Steve Cropper’s research into then-unknown Wilson Pickett sparked his initial hit: ‘I found some gospel songs’

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Steve Cropper admits he’d never heard of Wilson Pickett when Atlantic Records executive Jerry Wexler suggested he do a session with the then-largely unknown singer. But the resourceful Cropper says he knew just what to do.

“I didn’t know who Wilson Pickett was,” Steve Cropper tells a group at the National Music Publishers Association. “Not good of me, I know. So, I started researching it. Jerry Wexler said he was going to bring down this great singer, Wilson Pickett, and I didn’t know what groups he’d been in or whatever. But I used to work in the record shop, and I found some gospel songs that Wilson Pickett had sung on.”

What Cropper found was an eruptive singer who combined the heartfelt promise of gospel with the sensual grooves of R&B. He also found the seeds for a 1965 song that would become their first hit together, and Wilson Pickett’s major breakthrough — a No. 1 R&B smash that almost touched the pop Top 20 on its way to selling a million copies.

“On a couple of [those old gospel songs],” Cropper says, “when he got to the end of them, he goes: ‘I’ll see my Jesus in the midnight hour! Oh, in the midnight hour. I’ll see my Jesus in the midnight hour.'” Inspiration hit, just before “In the Midnight Hour” did. “I said, ‘I’m gonna see my baby in the midnight hour,'” Cropper adds, with a twinkle in his voice, before pointing heavenward. “The man up there has been forgiving me for this ever since!”

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