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.