Thursday, May 03, 2012

The Isley Brothers - It's Your Thing (T Neck 901)

It's Your Thing

Skip Pitts was one of the coolest people that ever lived. He was an absolute fixture at the Ponderosa Stomp, and I had seen him with Isaac Hayes, and loved his recent work with The Bo-Keys as well. He was a consummate professional, and truly a 'musician's musician'. People knew him, of course, as 'the Shaft guitarist', but there was much more to the story... and stories there were. As anyone who knew him will tell you, Skip had a million of them. It was my great privilege to hang out with him over the course of several days at Royal Studio in Memphis during the sessions Bob Wilson booked there for Sir Lattimore Brown in June of 2008.

Fellow veterans of the Soul circuit, Lattimore and Skip hit it off right away, and listening to them swap tales of life backstage at places like The Apollo and The Howard Theater is something I will treasure for the rest of my life. Some of Skip's most hair-raising stories had to do with his days as the guitarist for Wilson Pickett's road band, The Midnight Movers, in the late sixties.

Check out the 21 year old Soul Man just gettin' on down in this video from a 1968 European Tour... "Play it Skip!" He was the only one who could soothe the savage beast once The Wicked One really got out there, he told me. Those must have been some days.

When The Isley Brothers decided to start their own record label in 1969, they brought in The Midnight Movers as their backing band and cut this stone classic we have here today. It would spend a solid month at #1 R&B that Spring, while crossing over to the #2 slot on the Hot 100. It was just all over the radio, and has remained pretty heavy in the rotation ever since. When Skip told me he was the guy playing those funky 'chunk-chunks' on here, I was blown away. He had been such a part of the soundtrack of my life, and I never even knew it.

It was on the strength of this groundbreaking record that Isaac Hayes asked Skip to come to Memphis in 1970 and help him form his own band. Together they would put Theme From Shaft squarely on top of the Billboard Pop Chart for two weeks in the fall of 1971, and provide the ultimate 'moment when cool was born' at WattStax the following summer:

They would remain together for life.

I will never forget the day that Bob Wilson brought Skip back down to Willie Mitchell Boulevard to overdub the absolutely brilliant lead guitar part on The Itch. As he plugged in his trademark black Stratocaster, and began working that wah-wah, my jaw just dropped. He was as good as he ever was, man, a true guitar genius just creating on the fly. All those years of R&B history, the incredible life he had lived, came shining through at that moment. Here, truly, was an artist. Here was a real Soul Man.

He will never be replaced.


SERVICES for Charles 'Skip' Pitts

Sunday, May 6
Visitation 3-5 pm
Service 5 pm
N.J. Ford and Sons Funeral Home
12 South Parkway West (at Florida Street)
Memphis, TN 38109

Washington, DC:
Funeral service to take place on Saturday, May 12 (Location TBD)
Burial to take place in Baltimore, MD.


Blogger chaser said...

There are 2 things about Skip that made an instant impression on me.
1. His hands. I'd never seen calluses like that before. He would use his whole hand when he'd play guitar, which was constantly.

2. His voice.

A true original.

12:03 AM  
Anonymous Paul P. said...

Today I looked again at the footage you guys shot at Royal during the Lattimore sessions. That moment you come into the studio and the first guy you meet is Skip. Right away he starts telling stories with that raspy, dark voices. Priceless, what a guy and what a guitar player.
Do you know if it is him who plays on 'Hung up on my baby' by Isaac Hayes? It is one of my all time favorites.
Good story by the way, Red.

4:18 PM  
Blogger Red Kelly said...

Bro -

According to "Hung Up On My Baby" comes from a 1974 soundtrack LP Tough Guys. Where it says 'Music by Movement, The", which included both Skip and Michael Toles on guitar... I'm betting that's Skip on those Wes Montgomery chords. He was a true artist, man.

7:12 PM  

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