Benefit concert to honor, help The Bo-Keys' Pitts

Organizers hope to raise $20K to aid terminally ill musician

Former Stax artist Eddie Floyd gets down with gutarist Skip Pitts at the Memphis In May Music Festival on Saturday.

Photo by Mike Brown // Buy this photo

Former Stax artist Eddie Floyd gets down with gutarist Skip Pitts at the Memphis In May Music Festival on Saturday.

Charles 'Skip' Pitts

Photo by Mike Brown

Charles "Skip" Pitts

A benefit concert for terminally ill soul musician Charles "Skip" Pitts of The Bo-Keys will be held Monday at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music.

Pitts, whose distinctive wah-wah guitar on Isaac Hayes' "Theme from Shaft" remains one of the most recognizable sounds in pop music, lost a kidney to cancer two years ago and was diagnosed in February with stage-four lung cancer, said bassist and producer Scott Bomar, Pitts' bandmate in The Bo-Keys. Bomar is an organizer of the benefit, along with other friends, fellow musicians and Royal Studios.

Pitts is under hospice care at his home.

The benefit, which runs from 6 to 9 p.m. at 926 E. McLemore, will feature a set by The Bo-Keys as well as performances by Elmo & the Shades, Susan Marshall, A 440, Barbara Blue, Al Kapone and Kirk Whalum.

Admission is $20 with additional donations welcome.

Pitts, 65, has been unable to work since appearing with The Bo-Keys on New Year's Eve at The Peabody Hotel. Medicare and assistance from The Recording Academy's MusiCares program and the Jazz Foundation have helped with some expenses, but Bomar said they hope to raise money for other expenses, including funeral arrangements.

"We'd like to raise about $20,000," he said. "That's a lot, but that would help take care of everything that needs taking care of."

Organizers have set up a "Benefit for Charles 'Skip' Pitts" page on Facebook to collect donations.

Originally from Washington, Pitts moved to Memphis in 1970 after stints playing with Gene Chandler, Wilson Pickett, and the Isley Brothers. He joined Hayes' group and in 1971 recorded the guitar part for which he is perhaps best known. "Theme From Shaft" won the Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Pitts also worked at Stax Studios in the early '70s as a session player, cutting records with The Soul Children, Albert King and Rufus Thomas among others. In recent years, he appeared on records by Al Green and Cyndi Lauper and in films like "Black Snake Moan" and "Soul Men."

His guitar parts have been sampled by a number of hip-hop artists, including Jay-Z, The Beastie Boys, and Dr. Dre.

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