March 18: Wilson Pickett was born on this date in 1941...

... he died in Reston, Virginia on January 19, 2006 from a heart attack. He was 64 years-old.

Born in Prattville, Alabama, Wilson Pickett was a major figure in the development of American soul music, Pickett recorded over 50 songs which made the US R&B charts, and frequently crossed over to the US Billboard Hot 100.
Among his best known hits are "In the Midnight Hour" (which he co-wrote), "Land of 1,000 Dances," "Mustang Sally," and "Funky Broadway."

Pickett was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.
Pickett grew up singing in Baptist church choirs. His passionate style of singing was developed in the church and on the streets of Detroit, under the influence of recording stars such as Little Richard.

In 1955, Pickett became part of a gospel music group called the Violinaires who sang on church tours across the country. In 1959 he left gospel music for the more lucrative secular music market. Wilson joined the Falcons, one of the first vocal groups to bring gospel into the pop mainstream, and helping pave the way for soul music.

Pickett's biggest success with The Falcons came in 1962, when "I Found a Love," (co-authored by Pickett and featuring his lead vocals), peaked at #6 on the R&B chart, and at #75 on the Hot 100.

Soon after recording "I Found a Love," Pickett cut his first solo recordings, including "I'm Gonna Cry." Pickett also recorded a demo for a song he co-wrote, called "If You Need Me," a slow-burning soul ballad featuring a spoken sermon which Pickett sent to Jerry Wexler, a producer at Atlantic Records.

Wexler heard the demo and gave it to one of the label's own recording artists, Solomon Burke. Burke's recording of "If You Need Me" became one of his biggest hits (#2 R&B, #37 Pop) and is now considered a soul standard, but Pickett was crushed when he discovered that Atlantic had given away his song. Pickett's version of the song was released on Double L Records, and was a moderate hit, peaking at #30 R&B, #64 pop.

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Greatest Hits

Pickett's first big success as a solo artist came with "It's Too Late," which entered the charts on July 27, 1963, and peaked at #7 on the R&B chart. This record's success convinced Atlantic to buy Pickett's recording contract from Double L Records in 1964.

Pickett's Atlantic career began with a self-produced single, "I'm Gonna Cry." Looking to boost Pickett's chart chances, Atlantic next paired him with record producer Bert Berns and established songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. With this team, Pickett recorded "Come Home Baby," a duet with singer Tami Lynn, but this single failed to chart.

Pickett's breakthrough came in 1965 at Stax Records' where he recorded his third Atlantic single, "In the Midnight Hour," his best-remembered hit, peaking at #1 R&B, #21 pop in the U.S., and #12 in the U.K. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc.

Pickett recorded three sessions at Stax in May and October 1965, and was joined by keyboardist Isaac Hayes for the October sessions. In addition to "In the Midnight Hour," Pickett's 1965 recordings included the singles "Don't Fight It," "634-5789 (Soulsville, U.S.A,)" and "Ninety-Nine and A Half (Won't Do)."

For his next sessions, Pickett went to Fame Studios, another recording studio with a closer association to Atlantic Records. Located in a converted tobacco warehouse in nearby Muscle Shoals, Alabama, Pickett recorded some of his biggest hits there. This included the highest charting version of "Land of 1,000 Dances," which became Pickett's third R&B #1, and his biggest ever pop hit, peaking at #6.

Other big hits from this era in Pickett's career included two other covers: "Mustang Sally," and "Funky Broadway." Both were million sellers.

Pickett with Duane Allman
Pickett returned to Fame Studios in late 1968 and early 1969, where he worked with a band that featured guitarist Duane Allman, Hawkins and David Hood. A #16 pop hit cover of The Beatles' "Hey Jude" came from these Fame sessions, as well as the minor hits "Mini-Skirt Minnie" and "Hey Joe."

Pickett continued to record with some success on the R&B charts for RCA in 1973 and 1974, scoring four top 30 R&B hits with "Mr. Magic Man," "Take a Closer Look at the Woman You're With," "International Playboy" and "Soft Soul Boogie Woogie." However, he was no longer crossing over to the pop charts with any regularity, as none of these songs reached higher than #90 on the Hot 100.

In 1975, with Pickett's once-prominent chart career on the wane, RCA dropped Pickett from the label. Pickett continued to record sporadically with several labels over the following decades, occasionally making the lower to mid-range of the R&B charts, however he never had another pop hit after 1974.

His last record was issued in 1999, although he remained fairly active on the touring front until he became ill in 2004. Pickett appeared in the 1998 film Blues Brothers 2000, performing "634-5789"