According to BBC, Pitts was best known for his unique “wah-wah” guitar pedal sound which left an indelible mark on the Isaac Hayes theme to the 1971 motion picture Shaft.
After growing up in Washington, D.C., Pitts started his musical career as a teenager with a credible mentor in neighbor Bo Diddley. From there Pitts found himself performing on Gene Chandler’s “Rainbow ’65” before stints with soul legends Wilson Pickett, the Isley Brothers (“It’s Your Thing”) and Sam and Dave. Pitts would also befriend one Marvin Gaye, who was dating his sister at the time.
In 1970 Pitts relocated to Memphis to become a part of Hayes’ group and appeared in the 1974 blaxploitation film Truck Turner. But it was his work on the Shaft theme which was his signature.
“The ‘Shaft’ part was created because Isaac needed something driving for the beginning of the movie, when (actor) Richard Roundtree is coming out of the subway and walking through Times Square,” Pitts told Guitar Player in an interview regarding the song. “I was checking my pedals. I tested my overdrive, my reverb, the Maestro box, and then I started in with the wah. Isaac stopped everything and said, ‘Skip, what is that you are playing?’ I said, ‘I am just tuning up.’ He said, ‘Keep playing that G octave.'”
“His guitar style was very unique,” musician Scott Bomar, a bandmate of Pitts in the Bo-Keys, told Memphis paper the Commercial Appeal yesterday. “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.”
After his nearly four-decade run in Hayes’ group concluded with the singer’s death in 2008, Pitts continued performing, applying his craft to soundtracks such to films likeBlack Snake Moan while also doing studio session work with Cyndi Lauper and Al Green. He would also become a part of the Memphis music scene, teaching at-risk youth at the Stax Music Academy.
Pitts is survived by his wife Beverly. Funeral arrangements have yet to be announced but they will take place in Washington, D.C.
God rest this cat’s soul! Skip Pitts