"When I think of the foundation of soul music - which essentially began in the early '60s - I am clear that Wilson Pickett was one of its' senior statesmen, a rhythm-and-blues pioneer of the first order. There was no mistaking that soulful growl, that gospel-edged cry, that passion and intensity. 'The Wicked Pickett' as he was affectionately known was a certified, bona fide soul man and I recall hearing him back in '64, growing up in London, and being struck by the sheer emotion he packed into his music. A funny aside: when the late Esther Phillips was visiting the U.K. for the first time in 1965, Wilson's "Midnight Hour" classic was just starting to take off. When I asked Esther what her then-current favorite records were, she chortled, "In The Midnight Hour" because "that's something black folks know all about!"
That Wilson was a 'real' character is undeniable: in the couple of interviews we did over the years, he could be arrogant, rambunctious, opinionated and funny! In many ways, he lived the music he sang about, earning that life-long epithet as 'The Wicked Pickett'. My earliest memory of him was during a visit he made to either Manchester or Birmingham around 1965, not sure which city but I was there at the invitation of the Ben E. King fan club secretary and his wife and as part of the weekend activities, we were going to see Mr. Pickett. All I can recall is seeing Wilson herding some clearly underage British teenage girls into the back of a van! No need to guess what he was up to - for sure living up to his reputation for complete naughtiness!
While you could count on Wilson to be unpredictable in his comments when interviewed, you could also count on him to deliver some of the best soul music recordings ever made. His early Atlantic material is priceless - think "634-5789" and "Don't Fight It" along with the obvious hits ("Mustang Sally," "Funky Broadway,") - but I also loved the work he did with Gamble & Huff and their staff of producers and writers in Philadelphia (exemplified by "Don't Let The Green Grass Fool You" and "Engine Engine Number Nine") as well as early '70s recordings in Miami, such as "Don't Knock My Love." His RCA material, cut after he left Atlantic in 1972, included some stellar moments and while some of his later song choices (Captain & Teneille's "Love Will Keep Us Together," cut for his own Wicked label in 1976) were somewhat quirky, he remained a sho'nuff soul brother through to through.
His musical legacy speaks for itself and his is a sound that will never be copied or duplicated. Right on, Wilson Pickett,right on!" - David Nathan
Wilson Pickett (1941-2006) - Obituary by A. Scott Galloway, Music Editor, Urban Network
Wilson Pickett was the hollerin-est, unbridled singer that raw `60s R&B ever birthed. The fire-breathing wailer didn’t so much as sing a song but wring the ever-lovin’ tobacco juice out of it. If soul was measured in sweat, a good Pickett show would produce two bucketsful. Sadly, the midnight mover has punched his last 12 straight-up clock, passing from a heart attack in a hospital near his Virgina home on January 19, 2006. He was 64.
Wilson Pickett was born March 18, 1941 in Pratville, Alabama. Embracing music in the local Baptist churches, he eventually began honing his chops in the famed gospel group The Violinaires. At 14, he moved to live with his father in Detroit where, in his late teens, he joined the vocal quintet The Falcons. One of their biggest hits was a song Pickett co- wrote and sang the lead on, “I Found a Love,” for local Lu-Pine Records. When the group disbanded, Pickett signed to Lloyd Price’s Double L Records for a couple of sides before landing at R&B label giant Atlantic Records where he would become one of its mightiest, trailblazing singing and songwriting stars.
After overblown initial sessions in New York, Pickett was sent down to Stax Studios in Memphis to work with guitarist Steve Cropper of Booker T & The MGs. The legendary pairing came up with what would become Pickett’s theme song, “In the Midnight Hour,” his first #1 R&B charter. The stuff that Pickett cut at Stax was so strong, it became the last material owner Jim Stewart allowed to be recorded there for an outside company. “Midnight Hour” kicked off a string of now-seminal southern soul staples that includes “Midnight Mover,” “Ninety-Nine and a Half (Won’t Do),” “Mustang Sally” and “634-5789” (the latter of which topped he R&B chart for seven straight weeks). A show-time dynamo, Pickett was a favorite on the concert circuit, whipping audiences into frenzies wherever he went. He also worked with a plethora of enamored musical peers including singer/songwriter/guitarist Bobby Womack (“I’m In Love”), guitarist Duane Allman (“Hey Jude”) and producers Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff. In a 2005 interview for Urban Network, Gamble personally picked the electrifying Philly rock-n-soul session for Pickett’s “(Get Me Back On Time) Engine Number Nine” as THE most memorable of his career. It captures Wilson (nicknamed “The Wicked Pickett”) at his unholy hottest.
For those of us who weren’t privy to seeing that recording session, there is one particularly excellent piece of footage that fans can enjoy time and again – Wilson Pickett all-the-way live at 3AM in Ghana, Africa from the classic documentary Soul to Soul. Dressed in a skin-tight black jumpsuit (unzipped to the navel) with silver medallions down the side, black boots and a sculpted afro, super sharp Pickett commands the stage and is embraced like a literal god on earth by the people of the continent. By the time he shuts it down with his smash hit “Land of a 1000 Dances,” he turns the crowd into an ebullient sea of ecstasy. Even Pickett – the he-manifestation of soul excitement - was overwhelmed by the love he was shown. That particular display is even more profound when one considers the hot-tempered, gun-toting, time-doing man he could be off stage. Talk to anyone who knew Pickett and you are bound to get an earful of colorful tales.
Wilson Pickett’s last hits for Atlantic came in the early `70s with the hip-jackin’ “Don’t Knock My Love,” the finger-popper “Don’t Let The Green Grass Fool You,” the epic “Fire and Water” and a funky flip of the Archies’ bubblegum hit “Sugar Sugar.” Many music writers toss off Pickett’s post-Atlantic recordings for Motown, EMI and his own Wicked Records imprint as evidence of a hit-less decline, but there was always something good on a Pickett Lp. And there was exceptional material to be found on his RCA Victor albums with producer Brad Shapiro in the mid-`70s, as well as his final 1999 CD, It’s Harder Now (on Bullseye/Rounder), for which Picket won three WC Handy Music Awards. Wilson Pickett was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the 1991 class. And, most recently, a still good lookin’ Pickett was seen conversing, jiving and performing with peers Isaac Hayes and Sam Moore in the under-recognized soul music documentary Only the Strong Survive: A Celebration of Soul.
The man who as a child was known around his Alabama neighborhood as “Miz Lena’s Boy” will be buried next to his mother in Louisville, Kentucky. He is survived by a fiancé and four children.
"What can be said.............we are losing so many of our icons of soul to that heavenly choir in the sky. Both Lou Rawls and Wilson Pickett were friends and it's an understatement to say they will be missed. I guess the only thing we can always depend upon in their absence is the legacy of some of the greatest music ever!! Thank you both for enriching all of our lives and leaving us with your enormous talent to continue our ability to always remember you." - Dionne Warwick
"One of the most brilliant and significant of all the great Soul Singers...a huge influence on many generations of rockers and R&B artists. Wilson PIckett, I'd have to say, he's in the top 5!" - Bonnie Raitt
"As rambunctious as he could be with the press, the public and the record company, Wilson Pickett was always very cooperative and amenable once he stepped into the recording studio. On the sessions Pickett did all those Southern white musicians, we made some of the funkiest grooves we ever recorded at Atlantic Records!" - Jerry Wexler
"I joined Atlantic Records in 1963 at the start of Atlantic's Golden Age. Wilson Pickett was one of the magical artists who contributed to that era. I had the pleasure of writing some horn and string charts for him. I remember his fabulous performances in the studio and his kindness to people around him. The world will miss him." - Arif Mardin
"I was saddened when I heard about Wilson Pickett's death. Early in my beginnings when I didn't have any songs of my own, I would sing Wilson's songs as I'm sure many others did. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would get the opportunity to perform on the same show with him but I did. It was when I was with my group called the Poppies. We thought he was electrifying. Friday night, January 20, I went to two live events and heard In The Midnight Hour and Mustang Sally at both events. In his honor I must say I sat in and jammed a little bit myself with Wilson's songs. He left a legacy. We will miss him!" - Dorothy Moore
"I have just returned from a tour to the sad news of Wilson's passing. He was a great talent and will be missed." - Myrna Smith, The Sweet Inspirations
"What another sad loss, Wilson was raw soul! Nobody could as Wilson called it 'cornbread' like him!" - firstname.lastname@example.org
"Just a little note to say how sorry I am to hear of the great man's passing. The Pickett gave me hours and hours of enjoyment with tracks that effectively were the soundtrack to my life. There are way too many to mention but I must name check a couple - "I Found A True Love" and "Three Time Loser"...they really hit the spot. Thank you Wilson Pickett for giving me the opportunity to enjoy such wonderful music from one of the greats. To be sadly missed." - Pete Ludlam, Manchester, England
"I can't express how bad I feel about the passing of Wilson Pickett. I spent many a night at the Apollo and the Howard Theatre when Wilson was there. My fondest memory was at the Copa in New York sometime in the early '70s when I was invited back stage where he and Bill Cosby were sharing a cocktail before the show. I feel I lost a friend. His music made everyone come alive. I can't say how sorry I am for such a wonderful talent to leave us so early. My sincere sympathy goes to The Family and friends he left behind. May God ease you through this very hard time. Thank the Lord we can still hear his wonderful voice. Sincere Sympathy." - Judy Caffrey (Montreal, Canada)
"Another legend. Taken away from us ... Ain't it scary? Thanks for the music 'wicked' we will play it up till the midnight hour. His style , his voice, his attitude...... Something soul music so badly lacks today. Rest in peace." - Peter Edwards
""Don't Let The Green Grass Fool You" - that song is a wake up call to all of us: listen to the words. "Wicked,"you were the best in your category. Just don't let the green grass fool you, it's going to be better on the other side... Like all fish we swim upstream and downstream at the same time: Pickett was one that mastered that technique. Take a lesson, take a look, take a picture from the history book of Wilson Pickett. We love you and will miss you dearly. Just save one of the 1000 dances for me.." - Sparky Martin
"With that distinctive raspy voice Wilson could belt out a tune with the best soul shouters. The "Wicked Pickett" and Otis Redding are my all-time favorite soul singers. Rest in peace, Wilson." - Virgil Signore
"I had just gone up into "big school" when I heard this holler and raunchy music known as soul. Yes it was "Don't Fight It" and "Midnight Hour." Luckily I had a brother eleven years my elder who kindly bought me an LP - The Exciting Wilson Pickett." Now forty years later I still play his music to remind me of growing up including his sojourn at Philadelphia and RCA. Thank you for educating me into soul music all those years ago and the fantastic memories. Maybe now the youth of today will recognize the original and not the Commitments - even though they made a valiant tribute to the man himself. Land of 1000 Dances has gained another Midnight Mover on that Funky Broadway. Soulfully." - Ashley Saywell (Sheffield UK)
"What I loved about this man was the raw sensuous soulfulness of his voice which brought out emotions I didn't know I possessed! We must not get bogged down by reports of whatever he did or didn't do in his private life - the fact that he enriched all our lives with his wonderful voice is all we should remember. I had the privilege of seeing him perform live, many years ago, and today I feel that part of my youth has died too.God bless Wilson Pickett and lets hope he is playing havoc with the angels! :)" - email@example.com
"This is a sad month. Only the other day I was listening to a cover version of a 'Wicked Pickett' song, and now the man is gone. 20+-years ago, I found a second-hand copy of 'I Found A True Love," a great stormer by Wilson. I regularly played it in a DJ-ing spot, a few years ago.. ....another Gritty voice, filled with feeling has gone..." - Sean Delay (Great Britain)
"Such a sad day for real soul music fans. A true LEGEND and for Wilson this is not an overuse of the word." - DSouthway@aol.com
"Deepest sympathies to the family of Wilson Pickett over the loss of a true soul legend." - Steve
About the Writer
David Nathan is the founder and CEO of SoulMusic.com and began his writing career in 1965; beginning in 1967, he was a regular contributor to Blues & Soul magazine in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1975 where he served as U.S. editor for the publication for several decades and began being known as 'The British Ambassador Of Soul.' From 1988 to 2004, he wrote prolifically for Billboard, has penned bios, produced and written liner notes for box sets and reissue CDs for over a thousand projects. He returned to London in 2009 where he has helped create SoulMusic.com Records as a leading reissue label.