- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 19, 2006

NEW YORK (AP) — Wilson Pickett, the soul pioneer best known for the fiery hits “Mustang Sally” and “In the Midnight Hour,” died of a heart attack yesterday in a Reston, Va., hospital, his management company said. He was 64.

Chris Tuthill of Talent Source said Mr. Pickett had been suffering from health problems for the past year.

“He did his part. It was a great ride, a great trip. I loved him, and I’m sure he was well-loved, and I just hope that he’s given his props,” Michael Wilson Pickett, the singer’s son, told WRC-TV in Washington after his death.

Mr. Pickett — known as the “Wicked Pickett” — became a star with his soulful hits in the 1960s. “In the Midnight Hour” made the top 25 on the Billboard pop charts in 1965, and “Mustang Sally” did the same the following year.

“A fellow Detroiter, Wilson Pickett was one of the greatest soul singers of all time,” Aretha Franklin said. “He will absolutely be missed. I am thankful that I got the chance to speak to him not too long ago.”

Mr. Pickett was defined by his raspy voice and passionate delivery, but the Alabama-born singer got his start with gospel music in church. After moving to Detroit as a teen, he joined the group the Falcons, which scored the hit “I Found a Love” in 1962.

He went solo a year later and soon found his greatest success. In 1965, he linked with legendary soul producer Jerry Wexler at Stax Records in Memphis, Tenn., and recorded “In the Midnight Hour” for Atlantic Records. A string of hits followed, including “634-5789,” “Funky Broadway” and “Mustang Sally.”

Roger Friedman, a journalist and friend who featured Mr. Pickett in his 2002 documentary on soul greats, “Only the Strong Survive,” said Mr. Pickett was “really Atlantic’s answer to James Brown.”

“He wrote his own songs … he was very, very musically adept, and look at his contribution. Look how many of his songs have been covered,” he said yesterday.

As Mr. Pickett entered the ‘70s, he had less success on the charts but still put out hits, including “Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You.”

“Like all these great legends of R&B;, when disco came in, it really impacted their careers,” Mr. Friedman said. But “they have all continued to be incredibly popular in Europe — every summer, touring Europe to incredible crowds.”

Mr. Pickett also suffered through some tough times.

In 1991, he was arrested on suspicion of yelling death threats while driving a car over the mayor’s front lawn in Englewood, N.J., and less than a year later was charged with assaulting his girlfriend. In 1993, he was convicted of drunken driving and sentenced to a year in jail and five years’ probation after hitting an 86-year-old man with his car.

Mr. Pickett was awarded several times. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991 and received the Pioneer award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation two years later.

“If I wasn’t in show business, I don’t know what I would have been — a wanderer or something, you know?” he said in a 2001 interview. “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.”

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