Pitts outside of Stax Records, 2011
|Also known as||Skip Pitts|
April 7, 1947|
Washington, D.C., U.S.
|Died||May 1, 2012
Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.
|Genres||Soul, R&B, funk, blues|
Charles "Skip" Pitts (April 7, 1947 – May 1, 2012) was an American soul and blues guitarist. He is best known for his distinctive "wah-wah" style, prominently featured on Isaac Hayes' title track from the 1971 movie Shaft. He is widely considered to have been one of the architects of soul, R&B and funk guitar.
Pitts learned to play guitar at age 11 on the street corners of his childhood hometown, Washington D.C., often receiving tips from his neighbor, Bo Diddley. Pitts' uncle owned a hotel next to the Howard Theater, where he was introduced to soul and R&B musicians such as James Brown and Otis Redding.
At the age of 17, Pitts performed on Gene Chandler's "Rainbow '65," which would become his first appearance on many hit recordings. Pitts soon became the guitarist and bandleader for Wilson Pickett's Midnight Movers, backing Pickett and Sam & Dave.
Isaac Hayes (1971-2008)
Pitts went on to work with Hayes over the next three decades, appearing on many of Hayes' hit albums and soundtracks. He can be seen onstage performing with Hayes in the documentary Wattstax (1973) and in the blaxploitation film Truck Turner (1974). In the 1990s and 2000s, Pitts collaborated with Hayes on the John Singleton remake of Shaft as well as the soundtrack for the animated series South Park, for which he received a gold record.
Pitts remained the band's guitarist and bandleader until Hayes' death in August 2008.
When not working with Hayes, Pitts served as a session musician at Stax Records. His performances included hits by Rufus Thomas ("The Breakdown"), The Temprees ("This is Dedicated to the One I Love"), The Soul Children, and Albert King.
More recently, Pitts' guitar playing was introduced to a new generation, when the hip-hop community began sampling classic Stax recordings. His guitar riffs have been sampled by Dr. Dre with Snoop Dogg, Beastie Boys, Massive Attack, Eazy-E, and DJ Shadow with Cut Chemist.
In 1998, Pitts became a founding member of The Bo-Keys, a soul/jazz group formed by producer Scott Bomar as an homage to Memphis' rich musical tradition. He appeared with the band at venues and festivals nationally and internationally, including The Ponderosa Stomp, London's Barbican Performing Arts Centre, and Lincoln Center's Midsummer Nights Swing Series. He is prominently featured on The Bo-Keys 2011 release, Got to Get Back! The album led to a feature in the July 2011 issue of Guitar Player Magazine.
Elmo and The Shades
Pitts was associated with the eclectic Memphis blues and soul band Elmo and the Shades from the early 1990s, and occasionally appeared as a duo with Elmo Lee Thomas called The Skip and Elmo Show. He performed on the band's 2009 album Blue Memphis.
Other notable recordings
Pitts appeared on Al Green's Grammy nominated record I Can't Stop, produced by Willie Mitchell, as well as Cyndi Lauper's Grammy nominated Memphis Blues. He performed singles from the album with Lauper on the television shows The Apprentice and Late Night with David Letterman.
In addition to Wattstax and Truck Turner, Pitts appeared in the award-winning Forty Shades of Blue, Craig Brewer's Black Snake Moan, and Soul Men featuring Bernie Mac and Samuel L. Jackson, for which he also contributed three songs to its soundtrack. The song "Soul Music" by Anthony Hamilton was nominated for a Grammy. Further, he performed on the score for the Academy Award winning film Hustle and Flow with The Bo-Keys.
Awards and outreach
Pitts taught at-risk youth at Memphis' Stax Music Academy in the early 2000s.
He was the voice of the Memphis Police Department's "Blue Crush" advertisement campaign, an effort to reduce street crime in the city.
In 2011, Pitts received a brass note on the Beale Street Walk of Fame.
Pitts died of cancer in Memphis, Tennessee, on May 1, 2012. He was 65 years old.
- Mehr, Bob (1 May 2012). "Stax music great, guitarist Charles 'Skip' Pitts dies". The Commercial Appeal.
- Hood, Joey (28 October 2011). "Charles "Skip" Pitts: A Soul Man in the Truest Sense". Soul Train.
- Ross, Michael (7 July 2011). "Skip Pitts". Guitar Player. ISSN 0017-5463.
- "Skip Pitts / The Bo-Keys". Dunlop Manufacturing. Retrieved 24 May 2016.
- "Guitarist helped create 'Theme From Shaft'". Los Angeles Times. 4 May 2012.