He was of Māori descent. Apart from being a vocalist, he played drums and piano but was known best as a variety entertainer. He would often introduce unconventional vocalisations, improvisation and the spoken-word while singing. He commonly recorded compositions of Nat King Cole and appeared on many television tonight shows including The Don Lane Show, Farnham and Byrne, along with regular appearances on the Midday Show. In 1962 he moved to Australia and began a career in cabaret. In 1966 he hosted the Sydney teen pop music show Ten on the Town He found national fame and popularity with the show Hey Hey It's Saturday.
Awards and Honours
In 1961 jazz pianist Ronnie Smith set up a group to play at the "Sorrento" in Wellington. The group included Tommy Tamati on bass and a young Ricky May on drums and vocals. Bruno Lawrence was always watching in the audience and was given a chance to play the drums when Ricky got up to sing. He impressed Ronnie enough to become a regular with the group. The group stayed together for about a year, even touring around the lower North Island area.
At the end of 1961, Ricky got fed up with Wellington weather and headed back to Auckland. He released a single in 1961 called "Let's Twist Again"/"Hucklebuck" on the La Gloria label and followed this with a second in 1962, "I Could Have Danced All Night"/"Ballin' The Jack".
Beyond this he concentrated on live cabaret performances and television work. It wasn't until 1973 that he released any further material. This was a double album with the Julian Lee Orchestra called "Fats Enough", released on ABC records. In 1974 ABC decided to release a second double album, which was called "Just Foolin' Around - A Tribute To Louis Armstrong". In 1983, the first half of this double album was re-released on CD, called "A Tribute To The Greats". 1981 saw the J&B released album called "Ricky May" and ABC records released "The Best Of Ricky May" in 1983 on CD. In 1986 RCA released a Christmas album called "It's The Christmas Man".
Ricky was involved in one more single in 1983, when he recorded a song as The Big Boys with Jonathan Coleman. It was called "Built For Comfort (I Ain't Built For Speed)"/"Off The Record".
Ricky is credited as the composer of the words and music of the team song of the Newtown Jets Rugby League football club.. May is also credited with writing a tribute song to the show Hey Hey It's Saturday, an arrangement of which the band often played over the final credits.
- "Let's Twist Again"/"Hucklebuck" La Gloria (1961)
- "I Could Have Danced All Night"/"Ballin' The Jack" La Gloria (1962)
- "This Little Boy's Gone Rockin' "/"Spanish Harlem" RCA (1966)
- "Built For Comfort (I Ain't Built For Speed)"/"Off The Record" WEA 7-259903 (1983)
- "Ricky May" J&B JB-057 (1980)
- "Fats Enough" ABC L-60011/12 (1983)
- "It's The Christmas Man" Festival L-38686 (1986)
- "Just Foolin' Around - A Tribute To Louis Armstrong" ABC L-60027 (1987)
- Ricky May on IMDB
- Ricky May; Australian Jazz Singer, 3 June 1988, Ricky May, 44, a leading Australian jazz singer. The New Zealand-born performer was stricken with what appeared to be a heart attack Wednesday minutes after being given a standing ovation at the opening night of his new show at the Regent Hotel in Sydney. He was pronounced dead on arrival at a hospital. - Los Angeles Times
- TEN ON THE TOWN, 10 Network / x30m-e / 1965-66 black and white/Producer/Director: Kevin Ryder/Teen themed pop music show hosted by Mike Walsh and then for season two Ricky May. One aspect of the show saw dancers Bill McGrath and Carlu Carter teaching the kids the latest dance moves., Memorable TV
- "Variety Artists Club of NZ Benny Award Recipients".
- RICKY MAY - Entertainer one in a million
- Record Labels - Bluebird, Singles/ Cat. #101643 /Date:1965/ Artist:/Ricky May with Latin Quarter Discotheque Combo under direction of Jimmy Sloggett / Title(s):"This Little Boy's Gone Rockin'" (Darin-Curtis) "Spanish Harlem" (Leiber-Stoller), Australasian Music & Popular Culture 1964-1975, MILESAGO
- "Ricky May - New Zealand Music of the 60's, 70's and a bit of 80's". Retrieved 2009-04-23.