Mike Elzey: Guitar legend, performer, instructor and mentor
By Amelia Blades Steward
Photos by Caroline J. Phillips
Mike Elzey’s eyes twinkle when the guitar teacher talks about the thousands of students he and his instructors have taught and mentored over the last 40 years. Among those who know his work, Elzey is an Eastern Shore legend.
Introduced initially to the electric guitar at age 8, Elzey didn’t take to the instrument right away. A few years later, while visiting a cousin in New Jersey, he again picked up an electric guitar and started playing it.
“I could swear I heard music come out of it,” recalls Elzey, owner of Mike Elzey’s Guitar Studio in Easton and Cambridge. “It happened again when as a Boy Scout I participated in a lip-sync performance for patients at the State Hospital in Cambridge. When I got a guitar hung around my neck that day, the same thing happened. I thought I was making music.”
A few years later Elzey’s family moved from downtown Cambridge to the country outside of town and he made a new friend who introduced him to a violin-shaped green bass that Elzey soon learned to play. His mom then took him to the local music store where he bought a $60 electric guitar and an amp. He found a classmate who was two years older to give him lessons.
“I didn’t spend much time reading music and I still don’t like to read today, although I do use tablature and theory,” Elzey says. “My classmate was a Beatles fan and helped me learn more progressive chording. I was taught by ear — watching and learning and paying attention.”
In later years, Elzey’s peers called him “eagle eyes” because he could remember how to play a song he’d watched someone play once. In his junior year of high school, he joined a popular band LUKE as a rhythm guitarist. The band played almost every week for two years in parish halls and fire halls and at teen dances across the Shore.
“Those were some of the best memories in my whole life. I found my identity by becoming the ‘cool guy in the rock band’,” he quips.
Elzey got married young to his wife Charlotte and began a 24-year career working in sales, customer service and human resources while continuing to perform on weekends. He started giving guitar lessons which provided him the money to buy extra guitars. When he had the opportunity to leave the corporate world in 2003, he began to teach guitar full time. Within six months, he had 30 students.
“I learned tenacity from my business experience,” Elzey says. “I liked the challenge of getting up every day and saying to myself, ‘I have to make something happen.’”
Over the 40 years of teaching, he has developed his own intuitive style, utilizing creativity and each student’s own learning methods. He teaches children and adults, whose professions range from contractors to judges. Several times each year he hosts family-friendly showcases for students, as well as band camps, summer programs and workshops. “I saw the crowd and saw the kids’ energy when playing in public at downtown music showcases and realized I was doing the work I was supposed to do,” Elzey says.
His teaching success led him to hire more instructors and open other locations. Today, Mike Elzey’s Guitar Studio teaches more than 400 lessons a month to students ranging from children to adult, at both its Cambridge and Easton locations, as well as virtually.
“One of the most rewarding things in my career, however, is seeing two of my students — Emma Bailey and Quinn Parsley — teaching for me,” Elzey says. Bailey now provides the music therapy sessions that Elzey formerly ran at the Talbot Senior Center at Brookletts Place in Easton and Pleasant Day Medical Adult Day Care Center in Cambridge. “I hope my legacy is how I have helped kids like Emma and Quinn. They will carry my legacy forward.”
Mike Elzey’s Guitar Studio
5188 Airey Road, Cambridge, MD
505A Dutchman’s Lane, Easton, MD
Follow Mike on Facebook or visit mikeelzeysguitarstudio.com.
Mike Elzey: Lessons in guitar and bass
Quinn Parsley: Lessons in guitar, bass, mandolin, banjo, drum, piano, ukulele
Emma Bailey: Lessons guitar, ukulele, and voice
Jordan Stanley: Drums