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

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Life and Style
Sexual health charities have campaigned for the kits to be regulated
healthAmerican woman who did tells parents there is 'nothing to be afraid of'
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
The John Peel Lecture has previously been given by Pete Townshend of The Who, Billy Bragg and Charlotte Church
musicGodfather of punk will speak on 'free music in a capitalist society'
News
peopleAt least it's for a worthwhile cause
News
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
tech
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

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments