DAVID PORTER-…INTO A REAL THING…AND MORE.

DAVID PORTER-…INTO A REAL THING…AND MORE.

Ten years ago, in 2005, David Porter was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall Of Fame. By then, David Porter was a veteran of the music industry. He started off as a singer, and then became a producer and songwriter. It was as a songwriter that Dave Porter’s best known.

Between 1962 and 2005, David Porter penned 1,700 songs. These songs sold over 300 million units. This includes a trio of Grammy Award singles. The first was Sam and Dave’s Soul Man in 1968. Twenty-five years later, and David Porter won a second Grammy Award with Mariah Carey’s Dreamlover. David Porter wasn’t done yet. He wrote Get Jiggy Wit It for Will Smith. It won a Grammy Award in 1999. However, there’s much more to David Porter than three songs. 

Much more. It’s fair to say that David Porter has written songs for some of the biggest names in music. He penned tracks for an eclectic selection of artists. This includes Aretha Franklin, Bonnie Raitt, Charlie Rich, Don Covay, Dusty Springfield, James Brown, Joe Cocker, Otis Redding, Patsy Cline, The Sweet Inspirations, Wilson Pickett and ZZ Top. They’re just a few of the artists that David Porter penned songs for. However, it was at Stax that David Porter’s career took off.

At Stax, where David formed a successful songwriting partnership with Isaac Hayes. The pair wrote songs for everyone from Sam and Dave and The Soul Children to The Astors, Carla Thomas and Johnny Taylor. However, although David Porter was enjoying a successful career as an A&R man, songwriter and producer at Stax, he hadn’t given up on his solo career.

Despite the success he was enjoying, David Porter still wanted to pursue a solo career. He had brief brush with fame in 1965, with his single Can’t See You When I Want To. After that, David Porter’s solo career was put on hold until 1970. That’s when he released Gritty, Groovin’ and Gettin’ It. Sadly, it wasn’t a commercial success. However, David Porter wasn’t for giving up. He was made of stronger stuff.

So David Porter released his sophomore album …Into A Real Thing in 1971. It’s been recently released by Stax Records, an imprint of Ace Records as …Into A Real Thing…and More. There’s a recent for this. The newly released …Into A Real Thing…and More features a trio of bonus tracks, one of which has never been released before. These tracks were recorded during the …Into A Real Thing sessions, when David Porter was determined to get his solo career back on track. That determination had taken David Porter a long way.

Thirty years before, David Porter was born on November 21st 1941. He was the ninth of twelve children born in Memphis, to James and Corean Porter. David first sang in church. Later, he would enter competitions with his friend and classmate at Booker T. Washington High, Maurice White. The future founder of Earth, Wind and Fire and David proved a potent partnership, winning numerous competitions. It seemed almost inevitable that they would both pursue a career in music.

That proved to be the case. While still at school, David worked part-time in a grocery. As luck, or fate would have it, the grocery was across the road from Satellite Records. One day, David plucked up the courage to go across and ask if Satellite Records would consider recording soul music? Soon, David was having regular meeting with Chips Moman. This resulted in David becoming a songwriter at Satellite Records.

With his new role, David Porter set about bringing some of his musical friends to Satellite Records. This included Booker T. Jones, William Bell and Andrew Love. These three men would play an important part in the future of Satellite Records. 

Not long after David Porter was brought onboard, Satellite Records became Stax Records and became a soul label. Little did anyone realise that it would become one of soul’s biggest and most successful labels. David Porter played an important role in the rise and rise of Stax Records.

Despite his new role, David Porter made sure he graduated from Booker T. Washington High in 1961. He later enrolled on a music course at LeMoyne College. However, in 1962, the twenty-one year old David Porter was playing a crucial role at Stax Records.

David Porter became Stax Records’ first staff songwriter. The first song he wrote at Stax was That was The Life I Live, the B-side to Barbara Stephens single I Don’t Worry. Soon, he was writing songs for many artists at Stax. This wasn’t his only role at Stax.

Given Stax Records was a new company, David Porter juggled various roles. He was also Stax Records’ A&R man. David signed The Emotions, Homer Banks and The Soul Children to Stax, and produced many of these acts. However, one of his most important signings was the man who would become his songwriting and production partner…Isaac Hayes.

Bringing Isaac Hayes to Stax Records proved to be a masterstroke. The pair became songwriting and production partners. Isaac was yin to David’s yang. One complimented the other. Their track record of success was enviable. They wrote most of Sam and David’s biggest hits, including Soul Man, which won David Porter and Isaac Hayes a Grammy Award. David Porter and Isaac Hayes also wrote songs for Otis Redding, Carla Thomas, Mabel John, Albert King and The Bar Keys. It seemed the pair had the Midas touch. They wrote and produced numerous hit singles for artists signed to Stax; and played a huge part in the rise and rise of Stax Records. Away from Stax, David Porter was writing songs for some of the biggest names in music.

Away from Stax David Porter penned tracks for Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield, Wilson, Pickett, Charlie Rich, The Sweet Inspirations, Don Covay and Joe Cocker. It seemed David Porter could do no wrong. His songs were released to critical acclaim and commercial success. Artists were desperate to record David Porter’s songs. Everything was going right for David Porter during the sixties. However, as the sixties gave way to the seventies, there was a huge void in David Porter’s life.

Something was nagging away at David Porter. Here he was, nearly thirty years old, and was one of the most successful songwriter and producers. Artists were literally queuing up to record his songs. Still though, something was missing from David’s life. That was a successful solo career. 

Writing and producing songs was one thing, but David wanted to forge a career as a solo artist. He had a tantalising taste of commercial success in 1965, when Can’t See You When I Want reached the top thirty in the US R&B charts. That was the sum-total of David’s solo career. Since then, David’s solo career had been put on hold. Now as he approached this thirtieth year, David decided to relaunch his solo career. Maybe his luck would change when David Porter released his debut solo album Gritty, Groovin’ and Gettin’ It? Especially, if Isaac Hayes cowrote some songs with David.

With David needing some new songs for his debut album,  Many expected that David and and old friend and songwriting partner Isaac Hayes would pen some tracks. That wasn’t going to happen.

By the time David Porter set about rebuilding his solo career, his old songwriting partner Isaac Hayes was now well on his way to becoming a musical superstar. His 1969 sophomore album reached number eight on the US Billboard 200 and number one on the US R&B charts. Isaac Hayes was no working on the followup, The Isaac Hayes Movement. It would also reach number eight on the US Billboard 200 and number one on the US R&B charts. With Isaac Hayes now well on his way to superstardom, it was unlikely he would collaborate with David. Their partnership wasn’t as strong as it had once had been. So David launched a plan B.

When David set about choosing material for Gritty, Groovin’ and Gettin’ It. David dusted off his lucky charm Can’t See You When I Want. Five years after it was released as a single, it joined seven cover versions and became Gritty, Groovin’ and Gettin’ It. They were recorded in 1970.

Recording of Gritty, Groovin’ and Gettin’ It took place in the familiar surroundings of McLemore Avenue, Memphis. That’s where all the Stax sessions took place. It must have been like a second home to David, who’d spent many a session in the McLemore Avenue studios. Recording began on 10th September and stretched into October. With The Mar-Keys accompanying David Porter, he laid down the eight tracks that became his debut album Gritty, Groovin’ and Gettin’ It. Dale Warren and Isaac Hayes arranged the eight tracks and Isaac produced Gritty, Groovin’ and Gettin’ It. Overdubbing of strings took place on 29th December 1969, and Gritty, Groovin’ and Gettin’ It was ready for release in 1970.

Gritty, Groovin’ and Gettin’ It was released in March 1970. It reached just number 163 in the US Billboard 200 and number four in the US R&B Charts. For David, this vindicated his decision to pursue a solo career. Now his thoughts turned to the followup to Gritty, Groovin’ and Gettin’ It. 

While  Gritty, Groovin’ and Gettin’ It was a commercial success, one thing was missing, David Porter compositions. There was a reason for this. David liked to work with a songwriting partner. He didn’t have one for  Gritty, Groovin’ and Gettin’ It. However, by the time David began work on what became …Into A Real Thing, he had found a new songwriting partner, Ronnie Williams.

Ronnie Williams had been around the Memphis music scene since the mid-sixties. He worked at Onyx, one of the city’s smaller studios. The following a recommendation from Mickey Gregory, who was the trumpeter in Isaac Hayes band. This recommendation saw Ronnie Williams moved to Stax just at the right time.

David Porter was going out on the road. He was putting a band together when Ronnie Williams arrived at Stax. All David needed was two keyboard players. When David added Lester Snell, two became one. Then Ronnie Williams arrived and filled the in David’s band. Later, Ronnie Williams became David Porter’s songwriting partner for much of the seventies.

The Ronnie Williams and David Porter partnership made its debut on …Into A Real Thing. They cowrote four of the six tracks. Ooo-Wee Girl, Too Real To Live A Lie, Grocery Man and Thirty Days were all composed by the new songwriting partnership. This time around, the only cover versions were Bert Berns and Wed Farrell’s Hang On Sloopy, and Luther Dixon and Chuck Jackson’s I Don’t Wanna Cry. These six tracks became …Into A Real Thing.

Recording of …Into A Real Thing took place at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. It’s thought that accompanying David were the Muscle Shoals’ house band. David Porter, Ronnie Williams and Dale Warren arranged five tracks. These five tracks were produced by David Porter and Ronnie Williams. However, I Don’t Wanna Cry was arranged and produced by Isaac Hayes. He brought along his three backing vocalists Hot Buttered Soul. However, for I Don’t Wanna Cry, Rosie Williams, Pat Lewis and Diane Lewis were billed as The Precious People. Once …Into A Real Thing was completed, it was released later in November 1971.

Ironically, just a month before …Into A Real Thing was due to be released in November 1971, Stax released Isaac Hayes’ fourth album …To Be Continued in Octover 1971. It reached number eleven in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B charts. This was Isaac Hayes third consecutive number one album on the US R&B charts. Matching the success of his old friend was going to be almost impossible.

When …Into A Real Thing was released, the album reached number 104 on the US Billboard 200 and number nine on the US R&B charts. Although …Into A Real Thing hadn’t matched the success of Isaac Hayes’ …To Be Continued, David Porter was enjoying a successful solo career.

A cover of Hang On Sloopy opens …Into A Real Thing. It’s transforms a familiar song. What could easily be a church organ, combines with dramatic rolls. They’re scene setters. Stabs of stirring string add to the drama. Then David drops the tempo, and delivers a vocal that veers between heartfelt, powerful and soul-baring vocal. Accompanying him are The Precious People. They add soulful, soaring harmonies. Bursts of blazing horns, stabs of piano and to the drama. The tempo changes at just the right moment, and David delivers a half-spoken vocal. He’s like a soul preacher, as a piano and percussion add a subtle backdrop. Strings and drums interject dramatically. So does a moody bass and crystalline guitar. Later, a Thom Bell  French horn sounds as David dawns the role of “narrator.”  That’s until he and the band kick loose, combining soul and funk during what’s a dramatic, emotionally charged eleven minute epic.

Despite the big, bold introduction complete with blazing horns and thunderous rhythm section, Ooo-Wee Girl sees David’s impassioned, needy vocal accompanied by cooing, ethereal harmonies from The Precious People. As strings sweep, harmonies coo and horns interject, a flute flutters above the arrangement. Later, David’s vocal is impassioned and full of pride as he sings: “:they’ve got the castle, and I’ve got the Queen.”With rasping horns, dancing strings and the rhythm section providing the heartbeat, David delivers a vamps his way through the lyrics, giving thanks for the love he’s found on this beautiful ballad.

From the opening bars of Too Real To Live A Lie, it’s obvious that David isn’t happy. Bursts of drums and horns interject, while percussion replicates the sound of a clock. It’s marking the time running out on David’s relationship. He’s angry, frustrated and hurt, that his girlfriend has cheated on him. There’s an air of menace in his voice as he sings: “don’t lie to me.” Then as David sings: “if you want to have a ball, go ahead but don’t play in my park” all of a sudden, the tempo changes and a smooth, soulful ballad unfolds. With lush strings, gently braying horns  for company, David lays bare his soul; “don’t be stepping in my heart, say it if you don’t love me.” As David breathes life, meaning and emotion into the lyrics, he delivers a heart-wrenching vocal, that’s without doubt, one of his finest.

Horns sound and flourishes of piano open Grocery Man. Soon, percussion and the rhythm section enter. By then, David’s delivering a powerhouse of a vocal. Machismo fills his voice as he sings: “I’m the Grocery Man, with all the love you want.” Meanwhile, strings sweep and swirl, and the arrangement is beginning to sound as if it belongs on a seventies Blaxploitation movie. Especially, as stabs of growling horns, dancing strings, percussion and a driving rhythm section accompany David’s sassy, strutting vocal.

I Don’t Wanna Cry sees David drop the tempo on another ballad. It’s cover of a song penned by Luther Dixon and Chuck Jackson. This is the only track arranged and produced by Isaac Hayes. he’s responsible for an understated arrangement. The drums play subtly, marking time as the bass, washes of Hammond organ and quivering strings combine. They’re joined occasionally by the piano, as David delivers a slow, seductive and needy vocal. Adding the finishing touch are The Precious People’s soulful interjections. This results in David Porter at his best, delivering a beautiful, romantic ballad.

Thirty Days closes David Porter’s sophomore album …Into A Real Thing. Drums pound, strings sweep, a guitar chimes and a horn sounds. Only then does David Porter deliver a needy, hopeful vocal. Behind him, washes of Hammond organ, piano and chirping guitar are added. They’re the perfect foil for David’s needy vocal. When his vocal drops out, a tack piano takes centre-stage. When David returns, his vocal is an outpouring of emotion. The stabs of horns that accompany him compliment his vocal perfectly, as the song and the original album reaches its emotive crescendo. 

It’s almost ironic that while Isaac Hayes was receiving plaudits and critical acclaim, for albums like Hot Buttered Soul, The Isaac Hayes Movement and …To Be Continued, David Porter’s albums were going under the radar. Granted they were successful in the US R&B charts. Gritty, Groovin’ and Gettin’ It reached number four in the US R&B charts, while …Into A Real Thing reached number nine. However, David Porter didn’t have the same crossover appeal. Neither of his first two albums reached to top 100 in the US Billboard 200. That’s a great shame, as David Porter is a hugely talented artist.

While David Porter’s third album, Victim of the Joke? An Opera is considered by many as his finest hour,…Into A Real Thing is an often overlooked album. The best known track is the eleven minute reinvention of Hang On Sloopy. A familiar song takes on new life and meaning. However, that’s just part of the story.

There’s much more to …Into A Real Thing than one track. Ballads Ooo-Wee Girl, I Don’t Wanna Cry and Thirty Days feature David Porter at his best. Then there’s the hurt-filled Too Real To Live A Lie. Very different is the strutting machismo of Grocery Man. It shows David Porter’s versatility. He’s one of the most underrated of the seventies soul men.

For anyone yet to discover David Porter, then the reissue of …Into A Real Thing is the perfect place to start. Three bonus tracks Come Get From Me, Gotta Get Over The Hump and Somebody’s Trying To Ride Piggy Back have been added; and …Into A Real Thing became …Into A Real Thing…and More. It was recently released by Stax Records, an imprint of Ace Records. …Into A Real Thing…and More is the perfect introduction to the best seventies soul man you’ve never heard…David Porter.

DAVID PORTER-…INTO A REAL THING…AND MORE.

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