R&B Guitarist Mickey Baker RIP


Mickey Baker, (real name McHouston Baker) died on November 27th, aged 87 in Montastruc-la-Conseillère, near Toulouse in southwestern France.

He was one of the great rhythm and blues guitarists – with a career spanning over five decades.

Baker was probably best known for the R&B hit ‘Love Is Strange’ cut with and Sylvia Vanderpool Robinson in 1956 as Mickey & Sylvia.

It sold more than a million copies and reached No. 1 on Billboard’s rhythm-and-blues chart and No. 11 on the pop chart.

Baker appeared on hundreds of record sessions for independent R&B labels such as Atlantic, King, RCA, Savoy, Decca, Groove and many other small labels, appearing on as many as four sessions a day.

He appeared on “Money Honey” and “Such a Night” by the Drifters; Joe Turner’s “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” Ruth Brown’s “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean” and Big Maybelle’s original of “Whole Lot of Shakin’ Goin’ On.”

Born in Louisville, Kentucky on October 15th, 1925, Baker believed his father, who he never met, was a white piano player who was passing through Louisville and that his mother, Lillian, who was black, was just 12 years old when he was born.

His mother was unable to care for him and was subsequently in and out of jail. He spent several years in an orphanage, where he learned to play musical instruments. He ran away often, riding the rails to St. Louis, to Chicago and several times to New York City, where he finally landed permanently when he was 15.

His first wish was to play the trumpet, but when he visited a the pawnshop to buy one, he didn’t have enough money; a beat-up guitar was all he could afford. In his early 20s he was playing in a jazz band called the Incomparables. By 1950, however, he had realized he couldn’t make a living playing jazz, and he turned to rhythm and blues and began getting studio work.

“Sometimes Mickey would lead the band or the combo that played on the date; other times he would merely be a sideman,” Bob Rolontz, who produced R&B records for RCA, wrote in the liner notes for Mr. Baker’s 1959 album, “The Wildest Guitar.” “But sideman or leader, the musical ideas Mickey constantly contributed to these recording dates accounted for many hit records.”

Baker supplemented his studio work with teaching, and he wrote a series of instruction books for jazz guitar. In the early 1960s, he moved to France, first to Paris and later to Toulouse, and he rarely returned to the United States.

He made a number of albums under his own name and supported touring US blues artists such as Champion Jack Dupree during the 1960s and 1970s.

He studied composition and theory with the Greek composer Iannis Xenakis, among other teachers, and experimented on his own, playing and writing in a variety of forms, including classical music; he wrote a series of fugues and inventions for guitar and a concerto, “The Blues Suite,” for guitar and orchestra.


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