A powerful singer with a gruff, swaggering, no-nonsense delivery, Wilson Pickett proudly wears the nickname "Wicked." A real trouper on the rhythm and blues circuit, he amassed a string of hit singles, and was partially responsible for establishing Memphis, Muscle Shoals (AL) and Philadelphia as recording centers for other than local musicians. He may have been the link between the earthy genre known as deep soul and the lighter, poppier Motown sound.
Pickett's family moved from Pratteville, Alabama, to Detroit when Wilson was a teenager. He soon joined a gospel group, the Violinaires, where he remained for four years before joining the Falcons, a gospel-flavored secular group that also included singers Eddie Floyd and Sir Mack Rice. While Joe Stubbs - brother of the Four Tops' Levi - had sung lead on the Falcons' earlier hits (including You're So Fine), Pickett, who'd joined in 1961 and it was his lead on I Found a Love that led to his signing with Atlantic Records.
His first solo record, 1963's If You Need Me, was recorded in Memphis with the Stax Records house band. It did moderately well, but a version by Solomon Burke released virtually simultaneously - and also on Atlantic - did even better.
Still at Stax, Picket wrote (with Steve Cropper) and recorded what may remain his signature record, and certainly a bar-band standard, In the Midnight Hour. Other Stax-recorded hits followed, including 634-5789. In 1966, a fall-out between Pickett's producer - Jerry Wexler - and Stax Records led to Pickett's subsequent recordings at FAME (Florence Alabama Music Enterprises) Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.
In Rick Hall's studio, and backed by local session musicians, Pickett recorded a string of classic recordings including Mustang Sally (composed by his fellow former Falcon, Sir Mack Rice), and revivals of other artists' earlier hits, turned gold by Pickett's dynamic - almost threatening - voice: Dyke & the Blazers'Funky Broadway; Chris Kenner's Land of 1,000 Dances, Paul McCartney's Hey Jude, and The Archies' Sugar, Sugar among them.
In 1970, Atlantic moved Pickett to Philadelphia, to work with producer-songwriters Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, who had produced labelmate Dusty Springfield's A Brand New Me. Pickett's singles with Gamble and Huff,including Don't Let the Green Grass Fool You; Engine Number 9; Don't Knock My Love; and International Playboy, helped establish the Philadelphia Sound.
Pickett left Atlantic, recording with decreasing commercial success for labels including RCA, Motown, his own Wicked Records, and Bullseye. Maybe it was the labels, and maybe the audience was changing, but - while remaining a strong and in-demand live attraction - Pickett's records gradually slipped from the charts.
Pickett was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991, and in 1998 appeared in the film Blues Brothers 2000 - performing his hit 634-5789 alongside former Falcon Eddie Floyd and young guitar phenom Jonny Lang.