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Profile: Wilson Pickett

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Wilson Pickett

Wilson Pickett

Born:

March 18, 1941, Prattville, AL; died January 19, 2006 (Reston, VA)

Genres:

Soul, R&B, Southern Soul, Pop-Soul

Instruments:

Vocals

Contributions to music:

  • The rawest and wildest of Sixties soul icons
  • His unearthly yet pitch-perfect scream inspired legions of soulmen
  • Possessed interpretive abilities unmatched by any musician in his genre
  • Working with the session players at Stax and Muscle Shoals, helped bring funk beats into soul
  • Maintained a bad-boy image at a racially explosive time

Early years:

Wilson's journey from his native Prattville to Memphis, TN, home of his greatest achievements, was a roundabout one, taking him through Detroit and New York City. Moving to the Motor City as a teenager, Pickett led a double life typical of the time, singing gospel with a group called the Violinaires and gradually spending all his time singing doo-wop with local favorites The Falcons. Indeed, this latter group scored a 1959 hit with "I Found A Love," on which Pickett sang lead.

Success:

Atlantic Records signed Pickett to a solo contract on the basis of that hit. But his first series of singles, cut in New York, all flopped, so he was sent to Stax Studios in Memphis, where he intrigued house musicians Steve Cropper and Al Jackson with a dance step he'd seen kids dancing to recently. To play along, the duo needed a different kind of beat -- accenting the two instead of the four. That groove became "In The Midnight Hour," based on a phrase Wilson used often. It was an instant hit.

Later years:

Pickett's subsequent hits, punctauated by his unearthly scream, also hit big, especially in frat houses where Wilson's harder, sweatier brand of soul was preferred. However, the end of the decade signaled a shift to smoother, more refined R&B, and while the singer had some hits in the Philly-soul vein ("Engine Number 9," "Don't Let the Green Grass Fool You"), he was soon obsolete in the national consciousness. He does, however, release critically acclaimed soul albums and tour to this day.

Other facts:

  • Eddie "Knock On Wood" Floyd was Pickett's bandmate in the Falcons
  • Wilson recorded for Lloyd Price's Double L label before his stint at Atlantic
  • "In The Midnight Hour" was written in the same motel at which Martin Luther King would later be assassinated
  • Duane Allman of the Allman Brothers plays on Pickett's version of the Beatles' "Hey Jude"
  • Arrested on drunk driving and cocaine charges in the Nineties

Awards/Honors:

  • Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1991)
  • GRAMMY Hall of Fame (1999)

Songs, Albums, and Charts:


#1 hits:
R&B:
  • "In The Midnight Hour" (1965)
  • "Land Of 1000 Dances" (1966)
  • "634-5789 (Soulsville, U.S.A.)" (1966)
  • "Funky Broadway" (1967)
  • "Don't Knock My Love - Pt. 1" (1971)

Top 10 hits:
Pop:
  • "Land Of 1000 Dances" (1966)
  • "Funky Broadway" (1967)
R&B:
  • "Don't Fight It" (1965)
  • "Soul Dance Number Three" (1967)
  • "Mustang Sally" (1967)
  • "I'm In Love" (1967)
  • "I Found A Love - Part 1" (1967)
  • "I'm In Love" (1967)
  • "She's Lookin' Good" (1968)
  • "I'm A Midnight Mover" (1968)
  • "Engine Number 9" (1970)
  • "Don't Let The Green Grass Fool You" (1971)
  • "Call My Name, I'll Be There" (1971)
  • "Fire And Water" (1972)

Top 10 albums:
R&B:
  • In The Midnight Hour (1965)
  • The Exciting Wilson Pickett (1966)
  • The Wicked Pickett (1967)
  • The Sound Of Wilson Pickett (1967)
  • The Best Of Wilson Pickett (1967)
  • The Midnight Mover (1968)
  • I'm In Love (1968)
  • The Best Of Wilson Pickett, Vol. II (1971)
Other important recordings: "If You Need Me," "I'm Not Tired," "That's A Man's Way," "Everybody Needs Somebody To Love," "Ninety-Nine And A Half (Won't Do)," "You Can't Stand Alone," "I Found A True Love," "Jealous Love," "A Man and a Half," "Hey Joe," "Hey Jude," "Mini-Skirt Minnie," "Cole, Cooke, & Redding," "She Said Yes," "Sugar, Sugar," "Funk Factory," "Mr. Magic Man," "Take A Closer Look At The Woman You're With"
Covered by: The Rolling Stones, The Young Rascals, Solomon Burke, Bruce Springsteen, The Grateful Dead, Aretha Franklin, Los Lobos, The Chocolate Watchband, Ry Cooder, Echo and the Bunnymen, Roxy Music, The Jam
Appears in the movies: "Soul to Soul" (1971), "Save the Children" (1973), "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" (1978), "Blues Brothers 2000" (1998), "Immaculate Funk" (2000), "Only the Strong Survive" (2002)
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