100th Anniversary of Mel Bay’s Birth
Melbourne E. Bay (1913-1997) was born in the tiny Ozark mountain town of Bunker, Missouri. He moved to St. Louis in the early 1930’s, right after high school. He bought his first guitar at the age of 13 and several months later played his first “gig.” He wanted to be an engineer but could not afford to go to college.
In 1933 Mel Bay moved to St. Louis and began his professional career. He played with numerous local and traveling bands. Additionally, he landed staff guitar jobs on several radio stations. Mel fronted his own trio (piano, bass and guitar) and played steadily for 25 years. He was equally adept on most fretted instruments and played mandolin, uke, Hawaiian guitar, and tenor 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 material due to the difficulty encountered by guitar students at playing good-sounding chord forms as necessary in classical, rock, blues, jazz and folk styles.
After World War II the U.S. Government contracted Mel to write instructional materials on guitar for GI’s wanting 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. His Modern Guitar Method was written in 1948. For years Mel traveled from town to town talking to guitar teachers and players and showing them his books. At one time, Mel claimed to have known virtually every guitar teacher in America on a first-name basis. The guitar and Mel Bay books became popular in the 1950s and have continued to grow ever since.
Mel Bay changed the world of guitar instruction beginning with his cornerstone Modern Guitar Method. He established the structure for modern guitar education and by so doing, helped create the foundation for the continued growth and advancement of the instrument.
Click to download “The Mel Bay Story” by Ray Dankenbring.