David Porter has been associated with Stax Records for his entire career, and it was with great pleasure that Ralph Kaffel, president of Fantasy/Prestige! Milestone/Stax, announced in December 1977 Porter’s appointment as VicePresident, A&R/Talent for Stax. "My whole life has been music and Stax. It’s plain and simple."
Porter was born on November 21, 1941 on what he laughingly describes as "a dead-end street in the last house on Virginia Avenue in Memphis." Another kid who lived on Virginia Avenue was Maurice White, and together the two boys formed a gospel group when they were six years old.
At 11, David formed his own band (he plays trumpet and piano) and began writing songs. By 13, he was participating in various talent shows around the Memphis area, and began singing. While in high school, he wrote and recorded his first song, "Farewell," which did very well locally. After graduating from Booker T. Washington High School, David went to LeMoyne College for one year, majoring in business. But funds were limited, and David’s formal education was cut short.
"That was about 1959. For the next five years, I was down more than up." To support himself, Porter began selling insurance during the day. For fun, he sang in Memphis nightclubs in the evenings.
As an insurance salesman, he met a meat packer named Isaac Hayes and tried to sell him some insurance. Their conversation quickly turned to music- the topic they loved most.
The two decided to do something about it. They made their way to Stax Records, then in its infant stages, and wrote such songs as "B-A-B-Y" for Carla Thomas; "I Got to Love Somebody’s Baby" for Johnnie Taylor; and "Your Good Thing Is About to Come to an End" for Lou Rawls.
David’s first sessions as a background vocalist occurred in 1960. Then in 1964, they wrote the song David considers the turning point in their careers. "Hold On, I’m Coming" was recorded by Sam & Dave, and has long been acknowledged as an absolute classic. Until then, David had considered himself too uptight and serious when it came to songwriting. "I intentionally put myself in what I term an ‘intermezzo atmosphere’ and relaxed as much as possible," he says, "and then it came to me-‘Hold On, I’m Coming.’"
The team of Porter and Hayes soon put Sam & Dave in the number one spot when they wrote "Soul Man," a song which brought David and Isaac a gold record and a Grammy nomination for best songwriters.
In 1969, Porter recorded his first album as a solo artist-Gritty, Groovy and Gettin’ It. On that album, David resurrected a song he had written and recorded for Stax in 1962, "Can’t See You When I Want To." He rearranged it and shaped it into a hit. That album, Gritty, Groovy and Gettin’ It, was the last project on which the Porter/Hayes team collaborated, although they remain close friends. David continued to record his second album called Into a Real Thing, and contained a phenomenally powerful 11-minute version of "Hang On Sloopy," as well as a number of Porter originals.
Within a few years, Porter was named Vice-President of Volt Records, the Stax subsidiary concentrating on highly energized, rhythmic music. Porter’s position in the company was very important. He was not only a songwriter and an artist, but a good businessman as well. By the early Seventies, Porter was named Executive Vice-President in charge of production for Stax.
Obviously, David Porter is a tremendous part of the Stax story. When Fantasy Records obtained licensing agreements to the entire Stax catalog in 1977, label president Ralph Kaffel looked about for someone to head up Stax activities. "David Porter came instantly to mind," says Kaffel. "There aren’t that many people in the industry who are as capable as David. He’s a tremendously effective administrator with an empathetic, artistic nature. He understands both sides of the fence. Over the years, David has written and/or produced 44 national chart records, and has worked with virtually every Stax artist."
Having been actively involved in the rebuilding of the label and the artist roster over the last year, Porter feels great strides have been made and is confident of the future. "We’re very excited because we feel we’ve pulled together some talents that will help us reach the status of days gone by. The quality of product we have on these talents is incredible. Right now we have the Soul Children, and two new young groups, Circle o’ Fire and Sho-Nuff, whose first albums have just been released. There’s also a dynamic new group, Kilo, and a fine singer named Rhonda Burg, whose first LPs will be out early next year.
"At the moment, I’m also working with Shirley Brown, the ‘Woman to Woman’ lady, and we expect great things from her.
"It’s funny, because I initially thought I’d be in more of an administrative position, but so far I’ve been solidly busy in the studios!"
In addition to shaping Stax’s new music policies, Porter has also been supervising the selection of titles to be reissued from the old Stax catalog. This past summer, ten of the top-selling and most influential albums from the Stax/Gospel Truth label were once again made available, followed by the rerelease of ten of the all-time most popular Stax LPs-including Isaac Hayes’s Shaft and Hot Buttered Soul, and Booker T. & the MGs’ Soul Limbo.
"People are always making suggestions and requests about reissuing this or that album," Porter explains, "mine among them. So I’m seriously thinking about getting together some of those old masters on myself and reissuing something. But even if there were some kind of measurable success with it, I would not pursue it-I really have no desire to be an entertainer anymore. I’m happy and satisfied in the things I’m doing now, and I don’t want anything to interfere with that. Oh sure, I’d like to have a hit record, but not to the extent that it would cause any changes in my present direction."