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Mickey "Guitar" Baker

Mickey Baker has a well deserved reputation as an influential guitar player primarily through his studio session work for Atlantic in the 1950’s, and in the fusing of R&B with the then new rock and roll.

Mickey "Guitar" Baker entered the world in Louisville, Kentucky, on October 15, 1925. During his formative years he led a troubled life which saw him spending time in a reform school and a home for troubled children. By the time he was sixteen years old he had migrated to New York City and became part of the anonymous crowded area of Harlem. He continued to find himself in and out of compromising positions that were very close to leading him to a life as a professional thief, or worse. Somewhere around his twentieth birthday he discovered the guitar and it held his interest in a new and exciting way. He decided he would like to master this instrument and become a well thought of musician. Surprisingly enough, he found that he had a good ear for music even though he had never had a moment of formal training in the field. With constant practice he developed an interesting style of blues and jazz and also had a feel for Latin sounds that he had heard on the streets of the city. Enlarging his circle of friends and acquaintances had the effect of developing his reputation as a budding master of his instrument.

By 1949 he had become known for his musical prowess on the guitar and his diverse styles that he had mastered. He began to get session work for a number of R & B labels such as King, Savoy, and Aladdin, and even found work on Latin mambo sessions in the mid 1950s. By mid 1952 he was highly thought of enough to record under his own name. In September of that year Savoy Records released the songs "Mambola" and "River Boat." In November Savoy rereleased "River Boat" but this time had a different rendition of the original tune "Mambola" which this time was re-named "Guitar Mambo." At year's end Savoy releases Baker's version of Don Howard's country / pop hit song "Oh Happy Day" which was coupled with "Love Me Baby."

During 1953 Mickey Baker became part of the Atlantic Records house band under the usual direction of Jesse Stone who backed up that label's growing stable of top R & B performers such as Joe Turner, Ruth Brown, LaVern Baker, Ray Charles, and vocal groups such as Clyde McPhatter & The Drifters and The Cardinals. By the spring of 1954, Atlantic Records launched a subsidiary label called Cat Records and made a move toward a more pop music sound combined with R & B. "Sh-Boom" by The Chords was the big seller for the label but one of the early releases for the label was the songs "Speedy Life" and "Fine Love" by a vocalist originally known as Little Sylvia and backed up by the band of Mickey Baker in what was a portent of things to come. About a month later Baker signed on with RCA Victor's new R & B label called Groove. Baker was listed as Big Red McHouston on that label, and in June released the tunes "I'm Tired" and "Where's My Honey?" both with vocals by Larry Dale.

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