Soul Serenade

Wilson Pickett - Ninety-Nine And A Halr (Won't Do)There are many sides to soul music. There is the pop-soul style of Motown, the sweet soul of Philadelphia, and the streetwise sound of New York City. But if you prefer a little more grit, a little more growl, a little more funk in your soul, then I have a record for you. This week’s featured record is a classic Wilson Pickett side from his golden era with Atlantic Records in the mid-late ’60s. I’ve wanted to feature Pickett, and this record in particular for quite some time and this seems like a good week to do it.

You know the story of the “Wicked” Wilson Pickett by now. You know that he first hit it with the Falcons, a group which also included the luminaries Eddie Floyd and Sir Mack Rice, and how they got some attention with “I Found A Love,” a song co-written by Pickett. It was a minor hit for the Falcons, but a bigger one when Pickett re-recorded it on his own some time later.

Soon Pickett went solo, and sent a demo of a song he had written to Jerry Wexler at Atlantic Records. Wexler gave “If You Need Me” to Atlantic artist Solomon Burke who had a big hit with it. Pickett was not happy that the song had been given away, but solo success was not far off for him. He was recording for Double L Records when “It’s Too Late” became a big R&B hit in 1963, so big in fact that it convinced Wexler to buy Pickett’s contract from Double L and sign him to Atlantic.

Pickett’s massive breakthrough came with his third single for Atlantic. “In the Midnight Hour,” recorded with the legendary Stax Records house band that included Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn, and Al Jackson (Booker T Jones didn’t play on any Pickett records), was released in 1965 and reached #1 on the R&B chart, and #21 on the pop chart. The single sold a million copies and earned a gold record.

The hits kept coming. In the next couple of year they included “Don’t Fight It,” “634-5789,” and “Ninety-Nine and a Half (Won’t Do)”. The chugging “Ninety-Nine and Half (Won’t Do)” was, like many of his hits, co-written by Pickett. It wasn’t his biggest success, making it to #53 on the pop chart and #13 R&B, but it was just as soulful and insistent as any of Pickett’s hits of that era.

When Stax owner Jim Stewart banned the recording of outside artists in his studio Wexler took Pickett to Muscle Shoals. He worked at Rick Hall’s FAME Studios there, recording with another legendary crew that included Spooner Oldham and Roger Hawkins. The magic that they created included “Land of 1,000 Dances,” “Mustang Sally,” and “Funky Broadway.”

Pickett went back to Memphis to record at American Studios with Tom Dowd and Tommy Cogbill. While there Pickett recorded a number of Bobby Womack songs including “I’m In Love,” “Jealous Love,” “I’ve Come A Long Way,” “I’m A Midnight Mover,” (which Pickett co-wrote with Womack), and “I Found A True Love.” They were all hits for Pickett in 1967 and 1968.

In late ’68 and into ’69 Pickett returned to FAME where he worked with Duane Allman, bass player Jerry Jemmott, and Hawkins. Among other things those sessions produced Pickett’s highly regarded cover of the Beatles song “Hey Jude.” Pickett moved to Criteria Studios in Miami. There he created more hits including his covers of the Supremes “You Keep Me Hanging On,” and the Archies “Sugar Sugar.”

It was on to Philadelphia from there. Working with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, Picket had hits with “Engine No. 9” and “Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You” in 1970. Then it was back to Muscle Shoals to record what would be his last #1 hit “Don’t Knock My Love, Pt. 1.” Pickett recorded more tracks for Atlantic in 1972 for what was to be his next album. But the first single stiffed and the album was never completed.

In June 1972 Pickett left Atlantic for RCA Records. He had some R&B hits, but never saw the kind of crossover success that he had seen with Atlantic. Although he would continue to tour and record for many years his golden era was over. Wilson Pickett was honored with a Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation in 1993, and inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. He died of a heart attack in 2006.

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About the Author

Ken Shane

Ken Shane lives in Narragansett, R.I. He is a freelance writer and far and away the oldest Popdose writer. In fact, he may be the oldest writer, period. He wants you to know that he generally does not share his colleagues' love for the music of the '80s, and he does not forgive them for loving it. (Ken passed away in November 2022. R.I.P. —Ed.)

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