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Wilson Pickett: A biography


I am happy to announce my next book project: the first ever biography of WILSON PICKETT, to be published by Oxford University Press in 2016.

wp with JH

Wilson Pickett with Jimi Hendrix, Atlantic Records party in NYC, c. 1966

This is a book I have wanted to write for a long time and I am ecstatic to have placed it with such a reputable publishing house. I believe Wilson Pickett’s life story is, in its own right, every bit as important, eventful and fascinating as that of Keith Moon, for reasons that may be apparent to those who know its details. For those that don’t, the following is excerpted from the book proposal. I look forward to keeping you updated:

 

He was “Wicked” Wilson Pickett, the Midnight Mover, the Man and a Half. He was the Soul Screamer behind an incomparable series of major hit singles that spanned the breadth of the 1960s and early 1970s like no contemporary: “In the Midnight Hour,” “Land of 1000 Dances,” “Mustang Sally,” “Funky Broadway,” “Hey Jude,” and “Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You,” to name just a few. He was a magnetic stage presence whose thunderous performances were given to repeated stage invasions by men and women of all colors, eager to bask (and dance) in his radiant glow. In an era graced by so many epic soul voices, Pickett was arguably the greatest, the most consistently popular, the most visceral and sensual; certainly, after the death of Otis Redding in 1967, any debate became superfluous. Such was his status that he headlined the first black American music package ever to perform in Africa, in Ghana in 1971. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on his first year of eligibility, 1991, Wilson Pickett was also canonized on film that year as the central – if unseen – character in the international hit movie The Commitments.

 

As often with a superstar, he was no easy ride. Born into poverty, one of eleven children from a share-cropping family of cotton pickers in Alabama, Pickett grew up tough, his physically demanding streak manifesting in a series of run-ins with the law from the 1970s onwards. As his career suffered with the onslaught of synthetic soul and disco, he was partly blinded in one eye after a fight with one of his own entourage, struggled with drink and alcohol, did not show for his induction into the Hall of Fame, and spent much of 1993 in jail. Fortunately, a 1999 come-back album, It’s Harder Now, was critically acclaimed, received a Grammy nomination, brought him back to the concert stage as a legacy artist, and allowed him to end his career on a high.

 

Ultimately, Wilson Pickett, who passed away in 2006 from a heart attack, at age 64, was so much more than just a monumental singer, a musical icon, and a troubled individual. His journey – geographical, musical and cultural – was emblematic of his entire generation of southern black men in post-World War II USA, criss-crossing the country in pursuit of the American dream. By virtue of his peripatetic lifestyle and his relentless drive, and to an extent completely unrivaled by his contemporaries, Pickett spent two decades constantly at the vanguard of new sounds, genres, movements and fashions. He was there at the peak of the gospel circuit, the heady high times of the R&B vocal groups, the infancy of soul, the beginning of Tamla/Motown, the heyday of Atlantic, the golden age of Stax, the emergence of the Muscle Shoals sound, the crossover to rock, the birth of Philly Soul, and the peak of black power. Put simply, Wilson Pickett personified the journey of black American music in the second half of the Twentieth Century.

 

Wilson Pickett in Ghana, 1971 (not 1966 as indicated on the video).

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