In the Midnight Hour: The Life & Soul of Wilson Pickett
Soul legend Wilson Pickett is a difficult character to like, said Carlo Wolff in the Pittsburgh Post- Gazette. A man with a temper to match his talent, he deserves plenty of blame for the collapse of his once enviable career and any discounting of his legacy that’s occurred in the decades since. But the late singer finally has a champion, British journalist Tony Fletcher, and the veteran musical biographer “makes the most of Pickett’s stormy story,” tracking down old anecdotes, obsessing over crucial recordings, and daring to argue that Pickett should at least be mentioned in the same breath as James Brown and Otis Redding. “It turns out that he was not just at the vanguard of his generation,” Fletcher writes. “Wilson Pickett effectively was the vanguard.”
“The claim bears examination,” said David Kirby in The Wall Street Journal. Born dirt- poor in 1941 Alabama, Pickett moved to Detroit in his teens and was just 18 when he wrote and recorded his first R&B single. Over the next 10 years, he recorded at Stax Records in Memphis and at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala., honing his pitchperfect scream as he delivered such huge crossover hits as “In the Midnight Hour” and “Mustang Sally.” Along the way, he gave guitarist Duane Allman his start and rehabilitated the career of songwriter Bobby Womack. So he was at least in the middle of things, if not at the forefront. And if he hadn’t been such a volatile man, his accomplishments might be more widely celebrated.
Pickett’s worst moments are reported unflinchingly here, albeit with “an almost scholarly detachment,” said Robert Ham in Paste magazine. The singer beat his son with a baseball bat and countless girlfriends with whatever was at hand, and he died at 64, wrecked by drugs and alcohol. Fletcher lets Pickett’s peers pass judgment on such misbehavior, while reserving his own critical comments for the music. He finds little to praise in the catalog Pickett assembled after the advent of disco and smooth funk. Even so, he makes clear that a full biography of this R&B giant has been long overdue. “The universe,” it seems, “was waiting for Fletcher to take it on.”