Who was/is Al Wilson ? - CDs, Vinyl LPs, DVD and more

Al Wilson

The Snake

Al Wilson

The Snake


On the periphery for a long time awaiting his career breakthrough song, Al Wilson finally found it in 1973 with the smooth-surging Show And Tell. The slyly allegorical The Snake might have done the trick for the suave baritone five years earlier, but it stalled at #27 pop and #32 R&B despite Wilson's vivid reading.

Born June 19, 1939 in Meridian, Mississippi, Al sang gospel before he reached his teens. A move to southern California after two years in the Navy preceded Wilson joining The Jewels for his first appearance on wax in '59 on Buck Ram's self-named label (Al's brother Eddie was also a member). They morphed into The Rollers, who nailed a mid-level hit in 1961 with a tasty new dance number on Liberty, The Continental Walk (Don Covay co-wrote it), before rolling to a halt the next year.

Vital to Al's future was a 1966 managerial hookup with Motown staffer Marc Gordon, already playing that role with a quintet known as The Versatiles. Gordon quit Motown to run Johnny Rivers' new Liberty-affiliated Soul City label, bringing Al along. "I had met this group called The Versatiles, who wound up becoming The 5th Dimension. So Jimmy Webb and I just started working with them," says Johnny. "I signed Al, and James Hendricks, who wrote 'Summer Rain.'" Al's first Soul City 45 missed, but his next one, Webb's Do What You Gotta Do, gave him his first solo hit in early '68.

Chicago-born Oscar Brown, Jr., the composer of The Snake, was an actor, playwright, and jazz-based performer who made several LPs for Columbia. The Snake debuted on his 1963 set 'Tells It Like It Is!,' and Rivers led his popular 1966 Imperial LP '…And I Know You Wanna Dance' with it. Backed by the cream of L.A.'s session aces, including guitarist James Burton, bassist Joe Osborn, and drummer Hal Blaine, Wilson did full justice to the clever minor-key reptilian fable. Wilson's Soul City hits graced his debut LP, 'Searching For The Dolphins.' Al had minor hits in '69 with covers of Rivers' Poor Side Of Town and Creedence Clearwater Revival's Lodi before Soul City folded.

A few years later, Jerry Fuller, who wrote Ricky Nelson's Travelin' Man and produced smashes on The Knickerbockers, O.C. Smith, and Gary Puckett and The Union Gap, got a call from Bell Records boss Larry Uttal, distributor of Gordon's Rocky Road label. Uttal offered Fuller a chance to produce Wilson. "He sent me over 'The Snake' and something else," says Fuller, whose Show And Tell finally propelled Al Wilson to the top of the pop hit parade in early 1974. He died of kidney failure on April 21, 2008.


- Bill Dahl -

Various - Sweet Soul Music

Various - Sweet Soul Music 29 Scorching Classics From 1968

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