Jazz guitar player Mel Bay was born on February 25, 1913 in the little Ozark Mountain town of Bunker, Missouri. He acquired a Sears guitar at the age of 13 and a number of weeks later performed at his initial “gig.” He recalled performing right up until his fingers were raw! Mel took up the tenor banjo soon thereafter and continued to play each of the instruments. During his teenage years Mel performed with a crazy assortement of bands and characters in rural Missouri. Perhaps no “gig” was as odd as the job he landed with, in Mel’s own words, “a snake oil salesman.” This flamboyant peddler would pull his ostentatious Pierce Arrow automobile, complete with steer horns fitted 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. Soon after a crowd gathered, the peddler took over and began extolling the magic of his “wonder elixer.”
In 1933 Mel Bay relocated to St. Louis and started his professional career. He performed with many local and touring bands. Also, 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 a lot of other fretted instruments and performed mandolin, uke, Hawaiian guitar, tenor and plectrum banjo professionally.
Though Mel was actively pursuing his playing career, he continued to tutor as many as 100 pupils a week. He decided to begin crafting instructional books of jazz guitar tabs and jazz guitar tablatures owing to the problems encountered by guitar players at playing excellent sounding chord formations in rhythm sections and owing to the mediocore note reading capability commonplace amongst guitarists.
After World War 2 Mel was asked to publish instructional tutorials on guitar for soldiers wanting to study music under the GI Bill. In 1947 Mel created his own publishing company and authored his landmark first book titled “The Orchestral Chord System For Guitar”. This book is still in print and continues to be one of the best rhythm guitar chord books available! His “Modern Guitar Method” was written soon thereafter. For many years Mel traveled from town to town talking to guitar teachers and performers and showing them his publications. At one time Mel claims to have known essentially every guitar instructor in The United States on a first name basis! The guitar and Mel Bay’s publications become popular in a big way in the 1950’s. Things have continued to grow ever since.
Mel also used to sell D’Angelico jazz archtop guitars. At any given time he would have 5 or 6 “lying around the house.” Mel played professionally on his D’Angelico New Yorker Model but his favorite guitar was the initial Mel Bay Model constructed 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 “cutaway” model and had a slightly thinner neck. This same instrument has been pictured on the Mel Bay “Modern Guitar Method” for decades.
Somebody once calculated that sales of guitar publications published by Mel Bay have exceeded 25 million copies. When asked, Mel frequently explained that he stopped counting long ago. Sales of his “Modern Guitar Method” have alone passed the 7 million mark! It is safe to say that Mel Bay is one of the pivotal figures in the world of guitar music and instruction publications in this or any other century!
Peabody Conservatory trained guitarist Steven Herron helps people become better guitarists His company ChordMelody.com features a large selection of jazz guitar sheet music
as well as instructional books by Mel Bay himself. Find out more and claim Steven’s popular free monthly guitar lesson e-course available at: =>
Mel Bay guitar music books