Curtis Pope, trumpeter for the Midnight Movers, poses for a portrait in 2014 at Union Station in Washington, DC.
Wilson Pickett, The Isley Brothers, Sam & Dave, and Gene Chandler share three things in common, they are some of the biggest names in soul music, they all had number one hits on the Billboard R&B singles chart, and at one time they have all featured Curtis Pope on trumpet.
The horn player from North Carolina joined “The Duke of Earl” Gene Chandler’s band in 1965, where he met DC musicians Charles “Skip” Pitts (guitar), bass player Ernest Xavier Smith (bass), Elbert “Woody” Woodson (drums), and Chicago saxophone player and bandleader George Paco Patterson. He soon relocated to Washington, DC because it was a convenient base for traveling to gigs.
Pope helped arrange Chandler’s hit, “I Fooled You This Time,” in 1966 and shortly after the band left Chandler for the late Stax/Atlantic recording artist Wilson Pickett. The band eventually renamed themselves the Midnight Movers after Pickett’s 1968 hit “I’m A Midnight Mover.”
“Wilson was halfway out of church,” says Pope. “He did the gospel thing very well. You know, the scream…We stayed with Pickett for a long time.”
The Midnight Movers were the touring band for Pickett from 1966 through 1969. During that time members of the band recorded a 45, “Pickin’ and Chippin’/Sweet Darlin’,” on Chicago’s Bunky label as Skip & Ernest. The Midnight Movers left Pickett in 1969 when they had a falling out with the legendary singer.
The band re-emerged as in demand studio musicians in New York City, recording with The Isley Brothers and Sam and Dave. The Midnight Movers were the musicians on the former’s enduring 1969 smash hit, “It’s Your Thing,” and “Freedom.”
In 1970 the Midnight Movers released their debut LP, “Do It In The Road,” on Elephant V Ltd. Guitarist Pitts left in 1971 to join Isaac Hayes’s band. Pitts’ work can be heard as the signature opening wah-wah guitar on Haye’s #1 hit “Theme From ‘Shaft’.” The guitarist passed away in 2012.
The band released a few singles after their debut album, including 1972’s “Put Your Mind In Your Pocket” on Renee Records.
In 1974, the Midnight Movers, Unltd. released their sophomore LP, “Follow The Wind,” on Buddah Records with new members Bernard Wills, and Raymond Patterson on guitar and Blake Hinds on bass. The title track received a small amount of airplay but the LP went largely unnoticed and the Midnight Movers went on hiatus shortly after. The song “Lost For Words” has since been sampled by John Legend, Wiz Khalifa, and Talib Kweli.
In 1982 Pope reconnected with Pickett and the Midnight Movers became the star’s touring band once again, this time with all new members except for Pope. Every now and again other original members would return to tour with the band. The later generation of Midnight Movers stayed with Pickett for more than 15 years.
Pope continues to perform corporate events and weddings with a new crop of Midnight Movers and is currently recording new music.