Wilson Pickett Biography

18 March 1941, Prattville, Alabama, USA, d. 19 January 2006, Reston, Virginia, USA. The ‘wicked Pickett’ was one of the great southern soul singers to emerge during the 60s. Pickett moved to Detroit, Michigan in his early teens. He joined gospel group the Violinaires and embarked on church tours throughout North America. In his late teens he graduated to secular music and began performing with Detroit-based R&B groups. He later joined the Falcons, an act already established by the million-selling ‘You’re So Fine’. Pickett wrote and sang lead on their 1962 hit ‘I Found A Love’, after which he launched his solo career. A false start at Correctone was overturned by two powerful singles, ‘If You Need Me’ and ‘It’s Too Late’ (a different song from the Chuck Willis standard), recorded for Lloyd Price’s Double L outlet. The former track’s potential was undermined by Solomon Burke’s opportunistic cover version on Atlantic Records, the irony of which was compounded when Pickett moved to that same label in 1964. An inspired partnership with guitarist Steve Cropper produced the classic standard ‘In The Midnight Hour’, as well as ‘Don’t Fight It’ (both 1965), ‘634-5789 (Soulsville, USA)’, ‘Land Of 1, 000 Dances’ (written by Chris Kenner) and ‘Mustang Sally’ (all 1966) and ‘Funky Broadway’ (1967). The singer’s other collaborators included erstwhile Falcon Eddie Floyd and former Valentinos member Bobby Womack. The latter partnership proved increasingly important as the 60s progressed. A 1968 album, The Midnight Mover, contained six songs featuring Womack’s involvement.

Deprived of the Stax Records house band due to their break with Atlantic, Pickett next recorded at Fame’s Muscle Shoals studio. A remarkable version of ‘Hey Jude’, with Duane Allman on guitar, was the highlight of this period. A further experiment, this time with producers Gamble And Huff, resulted in two hits, ‘Engine Number 9’ (1970) and ‘Don’t Let The Green Grass Fool You’ (1971), while a trip to Miami provided ‘Don’t Knock My Love’, his last Top 20 hit for Atlantic. Wilson switched to RCA Records in 1972, but his previous success was hard to regain. A mercurial talent, Pickett returned to Muscle Shoals for Funky Situation (1978), issued on his own Wicked label. Later he worked alongside Joe Tex, Don Covay, Ben E. King and Solomon Burke in a revamped Soul Clan. Pickett was the invisible figure and role model in the award-winning movie The Commitments in 1991. The same year he was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

During the 90s Pickett found life a struggle and was arrested and charged with various drink and drug offences. He returned in 1999, however, with his first new studio album in 12 years, the Grammy-nominated It’s Harder Now. Pickett died of a heart attack at a hospital in Virginia in January 2006.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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