Wilson Pickett ‘Let Me Be Your Boy: The Early Years 1957-1962’ (Soul Jam) 4/5

A soul legend to many, Wilson Pickett started off his career as both part of a group, The Falcons, and in the gospel field with both The Violinaires and The Spiritual Five. This excellent compilation draws upon these three strands and brings them together into one single and handy to locate place from where the listener is better equipped to understand and appreciate the transition that the singer made first from religious to secular, and then from doo-wop into the rootsiest form of soul music. Of the early singles, a tinny produced ‘Let me be your boy’ hinted at what was to come, but it was the co-written early hit, ‘If you need me’, that revealed a glorious voice in full control and the blues guitar driven, ‘It’s too late’, carried on, laying down some distinctly tasty flavoured soul. One of the joys of this collection is discovering via the fully comprehensive discographical notes that Pickett was backed in his early Detroit sessions by a proto-Motown array of musicians including James Jamerson on the bass, Joe Hunter on the piano, even though Berry Gordy had not yet created the music empire that was to follow. Background vocals included The Supremes, Eddie Floyd and Sir Mack Rice, the latter of whom would become a key songwriter in the city. Of the gospel bonus tracks, ‘Someone is waiting for me’, impresses as do the joyously uplifting hues of ‘Call him up’. On the former, Pickett takes lead vocals while on the latter he is part of the gorgeous collective harmony vocals.

Soul devotees will warm to the glossy pictorial accompaniment of the picture sleeve covers and labels of the 45’s, many of which now fetch considerable sums when you can find them, and encompass myriad key labels such as London, Lu Pine, Peacock, Relic, Rifi and not forgetting the major that made him, Atlantic. A fourteen page booklet with extended notes by James Chestnut takes the career story into the more familiar territory of the Atlantic recording period when Pickett made his name internationally. Essential listening for the fan of gritty soul with gospel touches.

Tim Stenhouse