"I feel like I am the best singing athlete that ever lived. I'm not bragging, it's just a fact." - Lee Maye
Not to be confused with Lee Andrew May, the All-Star first baseman that was traded from the Reds to the Astros for Joe Morgan. Arthur Lee Maye played outfield for the Braves, Indians, Senators, Astros and White Sox from 1959-1971. His best season was in 1964, playing for the Milwaukee Braves, he batted .304/.346/.447 while leading the NL in doubles (44). When he wasn't roaming major league outfields, Maye spent his downtime making R&B records.
*That '64 Braves team was a rather interesting club. By my count there were four future Hall of Famers; Hank Aaron, Eddie Matthews, Warren Spahn and Phil Niekro. As well as Joe Torre (who will probably end up in the Hall), Felipe Alou and Sandy Alomar Sr.
In 1954, after putting out one record under the name the "5" Hearts, the first Arthur Lee Maye and the Crowns record was released by Modern records, "Set My Heart Free" b/w "I Wanna Love."
It is pretty impressive that while Maye was climbing the ladder in the minor leagues, he was still able to find time to hit the recording studio. In 1955 alone, Maye played for four different minor league teams (Boise, ID - Eau Claire, WI - Yakima, WA - Evansville, IN) but still managed five releases on the Modern, Flair and RPM labels.
In 1956, sometime between the end of the season in Class B Evansville, and the start of the Dominican Winter League season, the Crowns moved to Dig Records and released two 7" singles.
The most popular record Maye is featured on, is only a backing vocal credit. In 1956, Richard Berry, who was a member of the Crowns, recorded the original version of "Louie, Louie" under the name Richard Berry and the Pharoahs with Lee Maye singing the doo doo doo's in the background. (The song was released in early '57.)
Also released in 1957 while Maye was playing for the Class-A Jacksonville Braves, the Crowns (now sans Richard Berry) put out one record on the Flip label, "Hey Pretty Girl" b/w "Cause You're Mine Alone."
While Maye was busy playing ball, the Crowns would occasionally back up other artists and find studio time in the offseason to record with Lee. The group moved to Cash Records in 1958, where the label listed the artist's name as "Lee Maye of the Milwaukee Braves." In 1959 Maye was called up to the big leagues where he hit .300 on the nose in 51 games. Maye broke camp with the Braves in 1960, but was sent down to AAA Louisville in May, only to return to Milwaukee in July of that year. He would stay with the Braves until 1965 when he was traded early in the season to the expansion franchise in Houston. Maye's music career ended up taking a back seat to his baseball career in the early 1960's. This was a practical decision for Maye, as he would say, "I could sing at 50, but I couldn't play baseball at 50."
For all intents and purposes, the Crowns were finished in 1958, although Maye would continue to record as a solo artist throughout the late 1960's and early 1970's, with his last record being released in 1985. His MLB career ended with the White Sox in 1971, but Maye stuck around in AAA for the next year and a half, playing for the Hawaii Islanders. Lee Maye died in 2002, 43 years to the day from when he made his debut with the Milwaukee Braves.