Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

R&B Singer Wilson Pickett Dead at 64

R&B legend Wilson Pickett – the man behind classics including “Mustang Sally” and “Land of 1,000 Dances” – died yesterday of a heart attack in a hospital in Reston, Va., near his home in Ashburn. He was 64.

Known as “Wicked Pickett,” he was not as widely appreciated as some of his peers, such as Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding, made a name for himself with his raw soul sound. President of the Recording Academy Neil Portnow wrote in a statement, “Wilson Pickett was a pioneer of the hard-edged Memphis sound with his trademark raspy vocals, raw soul and funky beats… His music transcends decades to come and will continue to inspire and stir music fans and music makers alike.”

Born March 18, 1941 in Prattville, Ala., Picket first began singing in Southern Baptist churches. He had a less than perfect childhood, however, as the last of 11 children. He told author Gerri Hershey, “The baddest woman in my book…my mother… I get scared of her now. She used to hit me with anything, skillets, stove wood … [one time I ran away and] cried for a week. Stayed in the woods, me and my little dog,” for the book Nowhere to Run: The Story of Soul Music.

As a teenager, he moved to Detroit, where he began singing with the gospel harmony group the Violinaires. In 1959, he was recruited by the Falcons and helped them score a top ten R&B hit with “I Found a Love” in 1962. He soon left the group to pursue a solo career and issued three albums, spawning hits “If You Need Me” and “It’s Too Late,” before signing to Atlantic in 1965.

Atlantic sent Pickett to record at Stax in Memphis, where one of the first products was the influential “In the Midnight Hour,” which Pickett co-wrote With its raw, passionate vocals and funky beats, the song helped bring about the soul age. He continued to produce a string of successes at the studio under Atlantic tutelage, including “Mustang Sally,” “Land of 1,000 Dances,” “Funky Broadway” and “634-5789.”

Pickett was soon also a regular at Muscle Shoals studio, recording early songs by Bobby Womack and covering tunes by the Archies the Beatles – a young Duane Allman was session guitarist for Pickett’s rendition of “Hey Jude.” The early 1970s saw hits including “Don’t Knock My Love” and “Get Me Back on Time, Engine Number 9.”

After releasing his last album on Atlantic – 1971’s Engine Number 9 – Pickett’s career began to dwindle. While still recording albums regularly for labels including RCA Victor and EMI, Pickett’s last big hit of the era was “Fire and Water” in 1972.

His last album, 1999’s It’s Harder Now, however, garnered him a 2000 Grammy nomination. AllMusic called the record “A comeback album that exceeds all expectations and acts as proof that Pickett is still wicked headed into the 21st century.”

Pickett was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991, but he was also arrested that same year, and in subsequent years, for charges ranging from assault to drunk driving.

Pickett is survived by his fiancé, Gail Webb; sons Lynderrick and Michael; and daughters Veda and Saphan. A viewing will be held in Virginia next week and he will be interred with his mother in Louisville, Ky.

Originally Published