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To celebrate the vinyl-only, VMP exclusive release of David Porter’s first new music in nearly 50 years — Chapter 1…Back In The Day — he spent some time with our back catalog to put together this curated collection. Read below to hear from Porter himself on why he picked these records.
Coming up in high school, one of the most impactful talents to me, as a guy who was ambitious about music, was Ray Charles. Seeing how he created a style that was uniquely his own made me respect the value of personalizing what you do through music. Because of Ray Charles, I was drawn to people who showed excessive individuality in what they did. Ray Charles was the first one that really had that considerable impact on me and allowed me to have a vast appreciation for that.
How can you talk about stylists and ignore the great style of Al Green? Al was, and still is, one of the greatest vocal stylists that ever lived and truly one of the greatest singers. Al was simply a great, great artist that knew how to shape imagery inside of a song. Every one of his songs was personalized with his uniqueness but also emotionally tied to his performance.
Aretha Franklin’s father, Reverand C.L. Franklin, preached at my father’s funeral at The Greater White Stone Baptist Church here in Memphis. Aretha was born in Memphis, and I was always a huge, huge fan of hers, but certainly was drawn even closer because of that association. When I got the opportunity to first meet her and share that with her, it seemed to fascinate her that that actually happened. And then, come to find out, she started recording my songs. She recorded “I Take What I Want,” a song that Isaac Hayes and I wrote for Sam & Dave; she recorded that twice. She then won a Grammy for “Hold on, I’m Coming,” an amazing performance, in 1983. I was just a huge fan of hers, and the fact that she was drawn to things that I created made her even more special to me. I consider her the greatest female artist who ever lived and having that kind of circumstance happen in my lifetime, by someone I respected to that degree, it was something truly special.
Isaac and I spent years struggling before we got our first opportunity to really start releasing quite a few songs. Before Stax, I got someone to loan me some money, and Isaac and I started our own label called Genie Records. We had a record called Little Lady of Stone with one of my classmates, Homer Banks, and the backside of that was a song called “Ain’t That A Lot of Love.” We recorded, released it, and didn’t know what we were doing, but we did it. To live through what we lived through and then see him not only become this hugely successful recording artist in his own right, with all the success we had as writers and producers but then watch him go on to something he never imagined, that not only was writing for movies but also appearing in movies, it was an amazing thing to witness.
Now, looking at the Shaft record and the Tough Guys record, and these records that involved him in a personal way with movies brings back great memories. All those years later, to see him doing that in his lifetime and us being as close as we were to each other was fascinating. Just fascinating, to say the least. So when I see Tough Guys this soundtrack brings on some really positive, strong memories with Isaac and I.
Frederick was a guy that I knew from Mississippi who came up to Stax. He started writing at Stax, and I just was so blown away by how intelligent his songs were. We were so much alike in respect that we knew we could sing, but we didn't feel that we had the chops of some of the vocalists we respected. So we were a little bit slow in grabbing the mantle of performing in a very serious way. I had made records before, and he had as well. And then he comes up, and he makes this record, “I’ve Been Lonely For So Long,” with the feel of it, and his vocal execution it was tremendous and obviously had his signature sound with it as well. I was so happy for him to have a record garnering that kind of attention. It’s always been one of my favorite songs. And here it is as a VMP exclusive recording with this special cover of it, and I was just really, really blown away by that.
I’m looking at the record, and it looks like it’s the record that was released on Stax Fantasy. And if that was it, which I think it was, that was the record I did when I took the role of Vice President in charge of A&R with Fantasy Records after Stax closed, I put together the various projects to release under their banner with the new logo on the label. I did a record for the Bar-Kays on that project that was a hit called “Holy Ghost.” That was after Stax had closed, and it became this hugely successful song for them.
When I see Money Talks and see the Bar-Kays, I go back to the fact that the Bar-Kays first record was a record called “Soul Finger.” Isaac came up with the title “Soul Finger,” and I went out on the streets and got about 30 kids to come inside of the studio. I got two cases of Coca-Colas and told them to take a Coke and drink it and have fun and just laugh and talk. I would direct them like a choir, I would want them to say “Soul Finger” when I would bring my hands down two times, and then I would wiggle my fingers for them to scream. If you listen to the first hit record that launched the career of the Bar-Kays you’ll hear it.
It’s always fascinating to me because Isaac and I didn't know anything about producer credits and that kind of thing. At that time, Stax was only given credit as produced by staff even though we were actually producing many records. And so that was the perfect example of what that means when I say people don’t know all that was done on many records, on this one Isaac came up with the title, and I came up with the execution, the signature of the record for the Bar-Kays, and the rest is history for them. They had a tremendous amount of success even after the airplane crash with Otis. I look at that record and in my mind goes it to those kinds of wonderful, wonderful memories.
I’m always drawn to writers who end up deciding they want to be artists and record records. I did that, Isaac did that, and that’s why I'm choosing this record, Musical Massage by Leon Ware. Leon was a great writer on some great records for Marvin Gaye and some of the great stuff coming from up in Detroit. I don’t own this record, but I am fascinated and want to take listen to it. I know it’s going to be good… I love the cover!
Wow. My life is inside of The Story of Stax Records. To say that seeing this as part of VMPs offerings is exciting is an understatement. It features eight classic albums that I know are amazing, and they each touch on a part of my life. The Story of Stax Records touches on the power of uniqueness when you consider that many of the records recorded at Stax were recorded by one basic rhythm section of four pieces, and in some cases, when Isaac and I did records, five. And then the horns that we would add to that would bring the number up to seven or eight, in some cases, and those records were made that way. And yet there was individuality and personality from artist to artist because one of the things that we stressed, which was individuality through songs.
Isaac and I took great pride in taking leadership on emphasizing individuality with every artist we would work with. We would be sure to find a way to find their uniqueness, not only in the way they sing because that was naturally them but also in how the music surrounding them sounded.
That was part of the magic of Stax Records. That kind of mindset went in each project, artist to artist, song to song. It was just fascinating; the reception that the music started getting all over the world and it motivated us even more. The Story of Stax Records box set gives you a true picture of what that was like because as you listen to it, you can hear all of the unique ways that ideas are presented. There are no new emotions. There are only common emotions; you have to find fresh ways to speak about common emotions. And that became part of my storyline because that experience is what I learned at Stax Records, and it is all inside of this box set, which I love.
This was a kid that I really respected. There was an interview that was done on me many years ago. A journalist contacted me from New York and came down and interviewed me. He brought a magazine with him, and in it was an article talking about Biggie sampling a song of mine, “The Masquerade Is Over” on “Who Shot Ya.” I couldn’t believe it, but he had it in print. I never met Biggie, but I heard he was a fan of mine. I never got the chance to meet him, but I just loved his creative flow, and he found a way to make conversations both interesting and rhythmic in his raps. I just thought he was so unique and special in his way.
David Porter is the legendary Stax Records songwriter and producer responsible for massive hits like Sam & Dave’s “Soul Man” and “Hold On, I’m Coming.” Porter is the CEO of Made in Memphis Entertainment, a full-service entertainment group dedicated to giving local artists global reach, and just released his first music in 50 years, Chapter 1...Back In The Day.
Best known for his tenure as the first staff songwriter and producer at Stax Records, Porter has earned induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame for his work with Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, Johnnie Taylor, The Emotions, The Soul Children, Carla Thomas and Sam & Dave, for whom he co-wrote a string of eight successive R&B Top 10 hits with Isaac Hayes. Porter’s work was then given new life with the advent of sampling, with Mariah Carey’s #1 smash “Dreamlover”and Will Smith’s Top 5 hit “Gettin’Jiggy wit It”as well as music by The Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z, and Wu-Tang Clan allbuilt on samples of Porter’s songs.