.

100 Greatest Artists

69

Jackie Wilson

Peter Wolf


Jackie Wilson
Illustration by Charles Miller
69/100

Jackie Wilson was key in helping bridge the gap between an old-style R&B and a new incarnation of soul. Even Elvis Presley knew why Wilson was called "Mr. Excitement": I heard that seeing Wilson perform made the King want to hide under the table. The most spectacular Jackie Wilson show I ever saw was at Harlem's famed Apollo Theater, around 1960. When he took the stage, adorned in a magnificent white suit, he spread his arms open wide, as if trying to embrace the entire room. He started singing the opening notes of his song "Doggin' Around." The audience broke into screams. Even the way he casually held his hands while singing was hypnotic. His dancing was spellbinding — twists and splits that left me in total disbelief. Quickly soaked in sweat (nobody knew how to sweat as good as Jackie Wilson), he took off his jacket and pretended he was going to throw it to the crowd, creating a pure sexual enchantment. There were real women in that audience who knew what they wanted. And what they wanted was Jackie Wilson.

He seemed destined for such greatness, and yet his life ended up playing itself out like some cheap B-grade film noir. There was violence — a crazed woman once shot him — as well as tax problems, drugs, divorce and mob associations that made demands he couldn't refuse. While performing at the Latin Casino, in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, he had a massive coronary and hit his head hard as he fell. At the hospital, he lapsed into a coma. He remained in that state for eight years, as the people around him fought over his estate, before he died in 1984.

I had the honor of inducting Jackie Wilson into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As I waited backstage to present my speech, I was approached by three women arguing with one another as to who should be the one to go onstage and claim the award that was to be given to Jackie. Mr. Excitement would still not have peace.

 
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