Wednesday, May 02, 2012

R.I.P Charles "Skip" Pitts

Charles "Skip" Pitts (left) with Dennis Coffey, 2009. Photo: Ed Mata
Charles "Skip" Pitts, Stax Records guitarist, has died aged 65. He was best known for the classic wah-wah sound on Shaft by Isaac Hayes. 

"Though nominally a "sideman," Mr. Pitts was a star among fellow musicians and dedicated fans of R&B. "His guitar style was very unique," said producer/musician Scott Bomar, Mr. Pitts' band mate in Bluff City R&B group the Bo-Keys.

"He took a little bit of the Bo Diddley rhythm, the Northern soul of Curtis Mayfield and the Memphis sound of Steve Cropper and Reggie Young and somehow came up with his own thing, a style that no one had."

A Washington DC native who grew up in the shadow of the city's famed Howard Theatre, as a child he rubbed shoulders with musical royalty, getting friendly with Marvin Gaye (who dated his sister) and Bo Diddley (who was a neighbour).

Mr. Pitts got his start professionally in the mid-1960s. As a teenager he backed up R&B stars the Coasters, Gene Chandler (he played on the live hit "Rainbow '65") the Isley Brothers, Sam & Dave and Wilson Pickett.

But it was a move to Memphis and a nearly 30-year collaboration with Isaac Hayes that yielded his greatest legacy, including the immortal guitar riff on the Academy Award-winning "Shaft" soundtrack.

Mr. Pitts' use of the wah-wah effect pedal on "Shaft" resonated for several generations. His work would be sampled by numerous hip-hop and rap acts over the years including Dr. Dre and the Beastie Boys, among others.

Deeply identified with the effect, Mr. Pitts is featured in the new documentary film "Cry Baby: The Pedal That Rocks The World" alongside guitarists Slash, Buddy Guy, and Eddie Van Halen...."  Read the full story at The Commercial Appeal, Memphis. 

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