Upon the occasion of Legacy Recordings releasing the 23-disc boxed set of The Isley Brothers: The RCA Victor And T-Neck Album Masters 1959-1983, including no less than 84 rare and unreleased bonus tracks, including their entire “lost” album—Wild In Woodstock: The Isley Brothers Live At Bearsville Sound Studio 1980—for the first time, what better time to retell my Wilson Pickett/Isley Brothers story?
The wicked Wilson Pickett [1941-2006] was one crazed customer. Besides a lifelong gun fetish (he was arrested in 1987 for having a loaded shotgun in his car), the longtime New Jersey resident drove that car right up on the lawn of the Mayor of Englewood threatening to kill him. In ’93, he ran over an 86-year-old man, Pepe Ruiz, who died a few days later from his injuries.
It was in 1980, though, when Wilson Pickett called this newspaper to promote his upcoming Right Track album. I took the call.
“We were hunting outside Las Vegas,” he told me. “The plan was to bring me back three days later so I could do my show, but we were 200 miles out in the damn desert and they wanted to stay for another two days. Now I got one more day to get back to Vegas before I blow my contract! Those motherfuckers wouldn’t even drive me back to the highway so I could hitch a ride! They said I should find my own way back. So there we were arguing and I told them it was wrong to leave me stranded like that. They knew damn well Vegas is very strict about contracts. There were two white kids holding me down ‘cause I was getting ready to fight!
“Then Rudolph Isley heard the argument and rushed out from the cabin to charge me, and that’s what set it off. I got out my pistol and started shooting at him. It was nothing but a bullshit thing that I practically blew a career over and almost went to jail for. Good thing I missed. I had to pay out a lot of money. It was just a case of ego-tripping and not having respect for each other’s needs. That’s all it was.
“If they would have brought me back when they were supposed to, everything would have been fine and none of that would have happened. If they had loaned me a car—they had two of ‘em there—then they could have picked it up later in my driveway.
“We were friends and we still are. And the only reason none of us ever talked about it in the press before is because it was so stupid. It was just a matter of me getting my butt kicked a little bit up there and jumping the gun and firing that bullet through the door and then we started shooting at each other. Good thing they were as bad a shot as I was!”
Consider it just another scoop in the long, illustrious history of this newspaper.
There were others.
Of course, it was totally my fault that we missed what would have been one of the biggest scoops of all-time. As Music Editor, I will never forget the day the Grateful Dead manager called me and pleaded with me not to run an item on the fact that the beloved Jerry Garcia [1942-1995] was sinking down low due to an incurable heroin addiction. Shows were turning into nightmares. Garcia was stumbling around onstage not knowing which song he was playing. I was planning an exposé with the assistance of a road crew member. The manager asked me to kill the story. Out of respect for the band, I did. Big mistake. Village Voice got the scoop just weeks later.