Music was a part of Mark May's life from an early age. A brother had worked with Pure Prairie League's Craig Fuller, and his mom was drawn to the strains of country and bluegrass. A native of Ohio, the blues guitarist began learning to play the instrument when he was five years old, and during his teen years he became involved with several bands. By the time he'd turned 16, he had played the first of what would become many professional gigs. Upon relocating to Houston during the early '80s, May continued to perform professionally with a variety of country outfits. He went on to work with rock groups, but his heart always was with the blues. Thanks to a friend, he discovered an affinity for Albert Collins' brand of the blues. He soon pulled together his own blues-rock group. The band included saxophonist Eric Dimmer, drummer Danny Goza, and singer and bass player "Fretless" Dan Cooper. Dimmer left the group to work with Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, and singer and harpist Dave Nevling came aboard. May and the Agitators, his Houston-based band, headed into the studio and made their demo, You Can Call on the Blues.
Before a month had passed, Icehouse/Priority Records executive Johnny Philips was ready to sign May and the Agitators. After the record company issued a CD titled Call on the Blues, the band's lineup shifted. Guitarist Billy Wells and drummer Greg Grubbs stepped in to take over for Goza and Nevling. Icehouse issued May's sophomore effort, Telephone Road Houston, Texas, in 1997. The CD features contributions from the Agitators' former saxophonist, Dimmer, as well as Alan Haynes, Larry McCray, and the Memphis Horns. Two years later, May was dubbed Houston Press Musician of the Year. Previously, he had been named a nominee in the city's Best Guitar Contest. The band's lineup evolved into May on vocals and guitar, drummer Clyde Dempsey, and Kirk McKim on guitar and vocals, while Cooper remained on bass.