Wilson Pickett, R.I.P.

wilson-pickett.jpg I’m sorry the music world lost Wilson Pickett today at the young age of 64. He was one of my favorites, going back to the days when I only bought 45’s. He popularized “Land of 1000 Dances,” originally recorded by Thee Midnighters, the classic East LA band.

Other hits like “Mustang Sally,” “In the Midnight Hour,” “Funky Broadway,” “634-5789,” and “She’s Lookin’ Good” still sound fresh and spunky today. His version of “Hey Jude,” featuring a skyrocketing guitar solo by Duane Allman, stands right up next to the Beatles’ original. Pickett even made a piece of bubblegum like “Sugar, Sugar” into a funky delight.

He had one of the friendliest voices in soul music. Kind of like Rod Stewart, you could feel from the way he sang he was a happy guy — although of course the real Pickett was more complicated. It is an enduring mystery to me how great performers like Pickett can be sidelined merely by changes in musical fashion, but as the 70s R&B picked up a disco beat, “Wicked Pickett” faded from view.
Pickett was one of the artists who recorded for Ahmet Ertegun‘s Atlantic Records, out of their great studios in Memphis, Tennessee and Muscle Shoals, Alabama — along with Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Don Covay and Sam & Dave. I don’t think the world will ever stop listening to the hits that came out of that fertile territory.

Like Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and Sam Cooke, Pickett’s music roots were in gospel. I doubt there will never be another musical development like the migration of the gospel sound to rhythm & blues, from yearning after God to making “the devil’s music.” But can music so soulful really be a product of the devil? I don’t think so.

I hope Wilson Pickett knew how much joy his music gave people. You can’t even say the titles of his songs without swinging to their beat.


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