A revered soul-music pioneer known for his electric stage show and dynamic, full-throttle wail, Wilson Pickett died of a heart attack on Jan. 19 at age 64 in Reston, Va. ”Wicked Pickett” brought a uniquely Southern gospel rasp to the charts, bridging the soul-pop of Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson and the countrified grit of Al Green and Bobby Womack. ”[He was] one of the most brilliant of all the great soul singers,” Bonnie Raitt tells EW. ”I’d have to say he’s in the top five!”
The Alabaman made the jump from church choir singer to R&B party-starter in 1959 by joining Detroit vocal group the Falcons, and then signed with Atlantic Records as a solo act five years later. While Pickett lacked any landmark albums, he scored a slew of indelible R&B hits — including 1960s classics like ”In the Midnight Hour” and ”Mustang Sally,” which have cemented a place for him in the pop canon.
Pickett rode the stylistic shifts from Muscle Shoals-style jams to Gamble and Huff’s disco-leaning brand of Philly soul until his career petered out in the mid-’70s. He continued to record and enjoyed a moment of cultural resurgence in 1991 from both the use of his music in the Irish music flick The Commitments and his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Forty years on, Pickett’s raw tunes are still as wicked as ever.
ESSENTIALS ”In the Midnight Hour” (1965) His grainy growl damn near defines grown-and-sexy carnal yearning. ”Land of 1000 Dances” (1966) Marching- band staple deserves to be heard as Pickett intended: dance-floor dynamite. ”Mustang Sally” (1966) Bar bands have hijacked it, but this midtempo classic is pure sweaty, gritty rock & soul. ”Engine Number 9” (1970) Post-Hendrix psychedelic soul with a punishing groove.