The Picketts were Seattle's only "grange rock" combo. Led by vocalist Christy McWilson, the band also included drummer "Blackie" Sleep, McWilson's guitarist-husband Scott McCaughey, and rhythm guitarist Jim Sangster.
McWilson and McCaughey had met at San Francisco State. They moved to Seattle in 1980, where McWilson started a '60s retro/new wave band called the Dynette Set, and McCaughey fell in with the ragged pop combo Young Fresh Fellows. Raised in Northern California, McWilson had grown up on the Bakersfield sound and the cosmic country of Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris. But Seattle was pretty much devoid of that sound, and what little did exist didn't have the greatest reputation. Nevertheless, after McWilson noticed Sleep's distinctive standup drumming style during a gig his rockabilly band played opening for the Dynette Set, she asked him about collaborating, and the earliest form of the Picketts was born.
Originally known as the Power Moves, the band eventually lost their grittier edge and became the Picketts. McWilson also took over most of the lead vocal duties around this time. The Picketts' first appearance on wax was a 7" for the Seattle indie PopLlama that featured a country-fried version of the Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go." It wasn't such an odd choice. Rather than play straight-ahead country, the Picketts were more inclined to mix '50s rockabilly or pop in with more traditional influences like Wanda Jackson or Merle Haggard. Paper Doll, their debut full-length, was released in 1992 through PopLlama. Extensive touring followed, and eventually the Picketts landed a showcase at the influential Austin music festival South by Southwest. That exposure led to a deal with Rounder, who released The Wicked Picketts in 1995. A more polished version of their sound, the album nonetheless featured the Picketts' engaging mixture of rock and pop elements with traditional country songwriting. Euphonium followed on Rounder in 1996, at which point the band went on an extended hiatus while McCaughey focused on touring as a guitarist with R.E.M. or leading his revolving-door side project, the Minus 5. McWilson went on to release two solo albums, both of which featured a stellar supporting cast, including Dave Alvin, Peter Buck, Syd Straw, and Rhet Miller. ~ Johnny Loftus