|Birth name||Melbourne E. Bay|
February 25, 1913|
Bunker, Missouri, US
|Died||May 14, 1997(aged 84)|
|Genres||Country, Classical, Folk|
|Occupations||Musician, Songwriter, Educator|
Mel Bay (February 25, 1913 – May 14, 1997) was a musician best known for his series of music education books. His Encyclopedia of Guitar Chords remains a bestseller.
Childhood and early life
Melbourne E. Bay was born on February 25, 1913 in the little Ozark Mountain town of Bunker, Missouri. He bought a Sears Roebuck guitar at the age of 13 and several months later played his first “gig.” Bunker didn't have a guitar teacher so Bay watched the few guitarists he knew and copied their fingering on the fret board, teaching himself chords. Once he felt he knew the rudiments of the guitar, he started experimenting with other instruments, including tenor banjo, mandolin, Hawaiian guitar and ukulele.
Bay played in front of an audience every chance he got, including a stint with a snake oil salesman in and around his hometown. The man hired Bay to play the banjo while sitting in the salesman's car. Once a crowd gathered to listen, Bay would stop playing, and the salesman would pitch his cure-all.
Bay knew that to make it as a professional musician he'd have to be in a large city. So he moved to St. Louis in the early 1930s to find his audience. He played with numerous local and traveling bands. In addition, he landed staff guitar jobs on several radio stations. Mel fronted his own trio (piano, bass, guitar) and played steadily for 25 years.
While Mel was actively pursuing his playing career, he continued to teach as many as 100 students a week. He decided to begin writing instructional materials due to the difficulty encountered by guitarists at playing good-sounding chord forms in rhythm sections and the poor note reading ability prevalent among guitarists at that time. These books became the basis of the Mel Bay instructional method and the Mel Bay publication house.
Mel Bay received many awards during his career which include the “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Guitar Foundation of America, “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Retail Print Music Dealers Association, the “Owen Miller Lifetime Achievement Award” from the American Federation of Musicians, “Certificate of Merit” from the St. Louis Music Educators Association, a resolution from the Missouri House of Representatives honoring his achievements, a proclamation by mayor Freeman Bosley Jr. making October 25, 1996 “Mel Bay Day” in the city of St. Louis, and a letter of commendation from President Bill Clinton.
Mel Bay Publications
Mel Bay Publications is an American publisher of materials for musical instrument playing, particularly instructional books that teach a particular instrument or style. It was founded in 1947 and is based in Pacific, Missouri.
Mel Bay Publications' books target musicians of varying levels of proficiency, from the beginner who is unfamiliar with musical notation to those with advanced performance skills. Available introductory material includes methods for classical instruments such as the violin, clarinet and trumpet, folk instruments such as the harmonica, mandolin, banjo, and accordion, as well as material for various types of guitar. This material often emphasizes styles such as classical, rock, blues, jazz and folk music.
After the war, Mel was asked to write instructional materials on guitar for GIs wishing to learn music under the GI Bill. In 1947, Mel formed his own publishing company and wrote his landmark initial book titled The Orchestral Chord System for Guitar. This book is still in print under the title Rhythm Guitar Chord System. His Modern Guitar Method was penned shortly thereafter. For years Mel traveled from town to town talking to guitar teachers and players and showing them his publications. At one time, Mel claims to have known virtually every guitar teacher in America on a first name basis. The guitar and Mel Bay books caught on in a big way in the 1950s. His method books grew in popularity worldwide and helped establish the foundation for most of today’s guitar pedagogy. Guitar Player magazine referred to him as “the George Washington of the guitar.”
Mel used to sell D’Angelico guitars. At any given time he would have 5 or 6 “lying around the house.” Mel played professionally on his New Yorker model but his favorite was the initial Mel Bay Model crafted as a gift for him by John D’Angelico. This famous guitar had all of the main features of the New Yorker but was a “cut away” model and had a slightly thinner neck. This instrument has been pictured on the Mel Bay Modern Guitar Method for decades.
Many guitarists have, at some point, studied from Mel’s method books. Sales of his Modern Guitar Method series are estimated to be well in excess of 20 million copies. Mel Bay established the structure for modern guitar education and by so doing, helped create the foundation for the continued growth and advancement of the instrument. It is safe to say that Mel Bay is one of the pivotal figures in the world of guitar music and instruction in the 20th century. Mel Bay was still playing guitar everyday until his death in 1997 at age 84.
The song "Ode to Mel Bay" (written and first recorded by Michael "Supe" Granda of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils and featured on the album The Day Finger Pickers Took Over the World by Tommy Emmanuel and Chet Atkins), pokes fun at Mel Bay's books.
- Mel Bay publishing house
- Interview with Bill Bay, the son of founder Mel Bay, on National Public Radio's Morning Edition, Tuesday, 07/10/07
- Watch a profile of the life of Mel Bay from PBS affiliate KETC, LIVING ST. LOUIS Producer Ruth Ezell