Pickett wrote this with Steve Cropper, who wrote and produced many of the soul classics for Stax Records. Cropper played guitar on the Stax session band, Booker T. and The MGs.
Cropper recalled to Uncut in 2015: "I say in my shows that playing the guitar is real simple, you just follow the dots - the dots on neck on every guitar are in the same place. That's how I came up with the intro for this. They go, It couldn't be that simple,' then all of them go home and get their guitars out and go, 'Wow, it is!'"
Cropper and Pickett wrote this at the Lorraine Motel, which was located near the Stax studios in Memphis. On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot there while standing on the balcony.
This was produced by Jerry Wexler with Booker T. & the MG's as the band. Booker T. and The MGs played on many Soul classics, and had a hit of their own with "Green Onions" in 1962.
Atlantic Records gave Pickett the nickname "The Wicked Pickett" after this was released. They used it to promote him, claiming he got it because of his prowess with the ladies. Pickett lived up to the nickname - he spent some time in jail and struggled with drug use before his death in 2006 at age 64.
This was Pickett's first hit. He went on to become a soul music legend and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.
Pickett also recorded "99 1/2" and "634-5789" at the Stax Studios, with backing by Booker T. and the MG's and the horns by the Bar-Kays.
When Pickett and Booker T and the MG's first tried to record the song, nobody liked the result - then Wexler had the idea to change the rhythm so that the teenagers could dance the jerk. According to Booker, the sight of Wexler demonstrating the dance to the band was most memorable and amusing. (thanks, Brad Wind - Miami, FL, for above 2)
In 1991, this was used in the movie The Commitments, which was about an Irish band who played the songs of American Soul singers. The movie helped introduce Pickett's music to a new audience.
Steve Cropper: "Wilson says he wrote the song but, you know, I listened to some old church stuff he sang on and he was singing 'See my Jesus in the midnight hour, see my Jesus in the midnight hour," over and over, and I said, 'I'm gonna see my girl in the midnight hour,' what about that?'"