Al Wilson was born in Mississippi. Before he even finished school he was showing talent in acting, singing, and even art. He formed his own quartet to sing in church. His family moved to California, where he finished high school and then toured with Johnny Harris and the Statesmen for four years.
After a stint in the military, Al returned to Los Angeles and began singing in clubs. He joined a succession of groups before an audition with Johnny Rivers got him a contract with Soul Records.
Johnny had included the song Do What You Gotta Do on his 1967 Rewind album, a song written by Jimmy Webb. The first time Al charted was with a single of that song that reached #38 on the R&B chart. After that success, Johnny produced several songs for Al, including his next release, The Snake. The single peaked at #27 on the Hot 100.
Johnny also produced Al’s next single, a cover of a song Johnny had taken to #1 in 1966: Poor Side Of Town. Al’s single charted, but only reached #75 on the Hot 100.
In 1969, Johnny produced Al’s version of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Lodi. The single reached only #67. While Al continued recording and releasing singles, he didn’t chart at all for the next four years.
In 1973, Al signed with a new label. He started working with Jerry Fuller, who had previously written Travelling Man and several hits for The Union Gap. They came up with Show And Tell, the biggest hit of Al’s career. The single reached the top of the Hot 100 and made it into the top ten of the R&B chart.
A few more singles reached the Hot 100 and the top twenty of the R&B chart. In the late sixties and early seventies, a collection of nightclubs in Middle and Northern UK began using deejays who spun records that were not previously very popular. They specialized in playing dance music that was R&B in nature, but not from Motown. The Northern Soul market grew in popularity, and in 1975, Al’s recording of The Snake was hugely popular in the dance clubs. They reissued the single, and it reached #41 on the UK chart. It was the only time Al charted in the UK. Most listings of popular records associated with Northern Soul include The Snake as one of their top ten most popular records.
Al’s string of chart records on the Hot 100 ended in 1976 when his recording of I’ve Got a Feeling (We’ll Be Seeing Each Other Again) peaked at #29 on the Hot 100 and #3 on the R&B chart. Al recorded albums of new material in 1976 and 1979 and continued to appear on the oldies circuit until his death from kidney failure in 2008.
The Snake continued to live on thanks to Donald Trump. He began reciting the lyrics to the song in 2016 at campaign appearances to highlight the risks of illegal immigration. Al’s children have petitioned Trump to stop, but since they don’t own the lyrics to the song they could not put an end to its usage: Trump was still reciting the poem in 2020.
My books are on sale on Amazon (or free with Kindle Unlimited) and contain a lot more Lost or Forgotten Oldies: