Wilson Pickett grew up singing in church in Detroit. He joined a gospel group, the Violinaires, at the age of fourteen. He left gospel music when it became clear that he could make more money singing rhythm and blues.
Wilson recorded Let Me Be Your Boy in 1959. The record featured the Primettes, four high school girls, singing backup vocals. A few years later the girls signed up with Motown Records and became the Supremes.
When that record failed to chart, Wilson joined the Falcons with Eddie Floyd for three years. While with the group, he co-wrote and sang lead on some songs.
In 1963, Wilson finally began charting with solo releases. He wrote the song It’s Too Late, which reached #7 on the R&B chart and #49 on the Hot 100.
Steve Cropper was a producer and the guitar player for Booker T & the MGs at Stax studios in Memphis. Atlantic Records signed Wilson to a recording contract and sent him to Memphis to work with Steve. Steve and Wilson co-wrote In The Midnight Hour. Steve co-produced the recording with Jim Stewart (the owner of the Stax record label). It became one of Wilson’s most important recordings. The single topped the R&B chart in 1965 and became his first top forty single on the Hot 100, where it reached #21.
Jim closed the Stax studios to anybody that was not signed to the Stax label, and Wilson and Steve moved to a studio near Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Three more singles reached the Hot 100 in 1966, including one top ten record on the Hot 100 (Land Of 1,000 Dances). That single and the release of 634-5789 (Soulsville, U.S.A.) both also reached number one on the R&B chart.
Wilson released seven singles in 1967, including another number one R&B record (Funky Broadway) that also reached the top ten on the Hot 100. Another seven releases followed in 1968, and the biggest hit that year came with She’s Lookin’ Good. The single landed in the top ten on the R&B chart and peaked at #15 on the Hot 100. His last single in 1968 was a cover of the Beatle song Hey Jude, which featured Duane Allman on lead guitar.
Wilson continued charting with hit singles through 1974.
In 1998 he appeared in the film Blues Brothers 2000 and sang 634-5789 with Eddie Floyd. That appearance helped start a comeback that peaked with a Grammy nomination for a new album in 1999.
Wilson routinely performed in concerts until health problems slowed him down in 2004. He died after a heart attack in 2006.
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