Monday, January 28, 2013

Wilson Pickett

The  "Wicked" Mr. Wilson Pickett was born March 18, 1941 in Prattville, Alabama the fourth of eleven children. It was in the Baptist church choirs he grew up singing that he developed the rough and passionate tenor-baritone and forceful delivery that was to become his trademark. Pickett cites Little Richard as a major influence, calling him "the architect of rock and roll".
Joining a local gospel group called The Violinaires in 1955, Pickett had the opportunity to tour the country supporting gospel greats such as The Soul Stirrers, The Swan Silvertones and The Davis Sisters. After four years he joined The Falcons, a gospel group that was having success in the secular market and also included at the time Eddie Floyd and Sir Mack Rice as members. The Falcons recorded a song called "I Found A Love" which was co-written by Pickett and featured his lead vocals. It became a minor hit and paved the way for Pickett to begin a solo career, where he would later re-record "I Found A Love" to much greater success.

Pickett's began his solo career, but not without a misstep or two. His biggest rookie mistake was when he recorded a demo of a song he co-wrote called "If You Need Me", a slow-tempo ballad that included a spoken sermon. The fledgling star-to-be sent the demo to Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler who promptly gave the song to Solomon Burke, one of the label's more popular artists. Burke re-recorded the song and it became one of his biggest hits ( #2 RnB, #37 pop) and is now considered a standard in soul music. When Pickett returned to Wexler's studio, the producer had the nerve to ask Pickett if he was upset at having his song taken. Pickett, though crushed to the point of tears, did not let on any hard feelngs to Wexler. Pickett recorded his own version on Double L Records, where it became a moderate hit, peaking at #30 RnB, and #64 pop. His next recording, "It's Too Late" gave Pickett his first significant hit, entering the charts in 1963 and peaking at #7 RnB and #49 pop. This song's success convinced Wexler and Atlantic Records to buy out his contract with Double L Records in 1964.

Pickett's Atlantic period began with the recording of the self-produced "I'm Gonna Cry", which went nowhere. Seeing that help was needed, Atlantic handed the singer to producer Bert Burns and established songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. This team came up with "Come Home, Baby", a duet with singer Tami Lynn. This one also failed to chart. It was the third time that indeed proved the charm at Stax Records' studio in Memphis, where with the in-house band including guitarist Steve Cropper, drummer Al Jackson and bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn (oddly enough, keyboardist Booker T.Jones never appeared on a Wilson Pickett recording), 1965's "In The Midnight Hour" was recorded. The song went to #1 in the RnB charts, #21 pop and to #12 in the U.K. It received a gold disc for over a million records sold.

1965 also brought keyboard great Isaac Hayes to Pickett's recording sessions as well as follow-up hits such as "Don't Fight It" (#4 RnB, #53 pop), "634-5789" (#1 RnB, #13 pop) and "Ninety Nine And A Half Won't Do" (#13 RnB, #53 pop). The following year Pickett began recording at Atlantic's Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama where he gave us the immortal Sir Mack Rice composition "Mustang Sally" and his third #1 song, a frenetic rendering of Cannibal And The Headhunter's "Land Of 1000 Dances". The latter would be his highest pop chart hit ever, peaking at #6 and another million seller.
Towards the end of 1967, Pickett began a long-standing collaboration with Bobby Womack. Womack would write and play guitar on most of Pickett's output in 1967 and 1968, including "Im A Midnight Mover", "I'm In Love", "She's Looking Good" and the blues standard "Stagger Lee". Pickett's studio musicians also included guitarist Duane Allman, keyboardist Spooner Oldham, bassist Jerry Jemmott, drummers Roger Hawkins and Buddy Miles, just to name a few.

The by now truly Wicked Mr. Pickett continued his chart-topping ways in 1969 with covers of The Supremes' "You Keep Me Hangin' On" (#16 RnB, #92 pop) and of all things The Archies' hit "Sugar,Sugar (#4 RnB, #25 pop). Then it was off to Philadelphia where he teamed up in 1970 with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff to record the album Wilson Pickett In Philadelphia which included "Engine #9" and the million-selling "Don't Let The Green Grass Fool You".
It was back to Muscle Shoals in 1971 to record his fifth and last #1 RnB hit "Don't Knock My Love" as well as "Call My Name, I'll Be There"(#10 RnB, #52 pop) and a personal favorite of mine, his cover of Free's "Fire And Water"(#2 RnB, #24 pop).

After his final single for Atlantic, a cover of Randy Newman's "Mama Told Me Not To Come" was released in 1972, Pickett left Atlantic for RCA Records. While he did score four top 30 RnB hits for RCA, his crossover appeal seemed to be on the wane. After being unable to chart higher than #90 on the pop charts, RCA dropped Pickett from the label in 1975. He continued to record sporadically with other labels over the following years until 1999. Pickett did however, remain active as a live performer throughout this period up until 2004 when he became too ill to tour.

As with so many of our most gifted artists, a turbulent private life seems to be part of the package. This was true in the case of Wilson Pickett. In his younger years he was known as a tempermental man who had a liking for firearms.This unfortunate combination resulted in run-ins with the law for illegal weapons possession. Being a man who liked to pull a cork with the best of them brought him DUI convictions and various drug arrests during his career. Despite these struggles, Pickett received much acknowledgement for his contributions to popular music. His music was prominently featured in the film The Commitments, in which he was an off-screen character. He was given The Pioneer Award by The Rhythm And Blues Foundation in 1993. In 1995 he was inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. He appeared in the 1998 film The Blues Brothers 2000 performing "634-5789". His songs have been covered by many prominent artists including Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, The Grateful Dead, Roxy Music, Bruce Springsteen, The Jam, Booker T. And The MG's and Van Halen.

On January 19, 2006 Wilson Pickett died  of a heart attack in Reston, Virginia at the age of 64. He was laid to rest at the Evergreen Cemetary in Louisville, Kentucky where he lived for many years. He left us all a "Wicked" legacy of soul.

Monday, January 14, 2013

I Love Oldies


Here is a well-deserved plug for a group formed by the eminently knowledgable and prolific radio personality Steve Shockley.If you are a fan of oldies music and related topics, do yourself a favor and register to Linked In, a really great networking site. Then immediately find and join "I Love Oldies", where you can discuss you favorite kind of music (oldies, of course!) and enjoy the deep, hard-won, and entertaining insights of Mr. Shockley. Once you do that,you can also check out "Rock With The Shock", Steve's own site which features Steve's radio broadcasts. You will not be sorry you did. The links: