Soul legend Wilson Pickett dies aged 64
Friday January 20, 2006
Wilson Pickett, the soul pioneer best known for hard-driving hits Mustang Sally and In The Midnight Hour, has died of a heart attack in Virginia, his management company said last night. He was 64, and had been in declining health for the past year.
"We've lost a giant, we've lost a legend, we've lost a man who created his own charisma and made it work around the world," soul singer Solomon Burke, a close friend of Pickett's, told Reuters. "It's just hard for me to really grasp that Wilson is already travelling towards the greater place."
Dubbed "Wicked" Wilson Pickett by Jerry Wexler, the co-founder of Atlantic Records, where he enjoyed his greatest success, Pickett was one of the leading exponents of the hard-edged Memphis sound, far grittier than the singles then being churned out by Motown.
Along with fellow artists Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin and Smokey Robinson, Pickett roughened the texture of soul, imbuing it with a rasping force and intensity that rivalled another legend of that generation, James Brown.
Aretha Franklin said in a statement last night: "Wilson Pickett was one of the greatest soul singers of all time," adding: "He will absolutely be missed."
Born March 18, 1941 in Prattville, Alabama, Pickett grew up in a poor household, one of 11 children. Like so many vocalists of his background, he began his career in church, fleeing beatings at home to sing gospel with the local choir.
He moved to Detroit as a teen, but remained more or less unknown until joining R&B group the Falcons, with whom he scored the hit I Found a Love in 1962. He went solo a year later, and broke through to the big time after meeting Jerry Wexler and forging the connection with Atlantic in 1963.
In the Midnight Hour made the top 25 on the Billboard pop charts in 1965 and Mustang Sally did the same the following year. A chain of hits followed, including 634-5789, Funky Broadway and Land of a Thousand Dances.
But the 1970s were to prove a more difficult decade for Pickett, with steadily fewer hits and a shrinking reputation. "Like all these great legends of R&B, when disco came in, it really impacted their careers," journalist Roger Friedman, a friend of Pickett's, told Reuters.
After a decade increasingly adrift, he hit what many described as rock-bottom in the early 1990s, arrested in 1991 for yelling death threats while driving a car over the mayor's front lawn in Englewood, New Jersey, where he lived at the time.
Less than a year later, he was charged with assaulting his girlfriend, before being convicted of drunk driving in 1993 after hitting an 86-year-old man with his car. He spent most of 1994 in jail.
But a turnaround was quietly under way, inspired in part by the release of the movie The Commitments, which told the story of a Dublin band for whom Pickett was a hero. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991, and given the Pioneer award by the Rhythm and Blues Foundation two years later.
His final album, the 1999 Grammy-nominated It's Harder Now, was widely acclaimed, receiving three much-prized WC Handy awards, and Pickett continued to perform regularly into 2005.
"If I wasn't in showbusiness, I don't know what I would have been - a wanderer or something, you know?" he said in 2001. "But God blessed me with the talent and the chance. I knocked on enough doors, and this is what I can give myself credit for."