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634 - 5789(Soulville, USA) - Wilson Pickett

Michael was very proud of the fact that he was writing his autobiography. After he'd beaten me at table tennis, he showed me what he'd written so far. It was one page in an old fashioned school exercise book that stated he was the son of a naval commander, one Commander Phillip Johnston, and he was born somewhere in London (I forget where), that he had two brothers and a sister, and that his father was the decorated commander of a ship in the Royal Navy. Stuck onto the page was a photograph, cut out from a newspaper, of a middle-aged man smartly dressed in the uniform of a naval officer, bedecked with medals. He pointed to the picture and told me proudly that this was his father. I said it was a good start and that I'd be interested in seeing it when he'd made further progress.

When, a few weeks later, I asked how he was getting on with it, he rushed off to get the book, and showed it to me. He explained that he'd had a few second thoughts about it and decided to redo it to improve it. He'd torn the original page out, and rewritten it, having cut out the original photo and pasted it on a new page one with a new text, the contents of which were much the same as the original. After two summers and an Easter I stopped working at the Royal Earlswood Hospital but continued to visit it every summer. This was not for any particularly altruistic reasons, but because a cricket team I had formed regularly played at the hospital, against a Royal Earlswood team comprised for the most part of members of the hospital's staff, many of whom were of West Indian or Asian heritage. They were a good team and we had some great games against them, occasionally interrupted when, after someone had hit a boundary, a resident would beat us to the ball and decide not to give it back. We soon realised, on the advice of the home team, that we had to bring a good stock of cigarettes with us to trade for it so we could continue the game quickly. Michael loved watching the cricket, and wanted to play. One time, while we were batting - and therefore the staff were all fielding - some of our team humoured him by letting him get padded up. A wicket fell, and while the new batsman was hastily finishing the putting on of his gear, Michael, unnoticed, made his way to the wicket. Instead of just showing him off the pitch, the staff went with it and bowled an easy ball at him; Michael hit it a couple of feet, then faced another which he missed and it hit the wicket. He at first refused to leave the pitch until we convinced him he was out, which he then did with fairish good grace, muttering that he'd won the game and was really very good at it. By the time he returned to the pavilion site - there was no pavilion, just a scoreboard and a few seats - he was his usual sunny self and soon was telling everyone what a great innings he had played, as had been the case with his table tennis.

On these occasions I would catch up with him and he'd show me his autobiography, by now the subject of numerous rewrites, the picture of his "father" standing proud several millimetres off the page surface, a small hill of medalled uniform and handsome face. While Michael was probably not capable of writing any more that just the one page, it also was tragically representative of the fact, as he had lived in the hospital since childhood, that nothing much had ever happened to him. No-one ever came to visit him, his parents were old or long dead. The one page was the one page of his life. Even within the peaceful and idyllic surrounds of the Earlswood, with the residents wandering around like zombies, he felt at heart he was a mere journeyman; his sporting prowess was fake; his book was fake; I came and went, he stayed; everyday was the same: he had nothing to write about.

At Stax Records, Wilson Pickett was a journeyman, a good soul singer who delivered what was asked for and played second string to the label's luminaries like Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Carla Thomas and Isaac Hayes. But no-one could grunt better than him except for possibly James Brown and Edwin Starr. And few were as a funky as him. Here he is backed by Booker T, Steve Cropper and Co, along with the Memphis Horns. Steve Cropper co-wrote it with stablemate Eddie Floyd, so it's pure journeyman Stax. Which is better than a lot of other labels' top drawer.


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