A Rockapaedia Obituary
Pickett died of a heart attack on 19th January 2006, in Reston, Virginia, U.S.A. at the age of sixty-four. He was laid to rest in a mausoleum at Evergreen Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky. Wilson was was survived by his six children.
The eulogy was delivered by Pastor Steve Owens of Decatur, Georgia. Little Richard, a long-time friend of Wilson Pickett's, spoke about him and preached a message at the funeral.
Throughout the 1990s, Wilson Pickett was repeatedly honored for his contributions to music. In addition to being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991, his music was prominently featured in the film The Commitments, with Wilson Pickett as an off-screen character. In 1993, he was honored with a Pioneer Award by the Rhythm and Blues Foundation.
Wilson Picket was a popular composer, writing songs that were recorded by many artists, including Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, the Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, the Grateful Dead, Booker T. & the MGs, Genesis, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Hootie & the Blowfish, Echo & the Bunnymen, Roxy Music, Bruce Springsteen, Los Lobos, the Jam and Ani DiFranco, among others.
Wilson Picket returned to the studio and received a Grammy Award nomination for the 1999 album It's Harder Now. The comeback resulted in his being honored as Soul/Blues Male Artist of the Year by the Blues Foundation in Memphis. It's Harder Now was voted 'Comeback Blues Album of the Year' and 'Soul/Blues Album of the Year.'
He co-starred in the 2002 documentary Only the Strong Survive, directed by D. A. Pennebaker, a selection of both the 2002 Cannes and Sundance Film Festivals. In 2003, Wilson Picket was a judge for the second annual Independent Music Awards to support independent artists' careers.
Wilson Picket spent the twilight of his career playing dozens of concert dates every year until 2004, when he began suffering from health problems. While in the hospital, he returned to his spiritual roots and told his sister that he wanted to record a gospel album, but he never recovered.
Wilson Picket was born on 18th March 1941 in Prattville, Alabama, and sang in Baptist church choirs. He was the fourth of eleven children and lived with his mother but eventually left to live with his father in Detroit in 1955.
Wilson Picket's forceful, passionate style of singing was developed in the church and on the streets of Detroit, under the influence of recording stars such as Little Richard, whom he referred to as "the architect of rock and roll."
In 1955, Wilson Picket joined the Violinaires , a gospel group. The Violinaires played with another gospel group on concert tour in America. After singing for four years in the popular gospel-harmony group, Wilson Picket, lured by the success of gospel singers who had moved to the lucrative secular music market, joined the Falcons in 1959.
The Falcons were an early vocal group bringing gospel into a popular context, thus paving the way for soul music. The group featured notable members who became major solo artists; when Wilson Picket joined the group, Eddie Floyd and Mack Rice were members. Wilson Picket's biggest success with the Falcons was "I Found a Love", co-written by Wilson Picket and featuring his lead vocals. While only a minor hit for the Falcons, it paved the way for Wilson Picket to embark on a solo career. Wilson Picket later had a solo hit with a re-recorded two-part version of the song, included on his 1967 album The Sound of Wilson Picket.
Soon after recording "I Found a Love", Wilson Picket cut his first solo recordings, including "I'm Gonna Cry", in collaboration with Don Covay. Wilson Picket also recorded a demo for a song he co-wrote, "If You Need Me", a slow-burning soul ballad featuring a spoken sermon. Wilson Picket sent the demo to Jerry Wexler, a producer at Atlantic Records. Wexler gave it to the label's recording artist Solomon Burke, Atlantic's biggest star at the time. Burke admired Wilson Picket's performance of the song, but his own recording of "If You Need Me" became one of his biggest hits and is considered a soul standard. Wilson Picket was crushed when he discovered that Atlantic had given away his song.
Wilson Picket's first significant success as a solo artist came with "It's Too Late," an original composition. Entering the charts in July of 1963, it peaked at number seven on the Rythm&Blues chart ; the same title was used for Wilson Picket's debut album, released in the same year. Compiling several of Wilson Picket's single releases for Double L, It's Too Late showcased a raw soulful sound that foreshadowed the singer's performances throughout the coming decade. The single's success persuaded Wexler and Atlantic to buy Wilson Picket's recording contract from Double L in 1964.
Wilson Picket's Atlantic career began with the self-produced single, "I'm Gonna Cry". Looking to boost Wilson Picket's chart chances, Atlantic paired him with record producer Bert Berns and established songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. With this team, Wilson Picket recorded "Come Home Baby," a duet with singer Tami Lynn, but this single failed to chart.
Wilson Picket's breakthrough came at Stax Records' studio in Memphis, Tennessee, where he recorded his third Atlantic single, "In the Midnight Hour" in 1965. This song was Wilson Picket's first big hit, peaking at number one Rythm&Blues, number twenty-one pop (US), and number twelve (UK). It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc.
The genesis of "In the Midnight Hour" was a recording session on 12th May 1965, at which Wexler worked out a powerful rhythm track with studio musicians Steve Cropper and Al Jackson of the Stax Records house band, including bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn. Wilson Picket recorded three sessions at Stax in May and October 1965. He was joined by keyboardist Isaac Hayes for the October sessions. For his next sessions, Wilson Picket did not return to Stax, as the label's owner, Jim Stewart, had decided in December 1965 to ban outside productions. Wexler took Wilson Picket to Fame Studios, a studio also with a close association with Atlantic Records, located in a converted tobacco warehouse in nearby Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Wilson Picket recorded some of his biggest hits there, including the highest-charting version of "Land of 1,000 Dances", which was his third Rythm&Blues number-one and his biggest pop hit, peaking at number six and it was a million-selling disc.
Other big hits from this era in Wilson Picket's career included two covers: Mack Rice's "Mustang Sally" and Dyke & the Blazers' "Funky Broadway". Both tracks were million sellers.
Near the end of 1967, Wilson Picket began recording at American Studios in Memphis with producers Tom Dowd and Tommy Cogbill, and began recording songs by Bobby Womack. The songs "I'm in Love," "Jealous Love," "I've Come a Long Way," "I'm a Midnight Mover," (co-written by Wilson Picket and Womack), and "I Found a True Love" were Womack-penned hits for Wilson Picket in 1967 and 1968. Wilson Picket recorded works by other songwriters in this period; Rodger Collins' "She's Lookin' Good" and a cover of the traditional blues standard "Stagger Lee" were Top Forty hits Wilson Picket recorded at American.
Wilson Picket returned to Fame Studios in late 1968 and early 1969, where he worked with a band that featured guitarist Duane Allman, Hawkins, and bassist Jerry Jemmott. A number sixteen pop hit cover of The Beatles' "Hey Jude" came out of the Fame sessions, as well as the minor hits "Mini-Skirt Minnie" and "Hey Joe" also a Jimi Hendrix hit.
Late 1969 found Wilson Picket at Criteria Studios in Miami. Hit covers of the Supremes' "You Keep Me Hangin' On" and The Archies' "Sugar Sugar" and the Wilson Picket original "She Said Yes" came from these sessions.
Wilson Picket then teamed up with established Philadelphia-based hit-makers Gamble and Huff for the 1970 album Wilson Wilson Picket in Philadelphia, which featured his next two hit singles, "Engine No. 9" and "Don't Let the Green Grass Fool You", the latter selling one million copies.
Following these two hits, Wilson Picket returned to Muscle Shoals and the band featuring David Hood, Hawkins and Tippy Armstrong. This lineup recorded Wilson Picket's fifth and last Rythm&Blues number1 hit, "Don't Knock My Love, Pt. 1". It was another Wilson Picket recording that rang up sales in excess of a million copies. Two further hits followed in 1971: "Call My Name, I'll Be There" and "Fire and Water", a cover of the song by Free.
Wilson Picket recorded several tracks in 1972 for a planned new album on Atlantic, but after the single "Funk Factory" reached number eleven Rythm&Blues and number fifty-eight pop in June 1972, he left Atlantic for RCA Records. His final Atlantic single, a cover of Randy Newman's "Mama Told Me Not to Come," was culled from Wilson Picket's 1971 album Don't Knock My Love. However, six years later, the Big Tree division of Atlantic released his album, Funky Situation, in 1978.
In 2010, Rhino Handmade released a comprehensive compilation of these years titled Funky Midnight Mover – The Studio Recordings (1962–1978). The compilation included all recordings originally issued during Wilson Picket's Atlantic years along with previously unreleased recordings. This collection was sold online only by Rhino.com.
Wilson Picket continued to record with success on the Rythm&Blues charts for RCA in 1973 and 1974, scoring four top 30 Rythm&Blues hits with "Mr. Magic Man", "Take a Closer Look at the Woman You're With", "International Playboy" , and "Soft Soul Boogie Woogie". However, he was failing to cross over to the pop charts with regularity, as none of these songs reached higher than number 90 on the Hot 100. In 1975, with Wilson Picket's once-prominent chart career on the wane, RCA dropped him from the label. After being dropped, he formed the short-lived Wicked label, where he released one LP, Chocolate Mountain. In 1978, he made a disco album with Big Tree Records titled Funky Situation, which is a coincidence as, at that point, Big Tree was distributed by his former label, Atlantic. The following year, he released an album on EMI titled I Want You.
Wilson Picket continued to record sporadically with several labels over the following decades (including Motown), occasionally making the lower to mid-range of the Rythm&Blues charts, but he had no pop hit after 1974. His last record was issued in 1999, although he remained fairly active on the touring front until falling ill in 2004.