The “Wicked” Wilson Pickett landed on the pop charts today (December 21, 1968) with a cover version of The Beatles’ track “Hey Jude.” It was a big deal, because at the time, The Beatles’ version was still on the charts.
Pickett rose to fame starting in 1960, when he joined the Falcons, replacing Levi Stubbs‘ brother, Joe Stubbs.
Pickett and The Falcons recorded several classic records, including “Pow! You‘re in Love” (written by Sam Cooke) and “If You Need Me,” which was covered by The Rolling Stones.
The funk Pickett sings over on “Hey Jude” comes courtesy of Rick Hall’s musicians from the legendary Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.
Atlantic’s other boss, Jerry Wexler, sent Pickett down to Muscle Shoal’s to get some hit records after Stax’ CEO Jim Stewart put the breaks on his studio musicians producing hit records for Pickett, who was signed to Atlantic.
“Pickett came into the studio and I said ’we don’t have anything to cut.‘ We didn’t have a song,” explained Rick Hall in Sky Dog: The Duane Allman Story. “Duane was there and he came up with an idea. By this time he had kind of broken the ice and become my guy. So Duane said ‘Why don’t we cut ‘Hey Jude?’ I said ‘That’s the most preposterous thing I’ve ever heard. It’s insanity. We’re going to cover the Beatles? That’s crazy!’ And Pickett said ‘No, we’re not gonna do it.”
Both Hall and Pickett attempted to talk Allman out of the idea of remaking “Hey Jude,” but the young slide guitarist remained adamant on his choice of record for Pickett to cut.
“The fact that we would cut the song with a black artist will get so much attention, it will be an automatic smash,” Allman told Rick Hall, who agreed to cut the song with Pickett’s blessings as well.
“Duane began to thump around on his guitar, and we’re standing in the studio listening. We started fooling around with it. His little groove is what built the record,” Hall said of Allman, who always played his slide guitar standing up.
The song managed to climb to #16 in The Beatles’ stomping grounds of the UK.