'Nashville Sound' creator recalled in Cornersville

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

(Maginnis of Cornersville is Bill Porter's sister.)

A memorial service will be held in Nashville in the near future to commemorate the life of Bill Porter, legendary recording engineer, who died July 7 in Ogden, Utah.

"He is considered by many to be the greatest recording engineer of all time," wrote John McClellan, Chet Atkins' biographer. "Bill Porter deserves as much credit as anyone in creating the 'Nashville Sound.' He achieved this through his creativeness, his ability to hear sound as colors, and his skill in capturing on tape the full bloom or three dimensions of sound: width, height and depth."

Porter engineered recordings by such stars as Elvis Presley, Chet Atkins, and Roy Orbison. In one week in 1960, his recordings accounted for 15 of Billboard Magazine's "Top 100," an achievement no other recording engineer has ever matched.

Bill was born Billy Rhodes Porter on June 15, 1931, in St. Louis, Mo., to Earl Johnson and Hallie Mae Porter.

Porter began his career as the sound engineer for WLAC-TV in the early '50s when broadcast television first came to Nashville. From there he moved to Nashville's RCA Records, Studio B, in 1959, and became the chief engineer under guitarist and producer Chet Atkins. During Porter's four-year tenure at RCA, he engineered more that 579 records that made the charts; 49 were Top 10; 11 became No. 1; and 37 were certified gold.

When Elvis Presley returned from his Army stint in 1960, he signed with RCA and Porter recorded the majority of Elvis' No. 1 hits.

"For many," Porter wrote years later, "Elvis' songs were the epitome of rock 'n' roll ... when there was a vibrancy and vitality to the music that made even the bad times seem good, the days worth living, and the memories worth keeping."

He left RCA in 1963 and was briefly with Columbia Records, before leaving to manage Monument Records' studio. While there he engineered many of Roy Orbison's greatest hits, including "Only the Lonely" and "Oh, Pretty Woman."

In 1966, he moved his family to Las Vegas, Nev., where he managed United Recording. Porter became Presley's live sound engineer while Elvis was performing in Las Vegas, and then his touring sound engineer.

Porter never graduated from college, but he created and co-authored the first college-level curriculum for audio engineering and became the first director of recording services, heading the teaching staff and audio facilities for the music-engineering program at the University of Miami School of Music.

Porter also taught at the University of Colorado, and at Webster University's School of Communication in St. Louis, retiring in 2005.

"Bill Porter was a perfectionist who shared his wisdom and talent with new generations of audio production students," said Debra Carpenter, dean of Webster University's School of Communication. "He was a true Southern gentleman. His passing is a great loss to all of us who knew and loved him."

Porter was inducted into the TEC (Technical Excellence and Creativity) Awards Hall of Fame, and won many other awards.

Bill Porter died of complications associated with Alzheimer's disease. He is survived by his wife, Carole Smith Porter of Ogden, Utah; son, Gene Porter of Las Vegas, Nev.; daughter, Nancy Jenann Ulin of Hawaii; brother, Earl J. Porter Jr. of Springfield, Tenn,; sister, Mary Sue Porter Maginnis of Cornersville; four grandchildren; five nieces and nephews; and an uncle, C. W. Blanford of Riverside, Calif. He was preceded in death by a son, Gerald Rhodes Porter.