R&B, Blues, Soul & Stax
VOICES Notes and news on R&B, Blues, Soul & Stax releases
07 MAY 12 CHRIS SLAWECKI
Guitarist Charles "Skip" Pitts succumbed to cancer at age 65 in Memphis, his musical hometown, on May 1. Pitts served as guitarist in Isaac Hayes' band and Isaac Hayes Movement rhythm machine. His pulsating, shimmering electric wah-wah rhythm guitar -- a wild-eyed rave-up on Bo Diddley's famous beat -- wasn't the first instrument to enter Hayes' landmark "Theme from Shaft" but it was certainly the most prominent and memorable.
Pitts' riff propelled Hayes' "Theme" to #2 R&B single, #1 pop single, and three Grammy Awards, plus Hayes copped the Academy Award for Best Song from a Motion Picture, the first such honor for an African-American composer. Shaft: Music from the Motion Picture also topped the R&B and pop album charts, where it stayed for 60 weeks.
Though most remembered for his lush instrumentation, "Black Moses" knew a good guitar thing when he heard it. Many of the parts he wrote for Pitts became highlights of Hayes' own recorded legacy, like Pitts' burning fuzz-tone that cleaves open "Walk On By" (from Hot Buttered Soul) and devours fully half of the extensive "Do Your Thing" (from the Shaft soundtrack, but also available in a blistering performance Live at Sahara Tahoe).
Skip Pitts also recorded as guitarist for Stax artists the Soul Children and Rufus Thomas. In 2008, he received the W.C. Handy Heritage Award. He also received a star on Beale Street in adopted hometown Memphis in 2010. His soulful craftsmanship will be missed but remembered in Memphis, and beyond.