New Orleans — Music lovers who witnessed soul revivalists the Bo-Keys perform just more than a year ago at the Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans saw the next to last performance that guitarist Skip Pitts played with the band.
Pitts and his fellow Memphis music veterans as well as the Bo-Keys’ younger players backed singers Eddie Floyd (“Knock On Wood”), William Bell (“You Don’t Miss Your Water”) and Sir Mack Rice (“Mustang Sally”) in a sizzling set of Memphis soul.
Of course, the group performed “Theme From Shaft,” the Isaac Hayes classic in which Pitts’ wah-wah pedal-filtered guitar plays such a prominent role.
“That was a fun show,” Bo-Keys bassist and co-founder Scott Bomar said last week from his Memphis recording studio. “Skip always loved playing in New Orleans. He loved playing the Stomp. Skip was always on, but he was really, really on that night.”
Pitts made just one more appearance with the Bo-Keys, a New Year’s Eve show in Memphis, before his death last spring.
When the Bo-Keys return to New Orleans for an appearance Saturday at the Crescent City Blues and Barbecue Festival, younger-generation Memphis musician Joe Restivo will be the band’s guitar man. Fortunately, Restivo apprenticed himself with Pitts in the Bo-Keys, playing alongside the funk and soul master.
“We’ve lost so many musicians who are part of the Memphis music family in the past couple of years,” Bomar said. “So every time I have a group together and we do something like what we did at the Stomp in New Orleans, I appreciate every moment of it.”
Singers Otis Clay and Percy Wiggins, organist Archie “Hubby” Turner and drummer Howard Grimes are the Memphis veterans who tour with the Bo-Keys. Others work with the group, too, but mostly in the studio.
Grimes carries such studio credits as Rufus and Carla Thomas’ “Cause I Love You,” O.V. Wright’s “Nickel and a Nail” and Ann Peebles’ “I Can’t Stand the Rain.”
Turner was a member of the Hi Records rhythm section, working with producer Willie Mitchell, adding his soulful keyboard work to recordings by Al Green, Peebles and more.
Syncing his bass with Grimes’ drums comes naturally to Bomar.
“Howard has got such a deep pocket, it’s impossible not to lock in with him,” he said. “For me, it’s a dream come true.”
Memphis native Bomar, despite being more than a generation younger than the Stax, Hi and Goldwax session players, grew up with his city’s soul music legacy.
“Those records still get played all the time in Memphis,” he said. “It’s like being in Louisiana. Forty-year-old records get played every year during Carnival season or various holidays. People bust out ‘Big Chief’ on a vinyl 45 rpm record. It’s real similar here in Memphis. You can’t go to a bar or a club on Beale Street before you hear Booker T. and the M.G.’s ‘Green Onions’ or Willie Mitchell’s ‘20-75’ on a jukebox.”
Paying homage from one music city to another, Bomar is a New Orleans music fan. He was thrilled, too, to work in the studio with one of his heroes, Allen Toussaint, when the New Orleans pianist, songwriter and producer traveled to Memphis to play for Cyndi Lauper’s 2010 album, “Memphis Blues.”
“That’s definitely a highlight for me,” Bomar said. “I’m such a fan of his music. The music of New Orleans, just New Orleans in general, has been such a big influence on me.”