When Mickey & Sylvia released "Love Is Strange" in late 1956, the track became a top 20 hit the next year; although innovative enough to influence artists like Jimi Hendrix, the song would be the duo's only chart success.
Sharing the composer credit are Mickey Baker, Sylvia Robinson and Ellas McDaniel, better known as Bo Diddley. For many years, however, who wrote "Love Is Strange" had been in dispute. Diddley's guitarist Jody Williams maintained that the roots of "Love Is Strange" lie in a riff he wrote for "Billy's Blues," singer Billy Stewart's debut. Williams claimed he then used the riff when he co-wrote "Love Is Strange" with Diddley. With Williams on lead guitar, Diddley recorded "Love Is Strange" for Chess Records in May 1956.
But before the song was put on vinyl, Williams claimed that Mickey Baker studied his guitar work on "Love Is Strange" at performances from off stage. Back in Chicago at Chess, Williams says he learned why; Bo Diddley told Williams that he had sold the song to Mickey and Sylvia for $ 2,000, but assured Williams that he would receive writer's royalties.
Mickey "Guitar" Baker was an in-demand session player in 1955 when singer Sylvia Vanderpool, then a struggling singer known as "Little Sylvia," asked Baker for guitar lessons. (Sylvia later became Sylvia Robinson after marrying Joe Robinson.) Baker, 11 years Robinson's senior, came up with the idea for a duo following the success of Les Paul and Mary Ford. On stage the pair dressed elegantly; they both played guitars as they teased each other in song.
In the studio, writers Dave Marsh , producer Bob Rolontz of RCA's Groove Records helped create Mickey & Sylvia's unique sound. "(I) nstead of going in and cutting live, he began to overdub, building up the guitar parts through multitracking and repeated recordings. polished version of the Bo Diddley beat ever pieced together. "
In their biography of Jimi Hendrix, Harry Shapiro and Caesar Glebbeek write that "Love Is Strange" was "one of the most important songs of the period" for the young Hendrix, then an elementary school student working out songs on an old ukelele with one string found by his father while cleaning out someone's garage. Hendrix's brother Leon said that after Hendrix heard Mickey Baker's single-string solo, "he really started to look for some outlet, playing songs and figuring out things on one string."
Mickey & Sylvia basically broke up by the late 1950s but would have recorded together until 1965. Guitarist Jody Williams, at Chess' urging, went to court in 1957 claiming "Love Is Strange" was copied from "Billy's Blues." Williams lost the case in 1961 and never again spoke to Diddley, who has said he too never received any royalties for the song.