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'Midnight Hour,' 'Mustang Sally' R& B Singer Wilson Pickett, 64

Wilson Pickett had his biggest hits in the 1960s before drugs and violence curtailed his career. He staged a successful comeback in the 1990s.
Wilson Pickett had his biggest hits in the 1960s before drugs and violence curtailed his career. He staged a successful comeback in the 1990s. (By Regis Martin -- Getty Images)

The integrated band, supplemented with the well-known "Memphis horns" sound, provided a rhythmic drive that perfectly matched the dynamic vitality of Mr. Pickett's singing. He and guitarist Steve Cropper wrote "In the Midnight Hour," which became a leading R&B hit and reached No. 21 on the pop charts.

He followed this early success with nine albums in the next five years. In 1966 alone, he had major hits with "634-5789," "Ninety-Nine and a Half (Won't Do)," "Mustang Sally" and "Land of 1,000 Dances," which reached No. 6 on the pop charts and was his best-selling single ever.

Moving farther south to a studio in Muscle Shoals, Ala., Mr. Pickett recorded "Funky Broadway," which became a hit in 1967, and a surprisingly subdued version of the Beatles' "Hey Jude" (1969), with the then-unknown guitarist Duane Allman.

Between 1965 and 1972, Mr. Pickett had 16 Top 40 hits and enjoyed all the accouterments that went with fame, including diamonds, furs and a Rolls-Royce. He received his nickname, "Wicked Pickett," in the recording studio in 1966.

"One of the secretaries at Atlantic Records caught me pinching one of the other secretaries," he told the Boston Herald in 1999. "She said, 'My, you sure are wicked.' I had to live up to the name after I got it."

Long known for his volatile personality, his personal excesses and for settling what he called "disagreements of a personal nature" with his fists, Mr. Pickett hit bottom in the early 1990s while living in New Jersey.

In 1991, he was arrested for driving his car across the lawn of his neighbor -- the mayor of Englewood, N.J. -- while shouting death threats. The next year, he was sentenced to five years of probation for injuring an 86-year-old man while driving drunk. He was also arrested for cocaine possession and for domestic violence against his live-in girlfriend.

After a drunk-driving conviction, Mr. Pickett spent most of 1994 in a New Jersey jail. During a fight with a fellow inmate, he suffered an eye injury that required several operations.

By 1999, he had resettled in Virginia and resumed an active performing career, singing his songs from the '60s as well as new tunes he had written. He was proud that his voice was still in such good shape that he could sing all his early hits in the original key.

"If I wasn't in show business, I don't know what I would have been -- a wanderer or something, you know?" he told the Ottawa Citizen in 2001. "But God blessed me with the talent and the chance. I knocked on enough doors, and this is what I can give myself credit for."

Survivors include his fiancee, Gail Webb of Ashburn; and four children.


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