Charles “Skip” Pitts, one of the architects of soul, R&B, and funk guitar and a member of the Bo-Keys, has passed away at the age of 65. Pitts is best known for creating two of the signature guitar riffs of all time: The Isley Brothers’ “It’s Your Thing” and the wah-wah on Isaac Hayes’ “Theme From Shaft.”
Getting tips from his neighbor Bo Diddley, Pitts learned to play guitar at age 11 on the street corners of his childhood home of Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, Pitts’ uncle owned a hotel next to the prestigious Howard Theater, where he met a who’s who of soul and rhythm and blues legends, including James Brown and Otis Redding. He was soon on stage himself, performing with Sam & Dave, Wilson Pickett, and performing and recording with the Isley Brothers and Rufus Thomas.
He first recorded at the age of 15 on Gene Chandler’s “Rainbow 65.” Following this time with the Isley Brothers’ backing band The Midnight Movers, Pitts experienced the longest collaboration of his career with Isaac Hayes, staying with him from 1971 to 2008. After the success of “Shaft,” he appeared in the concert film “Wattstax” and started
recorded with other Stax artists, holding his own with Albert King, among others. (He is associated so deeply with the wah-wah pedal that he is interviewed in a new documentary “Cry Baby: The Pedal That Rocks The World” alongside Slash, Buddy Guy, Eddie Van Halen, Kirk Hammett.)
When not on the road or in the studio with Hayes, Pitts was a session player at Stax, and played on many hit recordings by artists such as Albert King and Rufus Thomas. More recently, he has performed on the score for the Academy Award-winning film “Hustle and Flow” with The Bo-Keys and performed on the Grammy-nominated Al Green record, “I Can’t Stop,” produced by Willie Mitchell.
Pitts’ accomplishments continue deep into the 21st century; alongside the Bo-Keys, he performed on Cyndi Lauper’s Grammy-nominated 2010 album Memphis Blues and backed her on the Late Show with David Letterman (CBS). He has also given back to his Memphis community, teaching at-risk youth in Memphis at the Stax Music Academy. He is
heavily featured on the Bo-Keys’ 2011 release Got To Get Back!, which earned year-end best status from the Associated Press and Something Else! Reviews, to go with several Blues Music Award nominations.
Pitts’ classic guitar riffs have been sampled by hip hop royalty such as Dr. Dre with Snoop Dogg, Beastie Boys, Massive Attack, Eazy-E, and DJ Shadow with Cut Chemist. In addition to music, Pitts also delved into acting in his latter years, appearing in the award-winning “Forty Shades of Blue,” “Black Snake Moan” and appeared with the Bo-keys along with Samuel L. Jackson and Bernie Mac in “Soul Men.”
He passed away May 1, 2012, at Methodist Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. A burial is planned in Washington, D.C. He is survived by his wife.