Spectropop remembers

WILSON PICKETT (1941 - 2006)

Legendary soul singer Wilson Pickett, who earned the nickname "Wicked Pickett" due to his fiery vocals and masculine persona, was best known for such high-energy soul hits as "In The Midnight Hour", "Mustang Sally" and "Land Of 1000 Dances". As a performer and interpreter, Pickett was generally considered to be the equal of such great soul men as Otis Redding and Sam Cooke.

Born in Prattville, Alabama, on March 18th 1941, Pickett honed his vocal style singing gospel in Southern Baptist churches. After moving to Detroit in the late 1950s, he spent four years in a local gospel-harmony group, the Violinaires. Pickett then joined the Falcons, whose membership also included such future soul stars as Eddie Floyd and Sir Mack Rice. He sang lead vocals on the group's "I Found A Love", a gospel-tinged ballad written by him that became a national hit 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, he moved to Lloyd Price's Double L Records, where he recorded "If You Need Me" and "It's Too Late". "If You Need Me" was quickly covered by established soul artist, Solomon Burke, who had an R&B chart hit with it for Atlantic Records.

In 1965, Pickett himself signed with Atlantic. His stint with that label marked the commercial apex of his career; backed by guitarist Steve Cropper and some of the top session musicians from Muscle Shoals and Memphis, the singer recorded more than thirty R&B hits, including "634-5789", "Land Of 1000 Dances", "Mustang Sally", "Funky Broadway", "In The Midnight Hour" and even a surprisingly soulful cover of the Archies' "Sugar, Sugar".

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 forty with "Engine Number 9", (1970) "Don't Let The Green Grass Fool You" (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. He signed with RCA in 1972, 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 & Roll Hall of Fame. 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.

His most recent album, 1999's "It's Harder Now", received rave reviews, three WC Handy Awards - including Best Soul/Blues Male Artist of the Year - and a Grammy nomination. In December 2004, "Mustang Sally" and "In The Midnight Hour" were included in Rolling Stone's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Pickett continued to perform until 2005, when health problems forced him off the road. He suffered a fatal heart attack on January 19th at the age of 64. Pickett is survived by his fiancee Gail Webb, sons Lynderrick and Michael, daughters Veda and Saphan, and an extended family of brothers and sisters.

(Adapted for S'pop from an obituary by Dan Epstein in Rolling Stone)

Wilson Pickett, singer: born March 18th, 1941 - died January 19th, 2006.