CD) or when the songs were recorded. There are 25 tracks, but only 14 songs (11 of the tracks have duplicate titles; since the timings are different, I'll assume that they're different takes). The titles appear in the discography. If anyone has any further information, please let me know.
Arthur Lee Maye died from complications of liver cancer at age 67 on July 17, 2002, the 43rd anniversary of his first appearance with the Milwaukee Braves in 1959.
For a detailed description of Lee Maye's baseball career, see the Baseball Biography Project.
Special thanks to Tony Tisovec and Kevin Kiley.
FLAIR (as the "5" Hearts; a trio; see text)
1026 The Fine One (All)/Please Please Baby (ALM/RB) - 2/54
FLAIR (Richard Berry; the Crowns are not credited on the label)
1055 The Big Break (RB)/What You Do To Me (RB) - 9/54
MODERN (Arthur Lee Maye & the Crowns)
944 Set My Heart Free (ALM)/I Wanna Love (ALM) - 11/54
FLAIR (Richard Berry; the Crowns are not credited on the label)
1064 Please Tell Me (RB)/Get Out Of The Car (RB) - ca. 2/55
RPM (Arthur Lee Maye & the Crowns)
424 Truly (ALM)/Oochie Pachie (ALM) - 2/55
FLAIR (as the Rams; same trio as the "5" Hearts; see text)
1066 Sweet Thing (All)/Rock Bottom (All) - 3/55
RPM (Arthur Lee Maye & the Crowns)
429 Love Me Always (ALM)/Loop De Loop De Loop (ALM) - 5/55
Reissued as Kent 406 in 1964
438 Please Don't Leave Me (ALM)/Do The Bop (ALM) - 10/55
NOTE: The tunes "Cool Lovin'" and "Please Say You Love Me" were cut for Specialty, but first appeared on a bootleg RPM 45 (probably the same way the Specialty Dukes sides were released on bootleg Imperial 45s). The actual title of "Please Say You Love Me" is "Don't You Know I Love You So." These are NOT unreleased RPM tracks.
SPECIALTY (Arthur Lee Maye & the Crowns)
573 Gloria (ALM)/Oh-Rooba-Lee (ALM) - 3/56
(NOTE: Title should be "Oh Ruby Lee")
Cool Lovin' (ALM),
Don't You Know I Love You So (ALM)
(aka "Please Say You Love Me" - see note under RPM)
DIG (Arthur Lee Maye - the Crowns are not credited on the label)
124 This Is The Night For Love (ALM)/Honey Honey (ALM) - late 56
133 Whispering Wind (ALM)/A Fool's Prayer (ALM) - late 56
FLIP (Arthur Lee Maye - the Crowns are not credited on the label)
330 Hey Pretty Girl (ALM)/Cause You're Mine Alone (ALM) - 12/57
I'll Have Memories Of You (ALM),
Tell Me, Tell Me Darling (ALM),
CASH (Arthur Lee Maye - the Crowns are not credited on the label)
1063 Will You Be Mine (ALM)/Honey Honey (ALM) - 58
(Label credits "Lee Maye of the Milwaukee Braves")
Reissued as Imperial 5790 in 1961
1065 All I Want Is Someone To Love (ALM)/Pounding (ALM) - 58
DIG LP 104 (Johnny Otis Rock n' Roll Hit Parade) - 57
Honey Love (ALM)
Only You (ALM)
Earth Angel (ALM)
At My Front Door (ALM)
One Mint Julep (ALM)
(other songs on the album are: The Midnight Creeper, Long Tall Sally, Hey Hey Hey Hey, and Please Don't Leave Me)
LENOX (ARTHUR LEE MAYE)
5566 Halfway Out Of Love With You/I Can't Please You - 4/63
GUYDEN (as by the "OFF-BEATS")
2101 Have Love Will Travel/[Doodlum - Instrumental] - 1/64
JAMIE (ARTHUR LEE MAYE)
1272 Who Made You What You Are/Loving Fool - ca. 2/64
1276 How's The World Treating You/Loving Fool - ca. 4/64
1284 Only A Dream/The Breaks Of Life - ca. 7/64
1287 Who Made You What You Are/Even A Nobody - ca. 8/64
1295 Careless Hands (duet with Barbara Lynn)/[(Don't Pretend) Just Lay It On The Line - Barbara Lynn] - ca. 2/65
115 Today Today/Touch Me On My Shoulder (as "Lee Maye") - 65
120 Total Disaster/What's Happening (as "Lee Maye") - 65
126 Stop The World/At The Party (as "Arthur Lee Maye") - 65
(Info for PIC 1 provided by John Ridley and Doug Hanners; dating by Tony Tisovec)
TOWER (LEE MAYE)
243 When My Heart Hurts No More/At The Party - 6/66
JETSTREAM (ARTHUR LEE MAYE; JAMIE cuts)
735 Have Love Will Travel/Loving Fool - ca. 1/67
PACEMAKER (ARTHUR LEE MAYE) (also CHESS 2000 - as "LEE MAYE" - 5/67)
252 Fools Rush In/Jes' Lookin' - 67
ABC PARAMOUNT (LEE MAYE)
11028 If You Leave Me/The Greatest Love I've Ever Known - early 68
BUDDAH (LEE MAYE)
141 He'll Have To Go/Jes' Lookin' - ca. 10/69
HAPPY FOX ("COUNTRY BOYS & CITY GIRLS (FEATURING LEE MAYE)")
511 Forgetting Someone (Is Easier Said Than Done)/She Said Hell No! (You Can't Have Any More) - ca. 8/76
ANTRELL (LEE MAYE)
102 Moonlight/I'm Happy And In Love - late 85
???? Always - 2011
I Was A Fool, I Won't Cry, When My Heart Hurts No More, At The Party, Moon Maid, Wild Is The Wind, It's Not For Me To Say,
Fools Rush In, It Was A Tear, It's All In The Game, The Twelfth Of Never, Turn Off The Hurt Control, Always, Chances Are
CASH (backing Cry Baby Curtis)
1062 I Wanna/Did You Think I Care - 58
DYNAMIC (backing Henry Strogin)
1002 Why Do You Go Away/My Aching Feet - 60
1002 Why Do You Go Away/Tutti Frutti [alternate flip] - 60
AMAZON (backing Henry Strogin)
1001 I'll Tag Along/I Love L.A. - 61
BALL (backing Henry Strogin)
1015 I'll Tag Along/Why Do You Go Away - ca. 61