Monday, April 10, 2017

In the Midnight Hour: The Life and Soul of Wilson Pickett by Tony Fletcher

In the Midnight Hour: The Life and Soul of Wilson Pickett
Tony Fletcher
New York: Oxford University Press
2017: 302 + xviii pages

I first heard about this biography of the great soul legend Wilson Pickett from the social media post of Curtis Pope, the Washington area musician who led Pickett's band for a number of years. The enthusiasm expressed about this biography made it an easy choice for purchase. Upon reading it, the hopes I had about this book was more than realized.

Taken from interviews with family members, band-members, interviews held with the great soul singer, Tony Fletcher provides a well-knit story of Pickett's life from the poverty of growing up in Jim Crow Alabama, to moving to Detroit and his development on the gospel circuit, then crossing over and making recordings as a member of the Falcons to his remarkable career as one of the greatest of the deep soul artists to emerge in the 1960s.

Fletcher tells the story with warts and all starting from his childhood where he first displayed the mean streak that would be part of his personality for years, the suffering of deep physical punishment growing up, spending time in rural Alabama and Detroit as he grew up and emerged into his career. Through interviews with family members, fellow members of the groups he performed in, the studio bands on his recordings, the musicians in his touring band we get inside the studio when with The Falcons he recorded "I Found a Love" with his vocal set against Robert Ward's fiery, echoey guitar playing.

The success of the Falcons led to his time with Atlantic Records and Fletcher takes us to the sessions in which so many classic recordings such as "In the Midnight Hour," "634-5789," "Land of a Thousand Dances, "Mustang Sally" and so many others. We are there as he improvises around the lyrics of "Thousand Dances" and go down to Muscle Shoals for the inspired cover of The Beatles' "Hey Jude" with his vocal and Duane Allman's celebrated slide guitar created so much magic. His friendship with Don Covay as well as Solomon Burke (from whom he covered "Everybody Needs Someone to Love") and the rivalry with James Brown are part of his legacy.

Fletcher takes us to Europe, the Apollo and other concerts, shows and festivals by Pickett as well and the legendary Soul Clan recording that was bittersweet because of the tragic passing of Otis Redding. Then there is the decline in his career as well as some of the personal troubles he had with substance abuse and domestic violence issues as well by the revival of his recording and performing career before his passing.

This is a wonderful written and documented biography of one of the greatest singers and performers to emerge in the sixties and seventies that I had difficulty putting down before I finished it. This has my highest recommendation.

I purchased this. Here is the Wicked Pickett doing his classic take of "Land of a Thousand Dances."


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