Carlton Stories - Wilson Pickett
I first saw Wilson Pickett headline the Apollo theatre in 1972.
This was the bill:
THE CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD
WILD MAN STEVE
A Blaxploitation movie entitled “Hell Up In Harlem” was filmed during that week and at one point the main character played by Fred Williamson strolls past the Apollo theatre in Harlem forever immortalizing that marquee on film.
I have an amazing story about Wilson Pickett in my upcoming book, “ALL THAT MATTERS IS THE MUSIC”.
But you’ll have to wait a minute for that one. In the meantime I’ll tell you about a few of the other instances in which I met Mr. “Wicked” Pickett.
He’s scheduled to perform at Club 57 at Irving Plaza on East 15th st. For over three decades starting in 1948 Club 57 used to be a Polish community center. In the late 70’s the club was purchased and converted into a rock music venue and the promoters began to bring in punk rock acts became the premier location for the emerging punk and new wave scene.
At some point during the 80’s the promoter realized that those same white kids who were dancing to the Ramones, the B-52’s and the Talking Heads also wanted to get down to some of those Black sounds and artists their parents used to listen to. By this time all of the 60’s and 70’s soul acts had been wiped out by the emergence of disco music and were being booked only on oldies but goodies package tours. They began to book Jr. Walker and the All Stars, Sam and Dave, Martha Reeves, and of course the big boss with the hit sauce James Brown.
So quite naturally they wound up booking Wilson Pickett. I got to the venue this night and there already seemed to be an air of menace surrounding the show. There was always an element of danger around Wilson Pickett anyway due to his volatile nature and temperament but this vibe permeated the entire backstage area and the world quickly spread, “…the show may be cancelled…”.
I thought, “…damn…Pickett didn’t even show up…” and just then here he comes walking up the steps resplendent in a gray wool suit with a navy blue over coat complete with a fur collar.
And oh yeah….he was also wearing a very mean look on his face.
We bumped into each other at the top of the stairs and I said, “…how are you Mr. Pickett…” and he gruffly barked back, “…I got problems man!....”.
I left it at that. I remained upstairs and went around to the back of the balcony area. I was standing with my back to the bar when I engaged a friendly enough guy in conversation. Halfway through I realized that this friendly guy was none other than Mark Knopfler lead vocalist and guitarist of the Dire Straits.
Wilson Pickett never did take the stage that night.
Fast forward twenty years later and I’m backstage at B.B. Kings club in New York city.
As I walked into Picketts dressing room he leaped up off the couch. For two reasons. One, I was wearing a black two piece leather outfit with a sleeveless vest and rhinestones down the zipper in the front as well as down the zippers on the sides of the legs.
He yelled out at me, “…is that Versace? Is that Versace?...”.
I explained to him that it was NOT Versace but instead Beau Guesse, a brand formed by a designer I knew in the village named Steve. During the 80’s Wilson Pickett had taken to wearing leather outfits on stage so he was suitably impressed by my ensemble.
I told you there were two reasons.
The second of which, that night I was accompanied by one of the prettiest girls in New York City. Her name? Cynthia Denise Curry.
Wilson Pickett while being very mindful of my presence couldn’t help but to good naturedly flirt with her; “…look at how pretty you are!...”, “…girl you so pretty…”, “…this a pretty girl here!...”. There wasn’t much more in his arsenal aside from him stating the obvious regarding Cynthia’s looks, but we took it all in stride and chatted with him until he begged off claiming he needed vocal rest as he was in between sets.
I would go on to do a mini duet with Wilson Pickett at another New York venue named Trammps and that would bring about a whole ‘nother set of circumstances that would become one of the most remarkable events of my life.
I was walking with Cynthia Denise Curry across 96th st one night when I got word that brother Pickett had passed away. We were both saddened and walked a few more blocks in silence.
Rest easy brother Pickett, you served on the battle field.