Thursday, November 29, 2012

Mickey "Guitar" Baker of Mickey and Sylvia Passes Away

Mickey "Guitar" Baker, half of the duo Mickey and Sylvia and one of the greats in combining R&B and rock-and-roll, passed away on Tuesday in Toulouse, France. He was 87.

Baker led a life of crime as a teenager, spending time in reform school, and it wasn't until he was twenty that he discovered the guitar. He took to the instrument naturally and thrived at both R&B and jazz styles leading to session work at some of the major R&B labels by the time he was 24.

In 1952, Baker started releasing his own records on Savoy, none of which charted. The next year, he became part of the Atlantic Records house band backing the likes of Ruth Brown, Ray Charles and the Drifters.

Along with his session work, Baker continued trying to find solo success on Groove, Rainbow and Coral Records, as part of Alan Freed's band. That band became a major part of Freed's rock and roll shows that played major cities and led Baker to leading a number of groups for various live package shows.

In 1955, Baker was paired with singer Sylvia Robinson by Rainbow Records which released a number of singles billing the duo as Mickey and Sylvia. When Rainbow went under, they were picked up by Groove Records which released the classic Love is Strange. By early 1957, that record rocketed to the top of the R&B charts and peaked at 11 on the pop tally. They followed up with There Oughta Be a Law (1957/#8 R&B/#47 Pop).

After two hits, the duo had trouble finding additional success and they broke up in 1959. They continued to occasionally record together and even scored a final R&B hit with Baby You're So Fine (1961/#27 R&B/#52 Pop). Robinson went on to record solo as Sylvia (Pillow Talk) and later started Sugarhill Records.

A year later, Baker moved to France as part of the expatriate movement popular with jazz and blues musicians. He began to flourish in his new country, playing at various festivals and finding session work in both France and England. He never returned to the U.S. as a permanent resident.

Baker was also the author of the book Mickey Baker's Complete Course in Jazz Guitar.

A sampling of the recordings on which Baker played guitar:
  • Money Honey - Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters
  • (Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean - Ruth Brown
  • Shake, Rattle and Roll - Joe Turner
  • Whole Lot of Shakin' Going On - Big Maybelle
  • Caledonia - Louis Jordan
  • Mess Around - Ray Charles
  • It Should Have Been Me - Ray Charles
  • One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer - Amos Milburn

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