Frankie May was as surprised as anyone to hear his name mentioned on national television when American Idol contestant — now finalist — Crystal Bowersox said during the show, "I really want to play a gig with Frankie May, my bass player" as part of her northwest Ohio homecoming visit.
"It blew my mind," May said. "It surprised me she said that on TV."
Bowersox has been dropping the 28-year-old Toledoan's name to other Idol contestants, as he learned recently at Toledo Express Airport, where he planned to meet her after she arrived from Los Angeles for a whirlwind two-day trip.
"I wasn't with Crystal when I met Lee [DeWyze], but he knew who I was. ‘You're Frankie.' And I laughed. Like, Lee DeWyze knows who I am already. That's cool," he said.
May plays around Toledo with the Chris Shutters Band twice a month; with his dad, Bobby May, as part of a collection of top-notch local musicians who jam Thursdays at Papa's Tavern, 1328 Liberty, and with his own gig, Frankie May and Friends, Mondays at the Village Idiot, 309 Conant St., in Maumee.
But that may be about to change, thanks to his musical partnership with Bowersox.
The pair have played together on and off for a decade — only a year ago they were playing in local bars to friends and family, and sometimes empty rooms. A few months later they won the solo/duo category in The Blade's Battle of the Bands contest.
And tonight Bowersox learns if she or DeWyze is the next American Idol.
Even if she finishes as runner-up, if Idol history is any indication, the 24-year-old Elliston, Ohio, resident will land a major-label record deal.
That could mean big things for May.
Bowersox told The Blade months ago she plans to bring him to Los Angeles, where she's living now and where she plans to launch her professional music career.
"Frankie May is coming soon, just because I want to carry my friends up with me," she said. "Frankie is an amazing bassist; he's the best I've ever heard. He belongs here. He belongs … in this environment."
May, though, is cautiously optimistic about what may prove to be a giant step in his career.
"I'm really not trying to make Crystal's success about me," he said. "I know ideally she wants to have me come with her. If contractual obligations were to hold her back, I wouldn't hold it against her. In my mind I'm not setting myself up to be let down ...
"I'm not saying that it couldn't be wonderful. In my mind I'm happy just to play, and to play with as many good people as I can play with. If it didn't happen, I'd still be just as happy for her. She's doing amazing. She's got a huge future. I love it."
May comes from a family of musicians — dad Bobby is a guitarist, and mom Terri is a singer — and started playing guitar in his teens. At 18, he made the switch to electric bass after playing his friend's instrument.
"I really liked the feel of [it] and I just started to listen to the bass in songs and appreciate it more, I guess," he said.
It was about this time that May first met Bowersox. His dad had known her family for years, and he offered to let Bowersox perform between sets.
The singer-songwriter, then 14, played a mix of originals and covers, and May would sit in when he could.
When Bowersox was 17 she left for Chicago to pursue a career in music. She and May kept in touch, and after she returned to Elliston nearly two years ago she invited him to jam with her at one of her gigs. That led to Monday night performances at the Village Idiot, where the pair would play to either packed rooms or empty seats.
"We got to be really tight," May said, and many at the Village Idiot picked up on their musical chemistry.
"I don't want to discount the other players I played with and still play with, but the employees would say they had never seen me looking happier onstage," he said.
"It's probably true. Everybody's got an ego, but she never pressed that on me. I've run into that more than a few times, the heads butt and the egos clashed, and it just takes a lot of the enjoyment out of it. I don't think that was ever there with us. There was nothing but love and respect."
Though Idol has kept the two from performing together recently, the show did provide the opportunity for their biggest concert so far, nearly two weeks ago at the Ottawa County Fairgrounds for "Bowerstock." More than 5,000 fans packed the grounds as part of the American Idol hopeful's homecoming celebration. Idol camera crews were on hand to catch every moment.
Minutes before May took the stage with Bowersox, he confided to her that he was nervous.
He wasn't the only one with pre-show butterflies, however; Bowersox told him she was anxious as well.
"I said, ‘You play for millions of people every week.' But she said, ‘Yeah, but I don't see their faces.' I said, ‘Don't think about them. Just do it like you're performing on the show. Play it like it's the Battle of the Bands.' "
The two went out and performed as they always have together: tight musically, but with a loose enough structure that they operated without a set list, deciding what to perform in the moment.
The crowd loved it and so did the musicians, exchanging smiles throughout their nearly 40-minute performance.
Afterward, Bowersox was whisked away into a motorcade, with Ottawa County sheriff's deputies leading the way; it sped around traffic and through red lights to get her to Fifth Third Field for a Mud Hens game, her final appearance of the day.
In the back of the procession was a black Volkswagen Beetle, its passenger a tired and excited May. The bassist was enjoying the ride of his life and keeping up with Bowersox every step of the way.
Contact Kirk Baird at: firstname.lastname@example.org