From The Hollywood Reporter — January 19, 2006.
TBGB NOTE: Wilson Pickett’s gospel career, which has been glossed over in much of the reporting on his death today, included a short stint with an early iteration of the Violinaires; Pickett can be heard with the quartet on its 1957 Gotham single, “Sign of the Judgement”/My Work Will Be Done.” In addition, Pickett assumed lead duties on the Spiritual Five’s “Christ’s Blood”/”Call Him Up” for Peacock in 1963.
By Chris Morris
Singer Wilson Pickett, the soul titan whose gutsy ’60s hits earned him the nickname “the Wicked Pickett,” died Thursday of a heart attack in Reston, Va. He was 64.
Born in Prattville, Ala., Pickett got his start as a gospel singer. He first made his professional mark in Detroit as a member of the Falcons, an R&B group that included Sir Mack Rice — who would pen Pickett’s solo hit “Mustang Sally” — and future Stax Records star Eddie Floyd.
In 1961, Pickett’s soaring gospel-styled lead vocal was backed by the distinctive tremelo guitar work of Robert Ward of the Ohio Untouchables on the Falcons’ “I Found a Love,” which climbed to No. 6 on the R&B chart.
Pickett’s early solo career included a 1963 single for singer Lloyd Price’s Double L Records, “If You Need Me,” which became a huge hit for Solomon Burke at Atlantic Records. The song brought Pickett to the attention of the label, which signed him the following year.
The singer initially cut some lackluster singles with producer Bert Berns, but Pickett’s career didn’t take off until Atlantic’s Jerry Wexler decided to cut Pickett in Memphis, then the hotbed of Southern soul music, with the house band at Stax Records in 1965.
Taking a cue from a lyric ad-lib on one of Pickett’s old records, Stax guitarist Steve Cropper penned a new song with a turned-around groove inspired by Wexler’s demonstration of the then-current dance the Jerk. The result was Pickett’s unforgettable first No. 1 R&B hit, “In the Midnight Hour.”
A string of gritty Atlantic hits — most of them cut at Stax, Muscle Shoals Sound in Alabama or Memphis’ American Studios — followed through the ’60s. The biggest of these were “634-5789,” “Mustang Sally,” “Funky Broadway,” “She’s Lookin’ Good” and “I’m a Midnight Mover.” Pickett’s most sizable hit, a cover of Chris Kenner’s “Land of 1000 Dances,” reached No. 6 on the pop chart in 1966. His top 20 1969 single “Hey Jude,” a version of the Beatles tune, featured memorable solo work by guitarist Duane Allman.
Pickett enjoyed a last spurt of top five R&B hits — “Sugar, Sugar” (a cover of the Archies’ hit), “Engine Number 9,” “Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You,” “Don’t Knock My Love,” “Fire and Water” — in the early ’70s. But after his departure from Atlantic for RCA in 1973, his career never got back on track, as his brand of Southern-fried soul was supplanted by smoother R&B styles and disco. He briefly recorded for his own imprint, Wicked, in the late ’70s, and moved on to Big Tree, EMI and Motown. He also toured with a latter-day edition of the all-star group the Soul Clan with Don Covay, Joe Tex and Floyd.
Pickett was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991. After a long layoff from recording, he cut his final album, “It’s Harder Now,” for Rounder Records in 1999.