Wilson Pickett brought the gruff, throaty power of his gospel-trained voice to bear on some of the most incendiary soul music of the Sixties. Some of his best work, including “In the Midnight Hour” and “634-5789,” was cut in the mid-Sixties at Stax studios in Memphis and released on Atlantic Records. Pickett also connected with the crew of house musicians at Muscle Shoals, where, beginning in 1966, he cut such memorable soul smashes as “Land of 1,000 Dances,” “Mustang Sally” and “Funky Broadway.” Pickett enjoyed a steady run of hits on Atlantic, leaving behind a legacy of some of the deepest, funkiest soul music ever to emerge from the South.
Pickett’s forceful style was nurtured in the Baptist choirs of his native Prattville, Alabama, and on the streets of Detroit, where he moved with his family as a teenager. After singing for four years in a locally popular gospel-harmony group, the Violinaires, Pickett crossed into secular music, joining the Falcons in 1959. In addition to Pickett, the Falcons included future soul stars Eddie Floyd and Sir Mack Rice. The Falcons’ gospel-influenced R&B style gave shape to the Detroit soul scene of the early Sixties, and their biggest hit, “I Found a Love,” eventually led to Pickett’s signing to Atlantic Records.
Nicknamed “the Wicked Pickett” for his boasting, uninhibited style, the gruff-throated singer came into his own during his 1965 sessions at Stax, arranged by Atlantic’s Jerry Wexler. Pickett collaborated with Booker T. and the M.G.’s guitarist Steve Cropper on “In the Midnight Hour,” one of the most enduring soul classics of all time. Its success signaled a new era of soul in which the focus shifted to the looser, funkier sounds of the South. It also launched a string of raucous hits by Pickett, whose gleeful swagger and raw sexuality - qualities particularly evident on 1968’s “I’m a Midnight Mover,” one of his biggest pop/R&B hits - anticipated the boasting persona adopted by rappers in subsequent decades.
The early Seventies, Pickett collaborated with the Philadelphia-based production team of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. He cut the album In Philadelphia (1970) and scored such sizable hits as “Engine Number 9” and “Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You” in the emerging Philly-soul style, which would become a cornerstone sound of that decade. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Pickett remained a viable hitmaker well into the Seventies. His 1971 album Don’t Knock My Love yielded four charting singles, including the title track, a #1 R&B hit. Subsequently, Pickett recorded for other companies, including RCA and Motown, and even founded his own Wicked label in the mid-Seventies. Remaining active into the Eighties on the touring and recording fronts, Pickett continued to embody the notion of soul at its ferocious, unbridled best.
Wilson Pickett died of a heart attack in 2006.