Talk about exciting. Wilson Pickett was known for his big voice, and his short fuse. In that way, his dustup with Stax legend Eddie Floyd over the future hit “634-5789” shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise. Only later, much later, did it become clear the two R&B legends were only kidding around.
Pickett was part of the Stax family in 1965, collaborating with both Floyd and/or Steve Cropper on a string of hits that included “In the Midnight Hour,” Pickett’s most famous song. He also had huge R&B hits with “Don’t Fight It,” “Ninety Nine and a Half (Won’t Do) — and “634-5789,” the only song credited to Cropper and Floyd alone.
As such, the two had a personal connection with the track: “Eddie and I were so excited about ‘634-5789,’ we went into the studio and did a slight little demo of it,” Cropper tells Caroline Jones. “So, we picked Wilson up at the airport, and brought him to Stax to the studio. I put the tape up, and Eddie hands him a copy of the lyrics. He sits there, and he listens to it real patiently. He looks at it, and the song stops, and he wads it up and throws it across the room.”
Floyd, who’d later post his own charttopping R&B hit with 1966’s “Knock on Wood,” lunged for Pickett — shouting “‘You won’t abuse my song like that,'” Cropper adds. “Here are these two guys, wrestling in the control room. And I’m a little skinny guy; I weighed, dripping wet, about 136 pounds. I’m going: ‘I’m gonna get killed here.’ I’m thinking they’re really serious. I did not know, for years later, that they weren’t serious at all.”
“634-5789” would, of course, end up as a central moment on 1966’s The Exciting Wilson Pickett, reaching No. 1 on the R&B charts and No. 13 on the Billboard pop listings. Floyd and Pickett then performed the song together as part of the Blues Brothers 2000 film.