Music Instruction Series Marks 60th Anniversary
JOHN YDSTIE, Host:
Mel Bay is familiar to just about anyone who's learned to play the guitar. Bay died in 1997, but the publishing company he founded, best known for music instruction books, turns 60 this year. Jazz guitarist Frank Vignola records for Mel Bay Records and writes books for the firm. Vignola is among the millions of musicians to encounter Mel Bay's lessons on their youth.
FRANK VIGNOLA: I started playing guitar at the age of six with the Mel Bay book one, and went right through book one through seven. I still have them all, and it really gave me the foundation to be a professional guitar player.
YDSTIE: Bill Bay runs the music publishing and recording company his father founded just after World War II. We reached him at his office in Saint Louis.
BILL BAY: Good to be here.
YDSTIE: What was your father like?
BAY: Well, he was an extrovert and a natural born salesman. Gee, there's lot of colorful stories. When he was just a teenager, he also was a heck of a banjo player - some snake oil salesman or wonder elixir salesman, something who was traveling the Ozarks, and dad would sit on his car and play the banjo, and a big crowd would come up and this guy would sell his stuff. But dad always loved to sell, and that was a passion. He was definitely a people person.
YDSTIE: Tell us how your father got into the publishing business.
BAY: And all three turned him down flat. They said that there is no future in the guitar. And then in about 1953 or 54 when Elvis Presley hit the music scene, overnight everybody wanted to play the guitar. And so those same distributors who turned him down, they were beating a path to his door. And that pretty much launched the company.
YDSTIE: And how many titles do you have in your catalogue now?
BAY: Oh, it's probably about three to 4,000.
BAY: Yeah. It's really expanded over the years.
YDSTIE: You know, I've heard people say that Mel Bay taught the world to play guitar.
BAY: Yes. That's pretty much what everyone says. And everywhere I go, when I run into musicians, they always say - it doesn't matter what style of guitar they play. They say, you know, I had a Mel Bay when I started. It's pretty much a common thing.
YDSTIE: Are you a guitar player?
BAY: Oh, yes.
YDSTIE: Did you learn from a Mel Bay book? Or just from Mel Bay?
BAY: ...admit it. No, certainly I did.
YDSTIE: Yeah. And I hope your father gave you a few tips along the way.
BAY: Yes, I did. But you know, as teacher, he loved playing so much that I had to know my lessons because the first time you made a mistake, he would say, oh, let me show you, and then you'd get a concert instead of a lesson.
YDSTIE: Bill Bay runs the music publishing and recording company his father founded 60 years ago, and he joined us on the line from Saint Louis, Missouri. Thanks very much.
BAY: Well, it's a pleasure talking with you.
YDSTIE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm John Ydstie.
RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
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