Wilson Pickett is a major figure in American soul music. With hits like “In the Midnight Hour” and “Land of 1,000 Dances”, Pickett’s place is well-established among R&B’s long list of classic hitmakers. Signed to Atlantic Records in 1964, Pickett’s tenure on the artist roster helped further distinguish the the label’s sound and brand of soul music.
Wilson Pickett was born and raised in Prattville, Alabama, where he gained a reputation for being a tough guy and a relentless provider for his family. He always had a strong sense of determination, and he knew that his future would not be limited to a life of sharecropping and tilling soil on local Alabama plantations.
At the age of fourteen, Pickett decided to leave home in search of a career as a singer. He eventually gained success as the lead singer of The Falcons, a Detroit-formed R&B group. Pickett’s undeniable solo potential caught the attention of Atlantic Records executive Jerry Wexler.
“I got the idea of calling Memphis, and I said, ‘Can I bring Pickett down there and make some records with you guys?’ [The chemistry] was fabulous.” - Jerry Wexler, Unsung
Originally Wexler experienced difficulty identifying songs that would fit Pickett’s gritty, gospel-infused vocal stylings. Therefore, he arranged recording sessions for Wilson to work with the legendary Stax Records songwriters and producers at the helm of the Memphis soul revolution. Wexler once commented, “I got the idea of calling Memphis, and I said, ‘Can I bring Pickett down there and make some records with you guys?’ [The chemistry] was fabulous.”
Pairing Pickett with Stax Records and similar studios produced a number of top-selling hits for Wilson. By the late 1960s, Wilson was riding high on his solo success, and had been dubbed “The Wicked Pickett”, a reference to his fiery vocal delivery and his intensely volatile personality.
Pickett scored a number of mega hits during the 60s and early 70s that helped define that era of urban soul music. In addition to his major pop singles, Pickett experienced success on the rhythm charts with hits like “Mustang Sally”, "634-5789" and "Funky Broadway". His biggest pop hit "Land of 1000 Dances" helped solidify his reputation as an artist whose soul sound could bring crowds to the dance floor.
After his success at the Stax studios, he headed to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where he worked with Rick Hall and the famous Swampers rhythm section. He wrote and recorded extensively with the late great Bobby Womack. In the 70s, he made records in Philadelphia with producers Kenneth Gamble & Leon Huff at Philadelphia International Records. He is also remembered for his amazing covers of famous songs. One of his best known was of The Beatles’ classic "Hey Jude". He also recorded a successful version of the Archies' "Sugar, Sugar." His critical and commercial triumph at Atlantic Records established him as a soul legend.
“Pickett was one of a kind, and he presented that every time he was in front of a microphone.” - Bobby Womack, Unsung
Wilson Pickett passed away on January 19, 2006, at the age of 64. He left a legacy of musical excellence that continues to serve as a pillar of Atlantic Records’ success. According to TvOne's Unsung documentary series, Womack once expressed that “Pickett was one of a kind, and he presented that every time he was in front of a microphone.”
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