Mickey Baker: Acclaimed guitarist

 

Mickey “Guitar” Baker was a guitarist who forged a link between rhythm and blues and early rock and whose 1956 recording of “Love Is Strange” with Sylvia Robinson became a pop classic brimming with Latin rhythms and flirtatious banter.

Baker’s grounding in jazz guitar, coupled with his bluesy, at times distorted and aggressive sound propelled him to the front rank of New York studio guitarists in the 1950s. On record he accompanied singers such as Dinah Washington, Louis Jordan and Nappy Brown, and was prolific at Atlantic, where his notable credits included Joe Turner’s “Shake, Rattle and Roll” and LaVern Baker’s two biggest hits, “Tweedle Dee” and “Jim Dandy”.

In the mid-1950s, when black rhythm-and-blues was increasingly marketed to white teenagers as rock’n’roll, Baker had an intuitive sense of what the new music required. His solo on the Coasters’ “I’m a Hog For You Baby” (1959), consists of one bleating, trebly note repeated over and over. He made Rolling Stone’s list of 100 greatest guitarists, which noted his session work and his millions-selling duet with Robinson, “Love Is Strange”, which was covered by the Everly Brothers and Wings, among others.

Baker and Robinson — then known by her maiden name, Vanderpool – started the duo Mickey and Sylvia in 1954 as an African-American counterpart to Les Paul and Mary Ford. They broke up acrimoniously several times and made one last record in 1965. In later decades, Robinson, who died last died last year, went on to produce the Sugar Hill Gang. In the 1960s, Baker moved to France, where he produced records by French pop stars and accompanied visiting American musicians like Coleman Hawkins.

MacHouston Baker was born in 1925 in Louisville. His mother, described as an alcoholic and kleptomaniac, was 13 when he was born. His childhood was turbulent; he hopped freight trains in his teens and was a pool shark, pimp and thief before he turned to music in New York. With money he’d made washing dishes, Baker went to a pawn shop intending to buy a trumpet but only had enough money for a guitar, which he taught himself to play.

A trip to California in 1950 proved a turning point. After seeing the blues guitarist Pee Wee Crayton, he decided that the money was in blues, not jazz.“I started bending strings,” he said. “I was starving to death, and the blues was just a financial thing for me.”

In 1955 he wrote The Complete Course in Jazz Guitar, known as “the Baker book”. Still in print, it was one of the first jazz guitar manuals.

Despite their chemistry on record, Baker and Robinson quarrelled on the road. During their first tour, Baker quit while the duo was on a revue that featured Ray Charles. To create the illusion of Mickey and Sylvia, another guitarist in Baker’s signature sunglasses lip-synced. Meanwhile, Charles sang Baker’s part behind the curtain.

MacHouston Baker, guitarist and songwriter: born Louisville, Kentucky 19 October 1925; married; died near Toulouse, France 27 November 2012.

The Washington Post

Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm actor was just 68
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices