A layered portrait of the legendary singer whose self-destructiveness came to overshadow his hits.

A biography of soul singer “Wicked” Wilson Pickett (1941-2006).

Born in the rural sharecropping community of Prattville, Alabama, Pickett was known equally for his pious upbringing and participation as a singer in his church as well as his rebellious spirit and habit for troublemaking. It would be the latter that would come to define his offstage behavior, but it was his experience singing gospel that would lead to his ascendency as one of the pre-eminent soul singers of his generation. Throughout the book, Fletcher (A Light that Never Goes Out: The Enduring Saga of the Smiths, 2012, etc.) ably explores this dichotomy in Pickett’s character. Breaking through with such hits as “In the Midnight Hour” and “Land of 1000 Dances,” Pickett was a mainstay on the R&B and pop charts during the 1960s, and he was known for his work ethic in the studio. Outside the studio, however, Pickett earned his “wicked” nickname; he was a notorious womanizer and would often brandish his pistol in anger. One of the most fascinating aspects of Fletcher’s skillful biography is the ongoing subplot of Pickett’s rivalry with James Brown. Whereas Brown evolved his style through the ’60s and solidified his identity around black empowerment, Pickett remained mostly an “interpreter” of other writers’ songs and was largely ambivalent regarding social issues. Pickett’s success would dramatically change in the ’70s following a multirecord deal with RCA. Subsequent album releases would see his sales plummet, and critical responses were unkind. Growing drug and alcohol use made him increasingly unstable, a situation exacerbated by his separation from longtime partner Dovie Hall. In one of the most damning anecdotes related by the author, Pickett insisted his teenage son partake in cocaine with him. His erratic behavior only worsened, including multiple arrests, domestic abuse scandals, and some jail time, before a mild resurrection of his career before his death.

A layered portrait of the legendary singer whose self-destructiveness came to overshadow his hits.

Pub Date: Jan. 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-19-025294-6

Page Count: 328

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Oct. 4, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2016


The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

Close Quickview