The Soul Legends Behind Jackie Wilson's "Higher and Higher"

Jackie Wilson
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Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

When Jackie Wilson stepped into the recording booth to record a new side for Brunswick Records, "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher," he might not have known what the song would do: as Mr. Excitement's sixth and final Top 10 pop hit, it extended his legacy as a dynamic singer and performer into the late '60s, ensuring his influence on rock and roll would be known for generations to come.

But as with many pop hits, its success cannot be pinned to Wilson's lapels alone. Here are a few surprising folks who made this song come alive during an unforgettable session on July 6, 1967.

READ MORE: Higher and Higher: The Ultimate Jackie Wilson Hits

The Funk Brothers: Known as the collective of ace Detroit musicians that served as the house band for Motown Records' galaxy of stars, four Funk Brothers - bassist James Jamerson, guitarist Robert White, drummer Richard "Pistol" Allen and keyboardist Johnny Griffith - were on hand to lay down the song's iconic backing track. Many of Motown's backing players were known to take assignments by Chicago-based Brunswick producer Carl Davis to augment their modest pay at Berry Gordy's label. "I would pay 'em double scale," Davis later said, "and I'd pay 'em in cash."

READ MORE: October 1966: Four Tops on Top Again with "Reach Out I'll Be There"

The Andantes: And those weren't the only Motown moonlighters on "Higher and Higher." Known primarily as backing vocalists for acts like the Four Tops and Stevie Wonder, The Andantes were also called by Davis to participate in Wilson's session. Regular members Jackie Hicks and Marlene Barrow were present, as was singer Pat Lewis, an occasional fill-in for the group's third regular member, Louvain Demps.

Maurice White: Before creating the blockbuster soul collective Earth, Wind & Fire in the '70s, Maurice White was a voracious session drummer in the Chicago area, and by his own accounts, was present at the same session. "[We] were tight as hell," White later wrote of his time as a session player in his memoirs. "Record companies knew we could get the proper groove quickly."

READ MORE: EARTH, WIND & FIRE: Classic Soul 1977 Interview

Jackie Wilson: Jackie's expressive vocals are, of course, what seals the deal - but it took a minute to match his singing style to the track. "Jackie started singing it, and it was completely different from what I thought it should sound like," Davis said of the session. "He told me, ‘Well, come out here and sing it how you want it sung!’ So I came out and I told him, ‘This is the way it needs to go.’ He said, ‘Oh, that’s what you want?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He went back in there and in one take he did it."

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