The Wichita Eagle  Friday, January 10, 2003

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Roomful of Memories

Kevin May figures he left a Legendary blues band for the right reasons. He'll perform at this weekends Blues ball at the Cotillion.

By Kevin Sheedy, The Wichita Eagle

Walking away from a gig with a legendary band that plays worldwide -- after 15 years of courting that gig -- was simple for Kevin May.

As simple as looking at his wife, Jean, and his newborn son, Taylor.

The Wichita saxophone player, who will perform as part of the Wichita Blues Society's fifth annual Blues Ball on Saturday, joined the critically acclaimed and highly successful Roomful of Blues in 1998. That's the same bunch that gave us Duke Robillard, Greg Piccolo, Ronnie Earl, Sugar Ray Norcia and Big Joe Turner, as well as numerous stellar albums.

"It was a dream come true," May said at home recently while battling bronchitis. "I had courted that job for almost 15 years.... I'd drive to Dallas or to Kansas City or Oklahoma City just to keep in touch.

"It was a great time to be in the band because in the year and a half, we toured Europe, we did the Caribbean, we did North America several times, we made a record album, we did a cruise.

"In that span, I did about every single thing you could possibly want to do."  

Except enjoy his family.  

Life on the road took its toll on the graduate of West High School and Wichita State University, and he and his wife had a newborn son in addition to three daughters. After only a year and a half with his dream gig, May and his family left Providence, R.I., and headed back to Wichita.

"The only thing that was worth leaving it for was my family. I have a wonderful wife that I love to death."

Did being raised in the Midwest with its much-heralded family values help influence the switch? The 43-year-old May says that might have been a factor, but he suspects something simpler came into play.

"I came from a great family --and I was raised here," he said. And being a lifelong musician, May had seen broken relations left by the side of the road of traveling musicians.

A couple of years removed from Roomful of Blues finds May content with his life in Wichita. He teaches sax and guitar lessons to about 25 students four days a week from his house, and his band, Kevin May and the Deaconairs, stays busy playing a variety of gigs in the area.

May doesn't turn his nose up at playing something other than the blues. The need to support his family persuaded him to form a band versatile enough to play just about anything needed to secure a gig. May thinks he has found that versatility with Howard O. Bedient on keyboards, David Keller on guitar and Don Stewart on drums.

"When you're younger, you want to prove something, you want to be an artist," May says. "There's nothing against that. But sometimes you will not do things you need to do to make a living.

"I pretty much threw all that out the window."