Wilson Pickett

Born on March 18th, 1941, in Prattville, Alabama, Wilson Pickett moved with his family to Detroit when he was 14. His vocal training stared early in Baptist church choirs and on the streets. After four years in a local Gospel-harmony group, The Violinaires, Pickett ventured into secular music, joining the Soul group, The Falcons in 1959. The ensamble, who featured future Soul stars Eddie Floyd and Sir Mack Rice, had already found success with a million selling single called "You're So Fine". Wilson gave The Falcons another hit when he wrote and sang a song called "I Found Love", which made it to #6 on Billboard's Soul charts in 1962.

As a result of his success with The Falcons, record producer Robert Bateman suggested that Pickett try a solo career. After one failed single for Correctone Records, Wilson moved to Lloyd Price's Double L Records, where he recorded two gritty R&B numbers, "If You Need Me" and "It's Too Late". "If You Need Me" was quickly covered by established Soul artist, Soloman Burke, who had an R&B chart hit with it. Jerry Wexler, an executive and producer for Atlantic Records, took Pickett to Memphis where he was matched with Booker T And The MG's. When session guitarist Steve Cropper was told that a little known singer named Wilson Pickett was coming in to the studio to record, he went to the nearest record shop and began searching through the record bins, looking for something Pickett had done. "I found two or three things... some Spiritual things that he had sung lead on," Cropper said. Cropper noticed that at the end of each song Wilson would launch into an improvised scat about 'the midnight hour.’ "In every song in the fade-out, he'd go into this ritual, 'I'm going to wait till the midnight hour, oh in the midnight hour,' and he'd start preaching this midnight hour thing, and I said 'That’s it!' When Wilson and Cropper got together, the phrase 'In the Midnight Hour' was the first one that came up. It took just one hour to write the Soul/Rock classic that would established Wilson Pickett as a star. "In The Midnight Hour" reached the top of the R&B chart and hit #21 on the Hot 100 in 1965.

Pickett's partnership with Steve Cropper and Atlantic Records produced a long series of hits that included, "Don't Fight It" (1965), "634-5789", (#13 in 1966) "Land Of 1,000 Dances",(#6 in 1966) "Mustang Sally" (#23 in 1966) and "Funky Broadway" (#8 in 1967). "Land Of 1,000 Dances" is a rare example of a hit song that never mentions the title in the song's lyrics.

Pickett didn't confine himself to Atlantic's Stax division for long. Soon he was also cutting tracks at Muscle Shoals, where he recorded several early songs by Bobby Womack, as well as using Duane Allman as a session guitarist on a Billboard #23 cover of The Beatles' "Hey Jude" in 1969. He also cut some tunes in Philadelphia with Gamble-Huff productions in the early '70s and even did a version of the Archies' "Sugar, Sugar" which reached #25 on the Pop chart in 1970. As the Peace And Love era crept in, Soul music faded from popularity, but Pickett didn't change with the times. Hits on the Pop charts became harder to come by, although he did reach the Top 40 with "Engine Number 9", (#14 in 1970) "Don't Let The Green Grass Fool You" (#17 in 1971), and "Don't Knock My Love", a #1 R&B tune in 1971, which proved to be his last Top 20 hit for Atlantic. After "Fire And Water" became his final Billboard Top 40 hit when it reached #24 in 1972, Pickett signed with RCA, but his previous success was hard to regain. He returned to Muscle Shoals for a song called "Funky Situation" in 1978, issued on his own Wicked label.

Over the years, Pickett continued to be very active on the tour circuit and worked alongside Joe Tex, Don Covay, Ben E. King and Solomon Burke who called themselves The Soul Clan. He was also the invisible figure and role model in the award-winning Soul music film The Commitments in 1991, the same year he was inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. After that, Wilson Pickett endured some hard times. In 1993, he was convicted of drunk driving and sentenced to one year in jail after hitting an 86 year-old man with his car, as well as being convicted of various drug offences. As the century closed, things started to look up when he returned in 1999 with his first studio album in twelve years, appropriately titled, "It's Harder Now".

By 2005, Wilson Pickett was plagued by health problems and on January 19th, 2006, he suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 64. He was laid to rest at the Evergreen Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky. Pickett was honored on March 20th, 2006, at New York's B.B. King Blues Club with performances by his long-term backing band The Midnight Movers, The Commitments, Ben E. King, Bruce 'Big Daddy' Wayne, and Southside Johnny in front of an audience that included members of his family, including two brothers. In the final analysis, he will be remembered as a major force in Soul music who placed over fifty songs on the Billboard R&B chart and sixteen more on the Hot 100.