|Industry Leadership Award 1996 - Mel Bay|
Mel 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.” (He recalled playing until his fingers were raw!) Mel took up the tenor banjo shortly thereafter and continued to play both instruments. During his teenage years Mel played with a wild assortment of bands and characters in rural Missouri. Perhaps no "gig” was as strange as the job he landed with, in Mel’s words, "a snake oil salesman.” This flamboyant peddler would pull his ostentatious Pierce Arrow automobile, complete with steer horns mounted on the grill, into the center of a small, rural town. Mel would sit on the car and play up a storm on the tenor banjo. After a crowd gathered, the peddler took over and began extolling the merits of his "wonder elixir.”
In 1933, Mel Bay moved to St. Louis and began his professional career. 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! He was equally adept on most fretted instruments and played mandolin, uke, Hawaiian guitar, tenor and plectrum banjo professionally.
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.
After the war, Mel was asked to write instructional materials on guitar for GI’s 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 and continues to be one the finest rhythm guitar chord texts available!) 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.
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 Clinton.
It is difficult to find a guitarist worldwide who has not, at some point, studied one of 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 passing in 1997 at age 84.