Oral History -
William Bay grew up in the music business and like his father, contributed to the field of music method publications. Mel Bay was a pioneer in guitar method books, which he designed for players of all levels. He formed the Mel Bay Music Publishing Company in 1947 outside of St. Louis, MO. William learned guitar at a young age and began creating his own methods of teaching guitar to others. Over the years, William took over as president of the company and has authored over 200 publications for the company.
Abe Wollam was a close associate of Bud Reglein. Beginning in the 1940s, Abe worked with Bud at the jj Babbitt Mouthpiece Company out of Elkhart, IN. Abe developed strong engineering skills, which proved to be invaluable as the company grew over the years and required specialized tooling.
Greg Winther’s grandfather opened the Winther Music Company in downtown Boise, Idaho, just before World War II. The near-by streets would soon be covered with competitors, a fact Greg, who took over as president of the store in the 1970s, found to be healthy for business. Greg branched out into sound systems and installations in the 1990s.
Harold Winkler was raised in the music publishing industry. His father, Max Winkler, worked his way up from stock boy at Carl Fischer to be president of famed Belwin Music Publishing Company in New York. As a strong supporter of the emerging school music market following World War II, Harold became a founder of NASMD National Association of School Music Dealers. In 1951 Winkler and his wife, Luverne, formed Harlu Music, a specialized school music retailer that would later venture out into school music publishing.
Don Wilson always enjoyed being around music, as a player, teacher, retailer, and as an award-winning baton twirler. He opened his music store in 1956 with the dream of running his business, raising his family, and staying close to the music he loved. In 2006, he reflected that his dreams did come true.
Greg Way has had a long and successful career in the Canadian music retail industry and has been a strong advocate for music and music making throughout his career. As an owner of St. John’s Music, Greg developed many programs for his customers and played a key role in the company’s store expansion. His understanding of the changing market and the business practices for both Canada and the United States has served the industry well.
Art Van Damme became one of the biggest stars of the 1950s with a 15-minute radio and TV program, a noted role in the NBC orchestra, and many miscellaneous recordings, all-centering on his talents as an accordionist. The accordion seemed an unlikely instrument for producing a star, however during the 1950s, there were more accordion students than piano students.
Milton Thomas has had a long and well-respected career in the music products industry. Milt served as National Sales Manager/Director of Marketing for the Lowrey Organ Company before becoming Vice President of marketing for the keyboard musical instrument division of CBS Musical Instruments.
Robert Street grew up in the piano business. In 1914, Robert’s grandfather, Claude P. Street, opened his first music store in Nashville, Tennessee. Claude was certain that a successful business could be built by offering the finest keyboard instruments and professional service, a philosophy the company holds true nearly 100 years later.
Dan Strait moved his family to Austin, TX from Houston to open a Baldwin piano franchise back in 1963. The company was called Strait Piano and Organ and Dan’s motto was “Where customers become friends”. Slowly, Dan saw the opportunity to expand to a full-line music store, and in 1967 Strait Piano and Organ incorporated and became Strait Music Company.