Mickey Baker in 1999, at the Rhythm&Blues Foundation Tenth Annual Pioneer Awards in Culver City, Calif.
Mickey Baker, one half of the hit-making duo Mickey and Sylvia in the late ‘50s and an influential guitarist whose work can be heard on hundreds of records, has died at his home near Toulouse, France.
He was 87.
NPR’s Tom Cole reminds us that Mickey and Sylvia cracked the Top 20 in 1957 with Love is Strange. But he was much more than a one-hit wonder, Tom says. Baker “added instrumental spice to records by The Coasters, Ruth Brown, Ray Charles” and others. He played on hundreds of sessions.
A jazz musician first, Baker also wrote “what for many years was the book for anyone wanting to learn to play jazz guitar,” Tom adds.
The New York Times writes that Baker’s “prickly, piercing guitar riffs were featured on dozens if not hundreds of recordings and helped propel the evolution of rhythm and blues into rock ‘n’ roll. … Known for his aggressively bluesy chords and attention-grabbing solos, he is often cited by connoisseurs as a signature force, along with the likes of Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry, in the development of rock ‘n’ roll and an antecedent of Hendrix, Keith Richards, Pete Townshend and many others.”
His guitar work can be heard on LaVern Baker’s (no relation) Jim Dandy, one of the “songs that shaped rock and roll” according to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.