I grew up in a small agricultural community in southeastern Minnesota called Owatonna during the late 1960s. It seemed every kid in the Upper Midwest belonged to a rock band in those days. I was no exception. We called our group The Night Crawlers. The Crawlers were a "garage band," because that's where we would practice and drive the neighbors crazy.
We played in college auditoriums, VFW clubs, high school and college gymnasiums, and the odd beer bar or two in Wisconsin. Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., was a favorite probably because the band's leader, Marc Reigel, and bass player, Mark Headington, were enrolled there. I was a lowly high school student trying to make it on the drums. Bass player Mike Jines and vocalist Barry Gillespie were both a year ahead of me.
Garage bands made their mark by copying famous bands. We did lots of covers but no songs were as enthusiastically received as those originally performed by Wilson Pickett. "Here's one by Wilson Pickett! " Reigel would bellow into the microphone. "That WICKED Pickett," he'd emphasize. We'd then launch into Mustang Sally: " ... guess you better slow your mustang down..." The crowd would erupt in a frenzy. OK, not really a "frenzy" but they did seem to enjoy our rendition.
We'd then throw in a little 12-string salute to The Byrds ("Mr. Tambourine Man"), follow it with The Hollies ("Bus Stop" and "Look Through Any Window") and finish the set with an original penned by singer-songwriter Gillespie called "You Say." Even today on eBay, I'll occasionally run across a copy of the 45 rpm we recorded with the memorable lyrics, "You say I'm treatin' you bad, babe ... "
But it was Pickett who was most frequently requested by those who paid a couple of bucks to come see, listen and dance to The Night Crawlers.
"The Blues Brothers" movie made another Pickett hit famous years later. I can still hear "Everybody Needs Somebody ... somebody to love ... " "634-5789" was another terrific, syncopated song that others also covered.
You see, Pickett's music was perfect for a dance band, which, when all was said and done, was what we were. He was known for his blues but it was the driving rhythm that was most appealing and infectious. Hard to believe five white kids from rural southeastern Minnesota could pull it off but we somehow succeeded.
So here's to the memory of "the Wicked Pickett" and all the good times so many of us still savor. Bring back the '60s! Or at least the music. Come to think of it, when's the last time you heard any music of the '90s or the new millennium in a movie soundtrack or TV commercial?