WILSON PICKETT, March 18, 1941-

Although Wilson Pickett spent a comparatively brief amount of time as a hit-making force, for many, he was considered to be the classic soul singer. His rough, gritty voice was perfectly suited for uptempo material, melding a gospel fervor to a funky backbeat.

Pickett started out singing gospel music in church, first in his hometown of Prattville, Alabama, and then in Detroit between 1955-1959. In 1959, Willie Schofield invited him to join his R&B vocal group, the Falcons, best known for the recording, "You’re So Fine" (Unart 2013; 1959; #2 R&B, #17 pop). He would go on to contribute many compositions to their repertoire, most notably "I Found a Love" (LuPine 1003; 1962; #6 R&B).

Pickett’s dual talents as a singer-songwriter made a solo career inevitable. His departure from the Falcons followed a successful audition with Double-L Records, headed by R&B legend Lloyd Price, in 1963. He immediately scored two successive R&B hits with the self-composed "If You Need Me" (Double-L 713; 1963; #30) and "It’s Too Late" (Double-L 717; 1963; #7).

His breakthrough to a larger pop audience came shortly after his contract was purchased by Atlantic Records in 1964. Assisted by the label’s marketing muscle and the decision to have him record with Stax—then affiliated with Atlantic in order to gain a wider market for its own artists—Pickett found immediate success with such hits as "In the Midnight Hour" (Atlantic 2289; 1965; #1 R&B, #21 pop), "634-5789" (Atlantic 2320; 1966; #1 R&B, #13 pop), "Land of 1,000 Dances" (Atlantic 2348; 1966; #1 R&B, #6 pop), "Mustang Sally" (Atlantic 2365; 1966; #6 R&B, #23 pop), "Funky Broadway" (Atlantic 2430; 1967; #1 R&B, #8 pop), "Sugar Sugar" (Atlantic 2722; 1970; #4 R&B, #25 pop), "Engine Number 9" (Atlantic 2765; 1970; #3 R&B, #14 pop), "Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You" (Atlantic 2781; 1971; #2 R&B, #17 pop), "Don’t Knock My Love – Pt. 1" (Atlantic 2797; 1971; #1 R&B, #13 pop), and "Fire and Water" (Atlantic 2852; 1972; #2 R&B, #24 pop). The tight, stripped-down rhythm accompaniment provided by members of the Stax house band, Booker T. and the MGs (with production by Steve Cropper), proved to be the ideal foil for the dynamic tension communicated by Pickett’s vocals. His albums also sold well in the latter half of the 1960s, including The Exciting Wilson Pickett (Atlantic 8129; 1966; #21), The Wicked Pickett (Atlantic 8138; 1967; #42), The Sound of Wilson Pickett (Atlantic 8145; 1967; #54), The Best of Wilson Pickett (Atlantic 8151; 1967; #35), I’m In Love (Atlantic 8175; 1968; #70), The Midnight Mover (Atlantic 8183; 1968; #91), Hey Jude (Atlantic 8215; 1969; #97), Wilson Pickett in Philadelphia (Atlantic 8270; 1970; #64), and The Best of Wilson Pickett, Vol. II (Atlantic 8290; 1971).

Pickett’s sales dropped off considerably in the early 1970s as soul was superceded by new black urban styles such as funk, disco, and reggae. He continued to tour extensively both stateside and abroad, although his new recordings—for RCA (1973-1975), Wicked (1975-1977), Big Tree (1977-1979), EMI America (1979-mid-1980s), and Motown (late 1980s)—had trouble competing with reissues of his vintage soul material. He attracted considerable publicity in the early 1980s by uniting with Joe Tex, Don Covay, and other 1960s black singers as the Soul Clan. His legend receive added luster when the highly acclaimed film, The Commitments (1991), portrayed him as soul music’s Holy Grail. Further recognition came with his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.

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