Lastie joined the Paul Barbarin band at age 15 to play the trumpet, and organized a professional jazz band in his senior year at Booker T. Washington High School in New Orleans that featured a piano player named Antoine “Fats” Domino as one of its members.
Lastie went on the road at age 16 with Hosa Hill’s band and returned to New Orleans in 1948 to form the Melvin Lastie Orchestra. He served in the military during the Korean War, then formed the Lastie Brothers, a group with his brother David Lastie, which backed Big Joe Turner on tour throughout North America in 1954, with Melvin leading Turner’s band during that tour. He also worked as a studio musician in the 1950s, including on recordings by Roy Brown, and played in a band led by Clarence Samuels alongside Ornette Coleman.
Melvin got tired of the road and returned to New Orleans to run his father’s concession business while playing regularly at the famous Show Bar on Bourbon Street. He then ran his own nightclub called The High Hat from 1957 to 1959; it took up an entire block and featured three bars with entertainment by Lastie and a host of other artists. He was also a representative for the American Federation of Musicians, Local 496 (New Orleans) and he handled all recording transactions for the musicians union during that time.
Lastie and Harold Battiste, formed A.F.O. Records in 1961 and worked with them as a producer and studio player both in New Orleans and after the company moved to Los Angeles in 1963 with a full staff, he began producing for Sam Cooke’s label. The duo was instrumental in two of Cooke’s hits, “Tennessee Waltz” and “A Change Is Gonna Come”. Joe Jones, who was handling the Dixie Cups, called on Melvin to produce what became their first hit, “(Going to the) Chapel of Love”.
Lastie played extensively on other soul and jazz recordings, including ones by Hank Crawford, Lou Donaldson, Dr. John, Aretha Franklin (“(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”), Barbara George, Eddie Harris, Little Sonny Jones, Herbie Mann, David “Fathead” Newman, Dave Pike and The Rascals. He also went on to arrange music and play for Willie Bobo, eventually handling all of his business transactions. He also produced Bobo’s first hit “Spanish Grease”, and his second hit album, “Uno, Dos, Tres”. Lastie and Battiste began working together again in 1969 to produce several artists, including King Floyd and Al “Shine” Robinson. The song “Fried Neckbones”, written by Lastie and Bobo, was covered by Santana at Woodstock.
Lastie was diagnosed with cancer in 1970, but refused treatment, living for another two years.