Legendary soul singer Wilson Pickett died of a heart attack today in Virginia at the age of sixty-four. The singer, who earned the nickname “Wicked Pickett” due to his fiery vocals and masculine persona, was best known for such high-energy soul hits as “In the Midnight Hour,” “Mustang Sally” and “Land of 1000 Dances.” As a performer and interpreter, Pickett was generally considered to be the equal of such great soul men as Otis Redding and Sam Cooke. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.
Born in Prattville, Alabama, on March 18, 1941, Pickett honed his vocal style singing gospel in Southern Baptist churches. After moving to Detroit in the late 1950s, Pickett joined the Falcons, whose membership also included such future soul stars as Eddie Floyd and Sir Mack Rice. He sang lead vocals on “I Found a Love,” a gospel-tinged ballad that became a national hit in 1962, and left shortly thereafter to go solo.
In 1965, Pickett signed with Atlantic Records. His stint with that label marked the commercial apex of his career; backed by guitarist Steve Cropper and some of the top session musicians from Muscle Shoals and Memphis, the singer recorded more than thirty R&B hits, including “634-5789,” “Land of 1000 Dances,” “Mustang Sally,” “Funky Broadway,” “In the Midnight Hour” and even a surprisingly soulful cover of the Archies’ “Sugar, Sugar”.
Pickett fared less successfully after leaving Atlantic in 1972, but he continued to perform until 2005, when health problems forced him off the road. His most recent album, 1999’s It’s Harder Now, received rave reviews, three WC Handy Awards — including Best Soul/Blues Male Artist of the Year — and a Grammy nomination.
In December 2004, “Mustang Sally” and “In the Midnight Hour” were included in Rolling Stone‘s list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Pickett is survived by his fiancee Gail Webb, sons Lynderrick and Michael, daughters Veda and Saphan, as well as an extended family of brothers and sisters.