Charles “Skip” Pitts, the revered soul guitarist whose iconic guitar riff for the “Theme from Shaft” helped make both the song and its eponymous movie pop-culture touchstones, has died.
He was 65.
According to a rep for the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Pitts passed away in Memphis on Tuesday after a battle with cancer.
Pitts’ storied career was marked by his fertile, 40-year collaboration with Isaac Hayes, whose band he joined in 1970.
Their work on the Shaft soundtrack signaled a definitive and watershed moment in the blaxploitation film movement, pushing it to the forefront of the pop consciousness and giving black filmmakers a foothold—and a sound.
The Washington, D.C.–born musician began playing well before his teens and was mentored by Bo Diddley, who was a neighbor.
Aside from his collaboration with Hayes, Pitts was also a session musician for Stax Records and played alongside music greats including Al Green, Sam & Dave and Wilson Pickett.
His work with the Isley Brothers also produced another iconic song, “It’s Your Thing.”
Pitts continued to be a prolific musician well into his final years. He and his band, The Bo-Keys, released an album last year, and he also performed on the soundtracks to Hustle & Flow, Black Snake Moan and Soul Men.