Bill Porter and the legendary Nashville A-Team, architects of the Nashville sound, were reunited
for a 2006 AES Nashville sponsored session in the equally legendary RCA Studio B. Shown are
(front L to right): Bob Mater (drums), Pete Wade (electric guitar), Bill Porter (engineer),
Bob Moore (bass). Standing (left to right): Harold Bradley (electric guitar),
Boots Randolph (sax), Jimmy Capps (rhythm guitar), Michelle Voan (vocals) and
Anita Stapleton Anderson (background vocals).
By Clark Hagan.
Nashville, TN (July 16, 2010)–Bill Porter (June 15, 1931 – July 7, 2010) passed away last week from natural causes. A recording engineer of legendary status, Bill Porter’s name is synonymous with the designation “sound professional.” Recognized throughout the music and entertainment industries for his clean, ambient recordings—hallmarks of the Nashville Sound—Porter worked with and engineered songs for many top artists.
The list reads like a Who’s Who in Music: Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, the Everly Brothers, Ann-Margret, Boots Randolph, Sammy Davis, Jr., Barbara Streisand, Connie Francis, Louis Armstrong, Paul Anka, Al Hirt, The Fifth Dimension, Wayne Newton, Glen Campbell, Harry Belafonte, Diana Ross & The Supremes, to name just a few. His trademark sound on Orbison’s “Pretty Woman,” “Only The Lonely” and “Running Scared”; Elvis’ “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” “It’s Now Or Never” and “Suspicious Minds”; Al Hirt’s “Java”; and Boots Randolph’s “Yakety Sax” are the most recognized in his catalog.
Nashville engineer and producer Bil VornDick reminisces: “Bill Porter is one of the pioneers who started a legacy that would become Music Row in Nashville. Besides recording Elvis and so many great RCA Artists, Bill continued to work with Elvis in his live performances and tours. Audiences and listeners will continue to hear Bill Porter’s work for many decades to come.”
In addition to being a prestigious member of the Audio Engineering Society, Bill also received the TEC Foundation For Excellence In Audio Technical Excellence Creativity Hall of Fame Award in 1992. Porter was the first engineer to be inducted into the Audio Hall of Fame in New York in 1989.
This consummate professional engineered/produced more than 7,000 recording sessions, resulting in 579+ chart records. Porter is the only recording engineer credited by Billboard to have 15 songs crack its “TOP 100 CHARTS” all in the same week. Porter’s unique ability to “hear” a finished production in advance, to visualize and deliver such a mental vision in live sound, or to transpose the magic for posterity, made him not only an artist, but a living legend in tone history.
With more than 50 years of technical experience in television production, recording studios, live sound, management of audio/video studios, and media marketing, Bill captured the sounds that reshaped popular music and influenced generations of music that followed.
In 1975, Porter established the first four-year recording degree program in the USA at the University of Miami/Miami, Florida. Today, Bill’s program is the model employed by most all schools that teach recording techniques. After gaining tenure in 1981, he went on to join the teaching staff at the University of Colorado at Denver, where he continued to share his wealth of knowledge with aspiring audio students, one who went on and won a 1996 Grammy with Chet Atkins, Bill’s first employer. Bill ended his teaching career, retiring at Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri.
Recently, Bill was included in the first edition of The Encyclopedia of Country Music, compiled by the staff of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum of Nashville, Tennessee. This compendium covers eight decades of the historical, cultural, religious, artistic and financial forces shaping country music.
Personally, I remember Bill Porter as a man who taught by experience. Bill instilled confidence within me, allowing me to learn through the process of completing a recording project. Bill warned me that music is a hard business and that I might not want to pursue music as a career, though he also encouraged what potential he saw in me, encouraging me to “shoot for the stars” in music. It was my privilege to work with Bill, the best in the industry.
Bill shared a passion to give back what was given to him through his expertise and wisdom. Many engineers and students have been blessed by the man’s mere presence and aura. To me, he was a teacher, a boss, a friend, a mentor. I became his protégé and was honored when he often told people that I was the best and most successful student he ever had. I have some very big shoes to fill. I doubt if I’ll match Bill’s accomplishment of getting 15 cuts in Billboard top 100 in one week, although I can dream. Bill was an amazing man in the way he would interpret music and sounds. He taught us how to really use our ears, to hear.
Bill encouraged talent when he recognized it in artists as well as engineers. In one instance, while we both were working at Allen/Martin Productions, in walked a young man who wanted to be the next Elvis Presley. Billy was very intrigued and went to see the young man perform and videotaped the performances. I watched those tapes and told Bill, “This kid is gonna be a star!” Bill said, “Yeah, but he needs some management.” We did demos on the young kid and started stirring up attention for him and all of a sudden, his old manager took some interest and got the kid signed. That “kid” was Billy Ray Cyrus.
I was very lucky to have worked with some of the artists that that Bill had also recorded, including engineering on Chet Atkins’ last three albums. I was honored to be at the AES Nashville section event where they put the “A Team” of Nashville session players back together for a recording at RCA Studio B. I feel very fortunate to have had the people around me who taught me how to make hit records, to be helped in my career by folks like Bill and Chet Atkins, as have so many others. I have even seen Bill and Chet Atkins help people out in their career, myself included. They represent an era where talent was sought out and supported.
Bill was also good at challenging manufacturers to make better devices. In his classic acceptance speech for his TEC Award, he challenged synth makers to make better sounding instruments. I find myself wondering what his thoughts were on the MP3.
We as an industry should make the effort to examine the life and work of our brethren from our past—men like Bill Porter—to learn what they have to teach us and to pass along this knowledge, of good sound and bad, to the next generation—to give them a desire to achieve nothing but the best!
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