Charles Edward Pickens and Bill(y) Mills (b. North Carolina, USA). Male soul duos were extremely popular in the 60s and 70s - Sam And Dave and James And Bobby Purify were perhaps the best-known and most commercially successful examples. Pickens and Mills, along with several others such as the Knight Brothers, Maurice And Mac, Eddie And Ernie, Sam And Bill, and Van And Titus, were less well known but no less emotive, and were raised in the gospel hotbed of North Carolina. From 1965 they were based for five years in Fort Worth, Texas, where they recorded extensively for Major Bill Smith, owner of the local Le Cam, Soft, Charay and Shalimar labels. Smith had sustained his small empire on the back of three massive 60s pop and country hits that he had successfully leased out to bigger labels: Paul And Paula’s teen-love anthem ‘Hey Paula’, Bruce Channel’s ‘Hey Baby’, and J. Frank Wilson’s million-selling country hit ‘The Last Kiss’. However, Pic And Bill were two big-voiced gospel and soul artists, and Charles Pickens had a hand in the production of their 11 singles and one album from this era, as well as writing many of the songs.
They began in 1966 with the poppish ‘What Would I Do’ for Charay, followed by the superb deep-soul ‘All I Want Is You’, ‘It’s Not You’ and ‘Nobody But My Baby’. ‘Just A Tear’/‘Sad World Without You’ was a big double-sided seller in the southern states, and ‘A Man Without A Woman’ was a cover version of a side already recorded for Major Bill Smith by another of his male duos, Matt And Robert. In the late 60s, Charles Pickens went solo with his own soul ballad, ‘How Many Times’, which was followed by the duo’s cover version of Joe Hinton’s ‘Funny How Time Slips Away’, the disappointing ‘Together Till the End Of Time’, and an impressive 1968 version of Sam And Dave’s much-covered ‘deep’ classic, ‘When Something Is Wrong With My Baby’. Major Bill then leased three Pic And Bill singles to the Mercury Records subsidiary Smash and one to Blue Rock. One of the Smash releases was a straight reissue of an earlier single, but the new recordings included a great, soulful version of Paul McCartney’s ‘Yesterday’, along with ‘Don’t Put Me Down’, ‘Moments Like These’ and the 1955 ballad, ‘Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing’. The Blue Rock single comprised another deep ballad, ‘Soul Of A Man’ (not the Fontella Bass number), and the slightly funky ‘Gonna Give It To You’. Major Bill also issued a Pic And Bill album, Thirty Minutes Of Soul, which was first released on Charay, and then, in the 70s, on both LeCam and Twelve O’Clock. Also in the 70s, their ‘All I Want Is You’ Charay side surfaced again on both LeCam and Zuma. Billy Mills recorded some solo material for Major Bill that was not released at the time, and went on to record a session for the Nashville label Sound Stage 7, but no more was heard of Charles Pickens for some time. Then, in 1987, the duo reunited for the Bandit label in Ashville, North Carolina, and recorded the Dave Smith-produced ‘Hang On In There Baby’; the latter was a 12-inch single release and this, plus nine other sides cut for Bandit, appeared on the Japanese Vivid Sound CD, Taking Up The Slack. Much of the best of Pic And Bill’s ‘prime’ output from their time with Major Bill Smith appeared on the 1988 UK Charly release, Givin’ It To You.