Fever of the Week: Mickey & Sylvia // New Sounds

(Freshly Caught // Highly Contagious)


The simple ampersand brought together a myriad of guy-girl duos in the ’50s and ’60s. This once unassuming symbol soon became synonymous with two like-minded artists who hoped to mix the right dose of musical classiness with just enough sexual chemistry bubbling underneath. A simple Google search would yield hundreds of such results and yet, as always, there was an exception to this formula. That exception was: Mickey & Sylvia. They were not the mushy-married type such as Tarheel Slim & Little Ann, who went as far as to bill themselves as The Lovers originally. They didn’t present soap opera style singles like Shirley & Lee either. They weren’t even interested in Les Paul & Mary Ford’s ‘let’s-fake-it-till-we-break’ mentality. Nope, Mickey & Sylvia pretty much hated each other right from the start. And yet that didn’t stop them from bypassing all the other gender-mixed duos and turning themselves into the hottest ticket around, which is exactly what they did. Mickey ‘Guitar’ Baker was one of the finest and most intuitive session men around New York in the early ’50s, having already left his indelible fret marks on such songs as Ruth Brown’s “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean”, Big Joe Turner’s “Shake, Rattle and Roll” and Big Maybelle’s “Whole Lotta Shaking Going On”…just to name a short few. If he never had met a young guitar student of his by the name of Sylvia Vanderpool, Mickey Baker would have still gone down in history as one of the all-time greatest guitarists.  But he did. And this Sylvia was no novice to the record industry either, as she had already begun making a name for herself with her sultry voice and songwriting prowess. Shortly after joining forces, Mickey & Sylvia inked a deal with Groove Records and quickly scorched the charts with their million seller ‘Love Is Strange’ in 1956 (which happened to be penned by Bo Diddley). Less than a year later they would jump onto a bigger label, Vik, and release their first LP titled New Sounds. Their call-and-response rhythm + blues was practically trademarked with this release, showcasing Mickey & Sylvia in absolute top form. Pulling and teeming like Pharaoh’s stubborn horses, Mickey & Sylvia charge full steam ahead, all the while knowing there was an inevitable watery grave awaiting them in the near future. Best enjoy it, cause it certainly wouldn’t last.


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