Mickey Baker, session guitarist and half of the duo Mickey & Sylvia, passed away last week at 87. He wasn’t a household name, but his influence over early rock & roll should be fairly obvious when you listen to him play.
Reading his obituary at the Los Angeles Times website, I learned that he played for artists like The Coasters and Ray Charles, and that he influenced Buddy Holly. That shouldn’t surprise me, but it does. Very few people in the mainstream know much about Mickey Baker today, probably didn’t know much about him when he was working. Aside from the fact that session men rarely get the credit they deserve, Baker found himself frustrated by the racism inherent to the American music industry in the late 1950s. Like Josephine Baker (no relation) and James Baldwin, Mickey Baker eventually emigrated to France where he lived quietly writing books on how to play guitar.
I only know Baker’s work through this one song, introduced to me in 1987’s Dirty Dancing (I can still see Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze crawling toward each other to this tune). I wasn’t in the frame of mind to be open to an underrated artist; I was just there for the dancing. But Mickey Baker was definitely underrated, if his playing here is any indication. The twang and trill of his guitar is a wonder to behold. I’ll have to look him up on itunes and sample some other stuff. I’ll bet it’s just as good as this one hit, if not better. After all, this guy literally wrote the book.