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News createt: 10-07-2010

Funeral Today for Bill Porter

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Bill Porter, who created the sound on such No. 1 records as Elvis Presley's "It's Now or Never" and Roy Orbison's "Pretty Woman," passed away in Ogden, Utah on Thursday. He was 79.

Porter, who sat behind the sound board on hundreds of hit records for such labels as RCA and Monument, was the first recording engineer inducted into the Audio Hall of Fame, according to the Encyclopedia of Country Western Music. In one week alone in 1960, he had 15 Top 100 Billboard singles on the charts.

As an engineer, Porter is credited with being the primary architect of the so-called Nashville Sound, using specialized equipment and effects like echo and delay to create a warm, clean ambience on the records.

Other No. 1 records that Porter worked on include The Everly Brothers' "Cathy's Clown" and Tommy Roe's "(Sweet Little) Sheila." He earned 39 gold records for his engineering work.

Porter moved to Ogden, Utah from St. Louis in 2005 with his girlfriend Carole Smith, an Ogden native. They married in 2006.

An avid Presley fan, Smith Porter first had contact with Porter in May 2004 via her daughter, who met Porter through mutual friends in Nashville while working in the artist development side of the music business.

"He was a very soft-spoken Southern gentleman," said Smith Porter. "That first phone call, I was a big fan of Elvis and I started asking all these questions. They were very close -- Bill told me he and Elvis even prayed together at times. Well, after we talked for a while, he said, 'Well, you know, I recorded more than Elvis.'

"I hadn't known, but of course, he did so much in the world of music. Not just the rock 'n' roll stars but country stars, too -- Eddy Arnold and Charlie Rich and Chet Atkins and all of them as well."

Porter's longtime spouse, Mary, had recently passed away when the two first connected.

"He was lonely, you could just tell, and so we became friends," Smith Porter said. "He came out for Christmas of 2004. ... Later, we moved him out to Utah, hauling with us as much as we could bring. He had thousands and thousands of records, and DVD and memorabilia. We had to get a bigger place to fit it all."

Porter recorded many of Presley's No. 1 hits in his RCA days and designed a home recording studio for Presley in Graceland. He often went on the road with Presley in the 1970s, recording many shows of note, including several at the International in Las Vegas.

Though he never graduated from college, Porter is credited with creating the first college-level curriculum for the profession when he developed the four-year recording engineering degree at Miami University in 1976. He also created similar programs at other schools, including the University of Colorado and Webster University in Missouri.

Colby Leider, the director of music engineering for the Frost School of Music at Miami University, notes that Porter was an iconic figure at the college.

"One of his biggest contributions was taking what was up until then a vocation where you would learn by apprenticing with an engineer, and bringing it into academia," said Leider. "And that really opened a lot of doors to 20-year-olds who wanted to break into that industry. It is really not possible to overstate the influence he had on a whole generation of students."

Leider said Porter moved to Miami about 1975 and approached the university's trustees about developing the program.

"The story is, he said, 'I guess I know a thing or two about microphones. Why don't I work with your music school?' And that is how he came to develop a degree to train engineers. This was off-the-wall at the time, but it is commonplace now, thanks to Mr. Porter. He was instrumental in developing a curriculum that has been copied and exported literally around the world."

In the last days of his working life, from 1999 to 2005, Porter taught nine courses in Webster University's school of communications' audio production program in Webster Grove, Mo.

"Bill was the last of his kind," said Debra Carpenter, dean of Webster University's school of communication. "We valued him so much. We developed a position for him so he could share his vast knowledge with our students.

"He was a role model and a living legend for our students," Carpenter said. "... The students learned about warmth of sound from him, and other skills that maybe people perhaps don't consciously hear, but love all the same. But even more than that, with his students and colleagues, he was truly the quintessential Southern gentleman. He passed that respect for others onto his students as well, and that is what made him a joy to work with."

Smith Porter said her husband was ailing from Alzheimer's and dementia and declined in the last few months. He was moved to a rest home in March.

"I kept him at home as long as I could, but in the end, he had to get more care than I could give him," she said. "But even though his memory toward the end was getting really bad, we could put these hit records on he'd worked on and he could sing along with them."

A memorial service is at 10 a.m. today at Leavitt's Mortuary, 836 36th St., Ogden, Utah. Donations to Miami University's music department, in Porter's name, are requested in lieu of flowers.

Bill Porter