Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Wilson Pickett came into this world March 18, 1941 and exited it Jan. 19, 2006. Between those two dates, “The Wicked Pickett” taught lots of people what soul was about, as well as how to dance a thousand different ways.
An Alabaman by birth, Pickett moved to Detroit as a teenager and became one of the foundational performers in that city’s R&B and rock ‘n’ roll scenes. After some minor chart success on small record labels, he moved to Atlantic Records, went down to Stax Records’ studio in Memphis and recorded “In the Midnight Hour” in 1965. Produced by Jerry Wexler and featuring three-fourths of Booker T. & the MGs (Stax’s house band), the track made deep impacts on the pop and R&B charts, and earned Pickett a gold record and a Grammy nomination.
After a fruitful writing and recording partnership with guitarist Steve Cropper at Stax, Pickett went down to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, to record at the legendary Fame Studios, and scored an immediate hit with his cover of “Land of 1,000 Dances.”
More hits followed – his take on the Mack Rice song “Mustang Sally” was a big one for him, as was his cover of Dyke & The Blazers’ “Funky Broadway,” which hit No. 1 on the R&B chart, and was a Top 10 pop hit.
After years away from Muscle Shoals, Pickett returned in 1968 to record with a band that included the great Duane Allman on guitar. The result was the album Hey Jude - a classic that featured a cover of Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild” and the title track, The Beatles’ biggest chart hit. “Hey Jude” (the song) hit the Top 20 on the pop chart, and is one of Pickett’s most enduring covers.
Pickett would record several more hits for Atlantic before leaving the label in 1972. He recorded for years afterward, but never quite scaled the same creative or commercial heights again. He is a legendary figure, and his best work will live on forever.