After a two-year battle with pancreatic cancer, multiple award-winning Blues singer John Mays of Fathead has succumbed to the disease at 76 years of age.
A short statement on the band’s website on December 10 said:
“It is with sadness that we announce the passing of John Mays, 76, who succumbed to cancer after a long battle. At this time, John’s family and bandmates ask that you allow us some privacy. Funeral arrangements will be made known at a later date. Out sincere condolences to the Mays family.”
Mays, who is nominated again this year for Male Vocalist of the Year for the forthcoming 20th annual Maple Blues Awards being announced next month and also won two Junos with Fathead, was diagnosed with the disease in 2014.
Two benefit concerts were staged for him in February 2015 to help him deal with the financial fallout of being forced to take a break from performing while undergoing chemotherapy.
That seemed to work. By September of last year the band announced on its website that the cancer was officially in remission and that it would be resuming performing. By October of that year John was feeling well enough to turn in a stellar performance on the song “He Don’t Love You (Like I Love You)” at an Honouring Our Own gala honouring the career of fellow veteran vocalist John Finley.
But while Mays looked and acted robust during that show, the cancer once again returned this year and his appearances started tapering off to the point where the group was performing without him —but still sending him the pay he would have earned had he been able to participate, according the group leader Al Lerman.
By last month Lerman announced that due to Mays’s worsening condition, the band was “on indefinite hiatus” just short of 25 years since its founding in 1992 after performing a final show in Quebec.
Since 1995 Mays was a six-time winner of the Maple Blues Male Vocalist of The Year award, most recently in 2011, and was nominated an additional eleven times including last year and this, as well as winner of a West Coast Blues Award as Best Male Vocalist and shared in the group’s two Blues Album of The Year Juno Award wins, for Blues Weather in 1999 and Building Full of Blues in 2008.
Several fellow musicians and industry participants reacted to the news with deep sadness and many recalled not only the musical contributions Mays made but the man as a person.
Andrew Galloway wrote: “A Soulman supreme and just a wonderful human being.”
Cindy Claus posted: “He was a great talent and very kind man and will be missed by many. My condolences to you, Al and to your bandmates. May he rest in peace.”
Paul Vienneau recalled, “Johnny Mays was one of the greatest soul singers I ever shared a stage with. When I joined Bleeker Street after moving to Toronto in 1990, I met John. I remember driving to gigs with him and listening to him talk about opening for James Brown with his vocal trio when he was younger. John was a living connection to the Black Music that changed my life, and always treated me as a peer, and also as a mentor for me. He is one of my role models for ‘passing it along.’”
Scott Woodley, organizer of the annual Woodystock lupus research benefit shows that Fathead invariably participated in, posted a summary that probably many others can relate to:
“My first and long lasting impression is F, ‘can this man capture your heart with his unmatched vocals,’ then I discovered the man himself. His polished voice generated through his whole being, a man of perfection, kindness, generosity and strength can never be surpassed.”
He also recalled that even though Mays was ill from the cancer at the time of the 2014 show, “at the last minute Al called me and told me that John really wanted to come” and that he did, to a rousing response from the crowd.
Details have yet to be announced concerning funeral arrangements and no doubt there will at some point be at least one public “wake” memorial show staged for him.
Naturally he will be included in Toronto Moon‘s forthcoming Musical Legacies Online Museum once enough support has been generated to launch the site.
-Gary 17, TorontoMoon.ca