ARTISTSONGALBUM
Big MaybelleMy Big MistakeThe Complete OKeh Sessions
Mickey Baker Spininn’ Rock BoogieIn The '50s: Hit, Git & Split
Louis JordanCaldonia 56'In The '50s: Hit, Git & Split
Larry DaleMidnight HoursIn The '50s: Hit, Git & Split
Sammy Price & His Bluescians Rib JointRib Joint
Mickey & SylviaNo Good LoverIn The '50s: Hit, Git & Split
Eddie MackLast Hour BluesEddie Mack 1947-1952
Tiny KennedyCountry BoyR&B From The Radio Corporation Volumes 1
H-Bomb FergusonWork For My BabyRock H-Bomb Rock
Mickey BakerMidnight Midnight The Wildest Guitar
Nappy BrownIs It Really You?Night Time Is The Right Time
Sammy Price & His Bluescians Juke JointSammy Price & His Bluescians
Buddy JohnsonSomedayBuddy and Ella Johnson: 1953-1964
Little EstherYou Can Bet Your LifeLadies Sing The Blues
Annisteen AllenWantedAnnisteen Allen 1945-53
Larry DalePlease Tell MeHarlem Heavies
Paul WilliamsWoman Are The Root of All EvilPaul Williams Vol. 3 1952-1956
Mickey Baker Bandstand StompRock With A Sock
Square WaltonPepper-Head WomanRub A Little Boogie: New York Blues 1945-56
Brownie McGhee Love's a DiseaseRub A Little Boogie: New York Blues 1945-56
Mckey BakerShake Walkin’ Rock With A Sock
Larry Dale You Better Heed My WarningIn The '50s: Hit, Git & Split
Roy GainesWorried About You BabyGroove Jumping
Mr. BearThe Bear Hug In The '50s: Hit, Git & Split
Big Red McHouston & His orchestraI’m Tired R&B From The Radio Corporation Volumes 1
Sammy Price & His Bluescians Kansas City Boogie Woogie StompRib Joint
Eddie Riff Ain’t That Lovin’ YouMickey Baker: Essential Blues Masters
Sammy Price & His Bluescians Bar-B-Q SauceRib Joint
Mickey BakerRock With A Sock Rock With A Sock
Champion Jack DupreeStumbling BlockIn The '50s: Hit, Git & Split
Big Red McHouston & His OrchestraStranger BluesIn The '50s: Hit, Git & Split
Big MaybellePitifulThe Complete OKeh Sessions
Varetta DillardSo Many WaysLadies Sing the Blues
Sammy Price & His Bluescians LeveeRib Joint

Show Notes:

 
Mickey Baker and Sylvia Vanderpool (Mickey & Sylvia)

Mickey Baker, who has died aged 87, was one of the most versatile and prolific guitarists of his era. I was a fan of baker's guitar playing even before I knew his name. When I first seriously started buying blues records it didn't take me long to figure out that the great guitar playing on those 50's records I was buying of Big Maybelle, Nappy Brown and numerous others was the work of the prolific Mickey Baker. During the 1950s, any producer making R&B or rock'n'roll records in New York would have Baker's name in his contacts book, and he played on innumerable sessions for Atlantic, Savoy and other labels, accompanying vocal groups including the Drifters and the Coasters and blues singers such as Champion Jack Dupree, Nappy Brown, Ruth Brown and LaVern Baker. Among the many hit records to which he made original and distinctive contributions were Ruth Brown's “(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean”, the Coasters' “I'm a Hog for You” and Joe Turner's “Shake, Rattle and Roll.” Today we spotlight Baker's bluesier records, as we hear him on great records by Big Maybelle, Nappy Brown, Larry Dale, Sammy Price, Champion Jack Dupree, Louis Jordan and many others.

Baker was born in Louisville, Kentucky, and spent some of his youth in institutions, from which he ran away to New York, where for a time he got by as a pool-hall hustler. "Around the age of 19," he later recalled, "I decided to make a change in my life. I was still washing dishes, but I was determined that I wanted to be a jazz musician." His preferred instrument was the trumpet but he could not afford one, so he bought a cheap guitar from a pawnshop and learned some chords from a hillbilly songbook. In time he moved on to the standard repertoire and started playing progressive jazz. Then, while on the west coast, he went to a gig by the singer and guitarist Pee Wee Crayton and encountered the blues. "I asked Pee Wee, 'You mean you can make money playing that stuff?' So I started bending strings."

Inspired by the successful model of the guitarist Les Paul and the singer Mary Ford, he formed a duo with the singer Sylvia Vanderpool (later Sylvia Robinson). Mickey & Sylvia's recording of “Love Is Strange”, a million-selling hit in 1956-57. In the wake of "Love Is Strange", he and Vanderpool opened a nightclub, started a publishing company and generally tried to take more charge of their performing lives than was usually possible for black artists. But their personal relationship was stormy and Baker was tired of playing forgettable music for teenagers. Early in the 60s, he moved to France.

Many of today's tracks are longtime favorites including a batch of tough sides by the unsung Larry Dale who waxed some potent blues and R&B sides under his own name and some knockout session guitar backing a slew of New York artists. "It's kinda funny how I learned to play the guitar", Dale said in an interview. "Brownie McGhee would let me come up on his bandstand and sit in the back and playing all kind of bad notes until I learned where the changes were. And then I got so where I could play pretty good. And I could always sing good, If I could sing and leave the guitar alone I was good, but if I tried to play the guitar …Bobby Schiffman told me 'You just sing, leave the guitar alone. you'll make it'. But he didn't know I was determined to learn the guitar. So I bought B.B King records, people that played guitars; and I learned how to play. Then Mickey Baker he taught me a lot. …Well before then Mickey taught me a lot about guitar. And then it's a funny thing, after Mickey taught me then I had to teach him how to play the blues!" We hear Dale taking the vocals with Baker on guitar on tough numbers like "Midnight Hours", "Please Tell Me", "You Better Heed My Warning", all cut under Dale's name, and Dale taking the vocals on sides attributed to Big Red McHouston (alias Mickey Baker),  "I'm Tired" b/w "Where Is My Honey" cut for the Groove label.

Another favorite record of mine is the now out-of-print 2-LP set Rib Joint. Baker backed piano pounder Sam Price on a series of instrumental sides for the Savoy label in 1956 and 1959. The sides feature great session players including King Curtis, Leonard Gaskin, Panama Francis Al Casey and Kenny Burrell among others. We spin several selections from these sessions including "Rib Joint", "Kansas City Boogie Woogie Stomp", "Bar-B-Q Sauce" and "Juke Joint."

During the period covered in this show, Baker recorded only a handful of sides under his own names, fifteen sides between 1952 and 1956. In addition to the above mentioned Big Red McHouston sides, the rest of the sides  are instrumentals and today we spin several of those including "Shake Walkin'", "Bandstand Stomp" and "Rock With A Sock." In addition he cut his only full-length album from this period, 1959's The Wildest Guitar and all instrumental outing issued on Atlantic.

Among the earliest sides I heard Baker on those backing Big Maybelle, Nappy Brown and Champion Jack Dupree. Baker appears on several Big Maybelle sessions in 1954, 1955 and 1956 and backs Nappy Brown's on his 1952 debut plus sessions in 1955 and 1960. Baker backs Jack Dupree on sessions in 1953 and 1955 and the two reunited for a session in London in 1967 for the Decca label.

Baker backed a number of veteran artists who were trying to update their sound for the new rock and roll craze including Amos Milburn, Wynonie Harris, Big Joe Turner and Louis Jordan. Turner sailed into the rock and roll era rather seamlessly, scoring a big hit with “Shake, Rattle and Roll” with Baker on guitar. Although not commercially successful, Baker and Louis Jordan cut some rocking records during this period. In 1956, Mercury Records signed Jordan, releasing two LP's and a handful of singles. Jordan's first LP with Mercury, Somebody Up There Digs Me, showcased updated rock n' roll versions of previous hits such as "Ain't Nobody Here but Us Chickens","Choo Choo Ch'Boogie", "Salt Pork, West Virginia", "Beware!" and a scorching "Caldonia" which we feature today; its follow-up, Man, We're Wailin' (1957), featured a more laid back "late night" sound. Although Mercury intended for this to be a comeback for Jordan, the comeback did not turn out to be a success, and the label let Jordan go in 1958.

A couple of lesser known New York artists worth mentioning are Eddie Mack and Mr. Bear. Mack was part of the Brooklyn blues scene in the late 40's and early 50's but his subsequent career is a mystery. He fronted various groups by Cootie Williams & His Orchestra (he replaced Eddie Vinson), Lucky Millinder & His Orchestra and others. He cut some two-dozen sides between 1947-1952. Mickey Baker appears on Mack's final four sides for the Savoy label which are among his best.

Teddy McRae, also known as Mr. Bear, cut a few isolated titles as a leader, including two songs for King in 1945, six for Groove in 1955 and two numbers for Moonshine in 1958, and recorded with Champion Jack Dupree from 1955-56. Prior to this he was an important an arranger and tenor-saxophonist for several bands including Cab Calloway, Jimmie Lunceford, Lionel Hampton and Chick Webb's.

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