Wilson Pickett is yet another artist whose music was extremely familiar to me before even knowing his name. “Wicked Mr. Pickett” started out in a gospel group during called The Violinaires in the mid 50’s. This led him to fame with the soul group The Falcons,who helped popularize gospel music to a broader audience. Pickett eventually got signed to Atlantic Records in New York where he recorded sides such as “If I Need You”,a ballad that the labels’ Jerry Wexler ended up giving to Solomon Burke. Burke himself liked Pickett’s version,but he had a huge hit with the song. So a dejected Pickett decided to focus less on soul ballads and more on uptempo numbers once officially signed to Atlantic.
Pickett’s mid/late 60’s recordings at the Stax in Memphis and Fame.in Muscle Shoals have become iconic songs. Especially in terms of marking soul music’s evolution from gospel based balladry into uptempo funk. Songs such as “In The Midnight Hour”,”Mustang Sally” and “Land Of 1000 Dances” came out of this era. One thing however that stands out to me is when an artist making funk music shows a lot of positive pride in declaring themselves to be funky. One such song from Pickett came courtesy of a band known as Dyke & The Blazers,written by it’s leader Arlester Christian in 1967. And the name of this song was”Funky Broadway”.
The bluesy guitar riff of Chip Moman opens the song. The rhythmic body of the entire is based on a thick,cymbal heavy beat from drummer Roger Hawkins,a rhythmic organ from Spooner Oldham and the crunchy bass of Tommy Cogbill. On the second chorus of the song, the horn section comes in playing call and response to Pickett’s vocals. They raise up in intensity as Pickett’s vocals grow even more powerful. There’s a bridge where Hawkins’ funky drumming is singled out with the bass/guitar interaction-with Pickett grunting along rhythmically. The horns are huge,thick and heavy on the final choruses of the song before it fades out.
This song fits pretty neatly into the vein of Wilson Pickett’s other mid/late 60’s uptempo numbers. They were all starting to move heavily toward funk. This song came out in 1967. It was the same year Aretha dropped “Respect”,and James Brown bought uncut funk to the masses with “Cold Sweat”. So Pickett and Chip Moman’s band were really bringing the gritty,countrified,slower tempo Southern soul dance thump into the funk process as it was actually happening. Again it cannot be stated enough how important having the word “funky” in the title of this huge hit song was to funk as a genre,rather than a mere musical term. So here Wilson Pickett officially earned his place in funk history.