Born McHouston Baker, 15 October 1925, Louisville, Kentucky.
Died 27 November 2012, Toulouse, France.

As a guitar player, Mickey Baker was a critical force in the bridging of rhythm and blues and rock n roll, along with Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Ike Turner. Though he is probably best known as one half of the sometimes brilliant duo Mickey and Sylvia, Baker left his biggest mark on the music world as one of the premier session guitarists of the 1950s. His playing is characterized by stinging bluesy guitar riffs. But he is so versatle that he can handle almost any guitar style.

The young Mickey must have been a wild child, for already at the age of 11 he was arrested and convicted for stealing clothing worth $ 3000. He was incarcerated in the Ridgewood Orphanage where he developed an interest in brass instruments, learning to play both trumpet and trombone. By 1945 he was living in New York City, determined to become a jazz musician. The trumpet was his first choice for an instrument, but with only $ 14 saved up, he couldn't find a pawnshop with anything but guitars for that price. After a few years of guitar study, including a course at the New York School Of Music, Baker was able, in 1949, to form his own jazz group and make a living as a musician. However, the audience for his type of progressive jazz proved to be small. While touring in California, he met blues guitarist Pee Wee Crayton who was making good money with his guitar style. Mickey returned to NYC convinced that he could make a better living switching from jazz to blues. Still, it took until 1951 before he found regular session work, at first only for the Savoy label. It was for Savoy that he made his first recordings in 1952, the instrumental "Riverboat", soon followed by the vocal "Love Me Baby". Starting December 1952, he was also in demand by Atlantic Records as a session guitarist and he can be heard on such classics as "Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean" (Ruth Brown), "Money Honey" (The Drifters) and "Shake, Rattle And Roll" (Joe Turner). Other labels employing his services were King, Decca, RCA, Modern, Mercury, OKeh and MGM.

In 1955 Mickey teamed up with Sylvia Vanderpool (1936-2011), one of his guitar students, who had already made some vocal records as Little Sylvia for Savoy, Jubilee and Cat. Mickey and Sylvia made their first recordings for the Rainbow label, but in 1956 they switched to RCA where their discs were released on the subsidiaries Groove and Vik. Their first Groove single, "No Good Lover", is my personal favourite by the duo, but it was the next single, "Love Is Strange", that would make Mickey and Sylvia a household name. It went to # 1 on the R&B charts and # 11 on the pop charts in early 1957 and has been covered by many others, including the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Sonny & Cher and Peaches & Herb. Furthermore, "Love Is Strange" has been used on the soundtrack of at least eight feature films and three TV series.

In 1957-58 there were further, smaller hits (on Vik) with "There Oughta Be A Law", "Dearest" and "Bewildered". Mickey and Sylvia parted ways in 1958 after a big row. Baker tried out a new Sylvia (Kitty Noble) and recorded three singles with her for Atlantic in 1959 (as Mickey and Kitty), but it didn't gel. He returned to his session work and recorded an excellent instrumental album in 1959 ("The Wildest Guitar"), also for Atlantic.

In 1960, RCA offered Mickey and Sylvia $ 10,000 to reunite and make new records, which they did. The next year they formed their own label, Willow, and scored another hit with "Baby You're So Fine" (# 52 pop, # 27 R&B). But a remake of "Love Is Strange" was a big flop and they broke up again. Mickey moved to Paris, France, where he found a French Sylvia (Monique Raucher) to re-record the Mickey & Sylvia classics in French. He made a brief return to the US in late 1964-early 1965 for some final recordings (on RCA) with the real Sylvia, but their time in the spotlight was over for good. Sylvia would go on to start All Platinum Records with her husband Joe Robinson and had a # 3 hit in 1973 with "Pillow Talk".

Baker went back to Paris, divorced his wife, married Monique Raucher and rediscovered his first love, jazz. He recorded several jazz and blues LPs during the 1970s, but rarely went into the studio after 1980. He stil lives in France, just outside Paris, making the occasional local gig, but otherwise almost reclusive.

Since the 1950s Mickey Baker has been working on his guitar tutor books and through his own publishing company he has been able to achieve worldwide distribution for these works.

More info : http://www.colorradio.com/mickey_sylvia.htm

Discography : http://koti.mbnet.fi/wdd/mickeybaker.htm (By Pete Hoppula)

Recommended listening: - LP The Wildest Guitar (Atlantic SD-8035), 1959. - Rock With A Sock (Bear Family BCD 15654). 28 tracks from 1952-1957. - Mickey and Sylvia, Love Is Strange (Bear Family BCD 15438). 2 CD-set with their Rainbow, Groove, Vik and RCA Victor recordings. - Mickey Baker In the '50s : Hit, Git & Split (Rev-Ola CR BAND 29). 31 tracks from 1952-1956, both solo and as a session man. Released 2007. Annotated by Dave Penny. - But Wildest (El Segundo ESR 01007). 27 rocking R&B tracks from the 1950s, of which 21 are instrumentals (many with pianist Sam Price). Released 2010. Limited overlap (5 tracks) with the Rev-Ola CD.

Acknowledgements : Dave Penny, Blues Records 1943-1970, Wikipedia.

YouTube :

Love Is Strange : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KpEA5QGYJFQ
No Good Lover : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HeA_T7UV9YA
Rise Sally Rise : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FzA_bPYdtIM
Love Will Make You Fail In School : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tG0cO6tWSjs

Third Man Theme : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2q5Af8eoK5s

With Memphis Slim : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MwG9VKNVBto

As a session guitarist :
Young Jessie, Pretty Soon : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gycXn-7dcrY


These pages were originally published as "This Is My Story" in the
Yahoo Group "Shakin' All Over". For comments or information
please contact Dik de Heer at

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