Out of India to “Oz”
The Journey of Rhett May
Wooly Bully Tracks…
What does a cup of coffee, the Himalayan Mountains, and tracks left by creatures called “Wooly Bullys” have in common? Easy, Rhett May! So, immediately you think Bigfoot or Abominable Snowman, and huge tracks left in the snow, right? Not exactly…These Wooly Bullys did exist, and have evolved over thirty years, and the tracks they've left behind are musical tracks. See, Rhett May is a seasoned musician whose first band was named The Wooly Bullys, and his first big break came via a Brooke Bond coffee commercial. So, let's have an adventure. This is a quest to uncover the first Wooly Bully, Rhett May. He's not as elusive as the legendary Bigfoot; however, he has left musical footprints that lead out of India - to his current home in Australia, kindly known as “Oz.”
The Ink Spots Dripped onto a Tabla…
Rhett May owes his rare musical sound and style to the unique environment that he grew up in. Born in 1950, in Calcutta, India, he was immediately immersed in a magical, musical melting pot. Carnatic and Hindustani music and instruments such as the Sitar and Tabla were always providing melody and percussion against a daily backdrop of lifting and soaring voices of Ragas. Ragas especially played a vital part of Rhett's musical experience with their series of five or more musical notes forming melody. However, this environment of classical Indian music wasn't the only sounds floating about Calcutta in the nineteen-fifties and nineteen sixties. By the time Rhett had begun boarding school in the Himalayan foothills; western music had also begun an invasion. The cinemas featured musical movies from The Monkees, Cream, or Jimi Hendrix. Elvis and Ricky Nelson's pop also pulsated through the airwaves.
Rhett lived the magic of the musical melting pot, but one experience stood out. Rhett explains, “My mother and father were always playing records - no TV in those days - in particular I remember “A White Sport Coat (And a Pink Carnation)”, by Marty Robbins, and the beautiful voices and harmonies of The Ink Spots. Few, if any songwriters and musicians could grow up in such a perfect time and place of musical menagerie. For Rhett May Indian culture and music mixed with that from the west. His music would forevermore be influenced when The Ink Spots dripped onto a Tabla.
Sixties - Seventies - Success…
Rhett's formed his first band, The Wooly Bullys, at the age of 15 with Preston Bortello and childhood friend James Payne. Their first taste of fame came in 1966, when they won Battle of the Bands. They became such a hit that they performed many of the venues that were hot at that time, such as Trincas, The Park Hotel and Mocambo's. The Wooly Bullys evolved into a band called The Flint Stones. The Flint Stones became India's most successful pop group, being featured on the cover of many of the music magazines. The Flint Stones recorded a successful single in “Be Mine (Happy by My Side)” and even attracted the attention of former Beatle George Harrison and Apple Records. The band was asked to come to the UK, and was double billed with the likes of legendary jazz guitarist Charlie Bird.
This was a very successful time for Rhett who accompanied his band to play a private concert for the Queen of Bhutan and her family. This was not the end of May's musical growth, however, only the beginning. The nineteen sixties were blossoming musically with the addictive melodies and varied styles that were precisely what Rhett loved. Rhett states, “The sixties got me hooked on bands like The Yardbirds, Steppenwolf, The Beatles, Herman's Hermits … and the list goes on!” Rhett would carry this heavy influence of the nineteen sixties into his musical future as the underpinning of his musical style.
A Saturday Night In “Oz”…
Rhett left his native India in 1969, and would start his music career anew in Australia. As a solo artist, he would win the Perth Talent Quest whole performing backed by the Troupadours in 1971. However, he wouldn't remain simply a solo artist; Rhett would recreate the same group success he had in India all over again in Australia. Rhett states, “I got a totally new group of musicians together in 'Oz' - we were doing the 'garage' thing.” This garage band would develop into a successful band which evolved from the “Shakespeare Sarani” to “Prodigy”, and eventually they changed their name to “Lucifer.”
As the decade of the seventies progressed, Rhett's success was about to be changed forever by the “fever” of Saturday Night Fever. The Disco era came suddenly, and it would force Rhett and his band mates to move out of music. The gigs disappeared for the styles of music they played, and the dance floors became filled with DJs and Disco lights. Indeed, the sixties and seventies were a time of change, not only for the world, but for the world of music. Rhett's musical career was about to be turned upside down. One of the biggest changes would be the decision of childhood friend and musical cohort, James Payne, to leave the music business. Over the years, James' influence on Rhett was immense. However, Payne's departure was not to last forever… he would soon return. Payne’s return would be the catalyst that would spark a rekindling of Rhett's musical future.
Fast Forward Thirty Years…
With Disco taking hold of the music scene in Australia, Rhett left the world of music for the corporate world. With his tenacious personality, he conquered the business world, having the same success that he had in music. Rhett says, “Corporate life has been tough, but rewarding, but deep down, the music was still there … hibernating!” Indeed, while Rhett had left music for almost thirty years, he still kept in touch with almost every musician he had worked with over the years. When friend and former band mate Tom Matthews had his 50th birthday party all the musicians met up again, and had an impromptu performance. It was this performance that stirred the musical emotions.
The need for creativity had returned for Rhett. He bought a guitar, sharpened his songwriting skills, and got the rust out of his fingers, mind and soul. It wasn't long before the lyrics, melodies and rhythm was flowing again. Childhood buddy James “Jimbo” Payne was incredibly supportive as Rhett made his way back into the world of music. James and Rhett joined forces once again and collaborated on new material. Since both now lived a great distance away, most of their work was completed online together. Rhett found himself in his basement studio every night, working on new material and warming up his vocal chords.
Cutting Calcutta Boy
With his creative resurgence in place, it was obvious for Rhett and James that a new project was almost writing itself. Calcutta Boy would be the first new release and musical work for Rhett in almost three decades. With four tracks, and the help of James in the recording studio, the new album would reflect all Rhett's years of exposure and experience in so many different musical
genres that gives Calcutta Boy its varied styles and unique sound. Each song on the album exhibits its own style and with a dominant classic rock feel, “There's a Little White Powder,” has an addictive melodic hook running over an anti-addiction theme dealing with the social disgrace of cocaine addiction. Rhett has always abhorred drug abuse. He states, "My advice to people is not to do drugs, I've never done them, get high on life... get high on music!"
Well-crafted lyrics encompass a Caribbean/Calypso-style beat in “Mirror, Mirror,” one of the more popular selections on the album. Even pop-styled ballads appear such as “Have Your Arms Been Missing Me,” which has a hypnotic chorus and moody background vocal effects. “African Queen” contains a well developed storyline over surreal soundscapes and clever rhymes, taking the listener on a journey. Undoubtedly, Rhett May is in the middle of his own musical renaissance with the release of Calcutta Boy with four gem-like tracks cut in Block Rock, Australia.
Future Tracks to Follow…
There’s no doubt Rhett May is back to music, and Calcutta Boy is only the harbinger of new material and projects to come. After each business day, Rhett spends a musical night awake late in his studio. With the help of friend, James Payne, they’ve already prepared more new material to be released soon. Rhett’s first tracks were imprinted at the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains, but they are now reaching around the world. Rhett is a tenacious, hardworking musical “beast.” From his days as a “Wooly Bully” all the way to today, this boy from Calcutta continues to leave his imprints in the world of music. Rhett May, a musical and creative monster has come out of India, all the way to “Oz.”