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Joe Pitts and band drum up Arkansas Food Bank gifts

By JACK W. HILL SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE

This article was published December 12, 2013 at 2:52 a.m.

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Joe Pitts

With a long musical career, Joe Pitts has been able to lead the life he has wanted. So he feels like Christmas is an excellent time to share the bounty.

He and some friends are putting on the sixth annual Joe Pitts Band Christmas Jam to benefit the Arkansas Food Bank.

Over the past five years, the annual jams have provided about 20,000 meals to people in the Little Rock area, Pitts says: “We’re blessed to be fortunate enough to do this the past five years. …”

“Mostly I just play music, and also do some odds and ends. I’ve put out eight albums and gone on 14 European tours, so I’ve managed to stay pretty busy. I’ve got a great group of guys I play with, and Little Rock has supported us well over the years. It hasn’t been that easy, but it’s not that easy for those with day jobs, either.”

A native of Watson Chapel, near Pine Buff, Pitts had his first professional gig at 15. After high school, he went in the military, then returned home and hit the road playing music in his mid-20s.

“I really got started when I was 8 and my dad gave me an old flat-top guitar,” Pitts says, “and we had always watched the TV shows and listened to a lot of Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner. It was on one of those shows where I saw a guy playing a dobro, but I didn’t know what it was, and that was what I aspired to play, since I could see that it was something that I could lay it on my lap and make some noise with it.”

Pitts’ path became defined at 13 when his older sister took him to see the Allman Brothers Band in September 1971 at the Warehouse club in New Orleans, less than two months before Duane Allman’s death in a motorcycle accident.

“My sister was into Cream, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, while at the other end of the house, our dad was tolerating mom’s love of Ray Charles, Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard,” Pitts says. “Dad would get hacked off at the loud rock coming from sister’s room. And that sister didn’t treat me like a punk kid brother, but would play me stuff and then explain to me where the Stones and Zeppelin had gotten their sound, from the likes of Son House, Bukka White and the like.”

Pitts plays guitar and sings in the band that bears his name, which also includes Al Hagood on bass, Chris Moore on drums and Stuart Baer on keyboards.

In 1973, when he was 15, Pitts was chosen to play with Bobby “Blue” Bland and Leon Russell, and he has subsequently opened shows for Gregg Allman, Foreigner, Bobby Rush, Coco Montoya and Tommy Talton of the band Cowboy. Pitts has played with blues greats Watermelon Slim, Bob Margolin, Smokin’ Joe Kubek, and a trio of Arkansans, CeDell Davis, Larry McCray and the late Michael Burks.

“Michael and I were old friends,” Pitts says. “He’s on my first record. I learned a lot about the music business from him. And with Larry being Michael’s cousin, I got to know him, also, and anyone hanging around Pine Bluff knew CeDell Davis and how hard it was for him to play due to the hard life he led.”

Pitts reports that his latest CD, Ten Shades of Blue, is his most successful album to date, having been chosen as an XM radio “Pick to Click” and reaching the top of the Roots and Blues Internet radio chart and No. 5 on the Roots and Blues national chart. Pitts and the band also recorded their first DVD, Payin’ the Price, which they recorded in Camden at the Postmaster Grill, an old post office that Pitts calls “one of the nicest venues in Arkansas.”

Sixth Annual Joe Pitts Band Christmas Jam

Openers: The Cruize Brothers, Blues Boy Jag and the Juke Joint Zombies, John McAteer and Gentlemen Firesnakes, Detarado, Steve Hester and the DejaVooDoo 5 p.m. Saturday, Thirst N’ Howl, 14710 Cantrell Road, Little Rock Donations accepted for the Arkansas Food Bank (501) 379-8189 thirst-n-howl.com

Weekend, Pages 38 on 12/12/2013

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