My time with Bill Porter

Posted: July 9, 2010 in Uncategorized

I found out today that a past teacher/mentor of mine passed away yesterday. Bill Porter was a great man. Bill was responsible for “The Nashville Sound”….recording amazing talent such as Elvis, Roy Orbison, Chet Atkins, The Everly Brothers, and countless others. He continues to hold the record since 1960 for having the most hits on the Top 100 at the same time in a single week. (15!) Bill engineered over 7,000 recordings with 579+ hitting the charts, 49 in the top 10, and 37 gold records. Quite an impressive resume!

I feel honored to have learned from Bill…..and I learned A LOT! But the most important thing I learned was how to LISTEN……the most valuable tool I have in my sonic arsenal. An audio engineer is nothing if he/she doesn’t know what to listen for.

I had a lot of great conversations with Bill and have many fond memories. He embodies my college experience. Bill was like another grandfather. He was always there to lend an ear and offer good advice from his years of experience. I can’t think of another teacher throughout all of my years in school (college or otherwise) that I felt more close to and honored to be in their class. The one thing I wish is that I had more time with him. After I graduated college, I obviously talked to Bill a lot less. We had a few phone conversations over the years, and the last time I actually saw him was at his wife’s funeral. You always wish you had more time with someone after they are gone.

Bill was from another generation of engineers; a generation of real MUSICIANS and real instruments…a generation of capturing true talent. He knew more than anyone how to accurately capture a beautiful point in time.

He captured music. He captured art.

During his last few years of teaching at Webster University, the audio landscape was beginning to change substantially. We were right in the middle of the “artificial age” of digital recording. Not that this age hasn’t past us by, but the novelty of it has since morphed into a standard. Engineers and future engineers were beginning to see the (unfortunate) advantages of drum sample replacement, vocal tuning, quantized drums, and (the most devastating) a lack of musicianship. Bill was not quiet about his disdain for these things. He was a very opinionated and passionate person…..much like myself. Maybe that’s why I liked him so much. I remember the day in 2002 when Elvis’s “A Little Less Conversation” was remixed. He couldn’t help but comment for 30 minutes on how they destroyed his recording…..and I had to agree. There is something magical and real about Bill’s mixes. They are timeless and classic. He lamented about many modern recordings, and for good reason. The problem was, Bill complained about modern sound quality before it was “cool” to do so. Some students resented him for that and thought he was out of touch. But what those students didn’t understand was, without Bill, there would be no audio schools for them to attend. Bill started the first audio program in Miami only decades ago. He paved the way for them to learn from those more experienced than themselves. What they also failed to see was Bill being ahead of the curve. People are now beginning to see that the mechanized way of making records is tiring and has a short shelf life. I was both saddened and angry to see Bill’s departure from the Webster faculty.

I am honored to have been taught by Bill Porter.
I am humbled by his experience.
I am truly and deeply saddened by his passing.

This is a letter that Bill handed to me in class after I wrote Mix magazine wondering why on earth they left him out of an article about the most influential engineers.
In the envelope with this letter, he included a little pin in the shape of an analog VU meter.

“Justin,

Regarding your comments to the editor of Mix magazine, your kind words were very appreciated! I thought perhaps you would like to have something to remember me by, and your days in my audio class. You’ve been quite a good student and I’ll always remember you!

Bill Porter”

I haven’t read this letter in a number of years. And now it’s even more meaningful than when I received it.

“I thought you would like to have something to remember me by”.

Bill didn’t need to give me anything to remember him by. I will have the knowledge he passed on to me until the day I die.

“Let me give you a clue, people”. Bill Porter was one in a million.

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Comments
  1. Justin, I could not agree more. Bill was one in a million. I was lucky enough to work with Bill from 1982-1986. He was a warm and generous person. Always willing to share his knowledge without being arrogant. He was a true master of the craft. I miss him and am truly honored to have been his friend.

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