Interview with Elvis Presley's Sound Engineer, Bill Porter by Michael Fremer

By: Michael Fremer
Source: Elvis Australia
November 16, 2014 - 9:39:23 AM
Elvis Interviews, Elvis Articles


Bill Porter (June 15, 1931–July 7, 2010) was an American audio engineer who helped shape the Nashville sound and recorded such stars as Chet Atkins, The Everly Brothers, Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison from the late 1950s through the 1970s. In one week of 1960, his recordings accounted for 15 of Billboard Magazine's 'Top 100', a feat none have matched. Bill Porter mixed concert sound for Presley from 1970 until the singer's death in 1977. At the University of Miami, he helped create the first college program in audio engineering, and he taught similar courses at the University of Colorado Denver, and at Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri. Porter, said to have a golden ear, was inducted into the TEC Awards Hall of Fame in 1992.

This is an interview I conducted with the great recording engineer Bill Porter back in 1987. I met up with Porter at Denver audio dealer Listen Up! We chatted and listened to some of his recordings. In one week of 1960, Bill Porter-engineered recordings accounted for 15 of Billboard's Top 100 Singles. You could chalk it up to his having folks like Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Chet Atkins and the Everly Brothers to record, but then you'd have to explain why, with Porter out of the picture, so many of their careers took a nose-dive. The fact is, the original pressings of many of those classic Porter recordings possess a natural, spacious, jump-out-at-you 'live' feel that today's engineers don't seem capable of achieving.

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Steve Sholes, who produced the first Elvis session Bill Porter was involved with, said, 'Roll the tape' And I said, 'But I haven't heard the song yet!' And he said, 'Roll the tape, Bill!' and I look and the studio is totally black out there. I can't see a thing. I said, 'You're kidding!' He said, 'No, roll the tape!'.

So, I roll the tape and I don't know what's going to happen. And a guitar starts off, and then a bass comes in, and Elvis starts singing. And I still can't see a thing in the studio. And I'm afraid to turn any mikes off because somebody may come in and start playing. All of a sudden, Elvis stops singing and just starts talking. And I say to myself, 'This is awful!' because you don't normally put a lot of echo on dialogue. And I thought, next take I'll just turn it down, so we just did the take all the way through. If you listen to the dialogue, the echo matches the effect, because he says, 'And the stage is bare, and I'm standing there ...'.

Later, I said, 'How about that echo?'. Sholes said, 'Screw the echo, that's a hit!'. And it was done in one take... Bill Porter, RCA's foremost recording engineer and one of the creators of 'The Nashville Sound', explaining to Michael Fremer how 'Are You Lonesome Tonight' (1960) came into being, with the lights totally turned off, at Elvis' insistence so as to create the best atmosphere possible, but without Bill Porter knowing about it.

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Porter began working at RCA the last day of March, 1959. Nine weeks later he had recorded his first million-seller. While at RCA, Porter engineered the recordings for which he is best known. Porter left RCA under less than pleasant circumstances in 1963, moving on to a short stint at Columbia Record's Nashville studio, followed by two-and-a half years managing Fred Foster's studio, where many of Porter's Monument label recordings were made.

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Suspicious Minds

He bought a Las Vegas recording studio in August of 1966 and moved out there with his family. Despite problems with equipment, bad RF interference, and nearby rumbling railroad tracks, the studio prospered. In 1969 Elvis Presley came to town to play at the International Hotel (now the Las Vegas Hilton). Presley's producer at the time, Felton Jarvis, brought some 8-track masters (Suspicious Minds) over to Porter's studio for some horn overdubs.

Unfortunately, all eight tracks were filled, so Porter had to add the horns live, while he mixed the track twice: once for mono and once for stereo. Next time Presley returned to Las Vegas, January, 1970, he asked for Porter's help doing the live concert mix. Elvis was so happy with the studio-like results that he insisted Porter go on tour with him to mix the sound.

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Bill Porter at RCA Studio B with Chet Atkins.
Bill Porter at RCA Studio B with Chet Atkins.

Interview with Elvis Presley's Sound Engineer, Bill Porter by Michael Fremer

MFHow has the role of the engineer changed, vis-à-vis the producer?

BP: Well of course, when I first got into the business there were very few studios across the country that weren't owned by the major record companies. There weren't too many independent studios. The major labels were RCA, Columbia, Capitol, Decca, people like that, and they tried to lease them out to pick up some business to offset the cost of operating. A lot of people didn't like the corporate approach to sound, so that's why the smaller studios sprang up. All the hits I cut, I just drew a salary at RCA. I got overtime, but ...

Bill Porter
Bill Porter.

MF: Big deal.

BP: Yeah. Big deal. The Elvis sessions were always on Sunday and that was double time. I made a week's pay in one day.

MF: Why was it always on Sunday?

BP: His choice. Fewer people hanging around.

MF: Was there security there?

BP: Not really. There was security inside the building. They always tried to keep the session quiet, but they never could. There were always a few dozen people standing around about the time he was supposes to arrive.

MF: I would imagine so! Now, today, I imagine the producer calls the shots-even on a technical level-and the engineer just ...

BP: Well, back then if you were an engineer you were looked to for technical reasons, you were not considered part of the creative process. Of course I didn't know any different when I went in there. I always wanted to ad-lib musically, so I did.

MF: At the time they were made, were your recordings better than the equipment being used to reproduce them? Are you hearing things today ..

BP: Oh sure! Do you know what we had for a studio playback amplifier? You won't believe it. This little funky RCA thing with 6L6 output tubes-a maximum twelve watts out-that fed two baby A-7s (Altec-Lansing) sitting on the floor. Not the control room, that was a bit better, but that was the studio playback system. You're talking about stuff that cost a couple of hundred dollars, you know?

MF: So hearing your recordings on this state-of-the-art stuff must sound different.

BP: Yes. You know that bumping and thumping you hear on Elvis' 'Are You Lonesome Tonight?' That's not evident on my systems. You don't hear that.

MF: So basically, what was put in the grooves was a lot better than what people were hearing in those days, and now it's coming out. Given the catalog of deficiencies in that early equipment, how did you manage to get such good sound out of it? People talk about early equipment having no dynamics, and a lot of tape hiss and rolled-off frequency response and this and that, and the other thing. Those old recordings sound better than most of what I hear today! How is that?

BP: Well, for one thing, I discovered that the tape machines were better than I thought they were. But I really worked extremely hard to keep the signal-to-noise ratio up. It was a constant struggle. Tube checks. I'd check my machines on a daily basis. It's maintenance. Preventive maintenance solves most of your problems. It's basics. Some people think basics are too dull. I don't.

MF: What was your reaction to the introduction of transistorized electronics?

BP: Oh man! I hated it!

MF: Were you forced to use it?

BP: Yeah! I was forced to use it. I remember RCA senta tape machine down-they were in the tape machine business. It was all solid state. Boy, it sounded like it was running through sand. And I refused to use it. I set it up, and ended up using it as a cue amplifier for head sets! (laughs).

MF: And you went back to using what you knew was better.

BP: Yup.

MF: With that experience in mind, what do you think so far of digital recording?

BP: My experience with digital-and it's slowing changing ... the first time I heard it I said , 'My, what a harsh, strident sound'. Everybody was saying 'Well ain't that fantastic!'. I said, 'What's fantastic?' 'Look! There's no noise'. I said, 'Well listen to the music! What does that sound like to you?' 'Oh it sounds great!' 'You don't hear that high end?' I said. 'Huh? What high end?' 'That grainy distortion?' 'Oh yeah, I didn't hear that before'. 'Well, listen!'

MF: We keep hearing that the poor old Westrex cutters used to master all of those old records (we played today) were vastly inferior to what's available today. Yet those old recordings sounded so good.

BP: Well I worked with those cutters quite a bit. Those cutters work on a feedback principle. And those old Westrex cutters had a resonant frequency that was in the audible range. You had to work to get it out. It was a matter of tweaking to a certain extent. A lot of the old equipment had the potential for tweaking. Nowadays you don't have as many options. It's there, or it's not there. The old equipment had a personality you could doctor. I did a lot of that. Some of it wasn't exactly technically correct, but I listened to what I heard, not what I read on a scope. What I heard is what counted. People don't listen to a scope. You don't say, I like the music because the measurements are great.

MF: I'm afraid that is done.

BP: The ear is the final judge. Now if your going to use specifications-the ear can't decode that. I'm afraid what's going to happen is, you're pre-conditioned to what you learn as you grow up-what you hear-and if you don't keep some of the older stuff around as a standard, you're going to have no basis for comparison.

MF: I think that gets to the heart of the reason for conducting this interview.

BP: A whole generation of people grow up not having any comparisons, they won't know if it's good or bad. All they know is what everybody tells them.

MF: Well when the first generation of compact-disc players arrived and they sounded as bad as those early solid-state amps, when people wrote how great they sounded, those of us who really care about all of this tried to sound the alarm but were vilified for our efforts. Let me lighten up here. Have you got any good Elvis stories for us? I mean did you realize then just how special those moments with Elvis were?

Presley sessions were kind of strange

BP: Nah! When you're doing three, four sessions a day, artists come in and out, some you know, some you don't, some are big artists, some aren't, you just do your job and go home. I knew who Elvis was, but he was just another client. I didn't know if Elvis liked me initially or not, because I had a tendency to talk rather quickly and in a high-pitched voice, and when you push the talk back button under stress ...Anyway, when we recorded 'It's Now Or Never', Elvis had to do multiple takes because he kept missing the ending-it's a pretty high note. And it was the middle of the night. I said after one take, 'EP, I can splice that. We can just cut the ending. And he said 'No, I want to do it all the way through, Bill. I want to do it all in one take'. So we struggled with it. He finally got it, of course, you could tell ... Presley sessions were kind of strange ... all these hangers-on that were his entourage. To a certain extent they were a lot of 'yes' people. When he was doing a recording, they would be in the front room playing cards, or something, they could care less. Then, during playback time, they'd come back and its was the biggest glad-hand slapping you ever saw. 'Yeah, that's fantastic! That's great!' See back then, and I don't know if it's because he didn't have enough clout or an RCA rule, or what. But back then tape copies just didn't go out the door. He didn't hear it again until it was actually released. So we would do playbacks after the sessions sometimes maybe a couple of hours because he'd want to hear things over and over and over again. And on 'It's Now Or Never', he had me play it about twenty times.

MF: Who was the final arbiter in these decisions?

BP: Well Steve Sholes and myself, basically; Elvis didn't come in that much. Sometimes Elvis thought he did a bad job of something and Steve would talk him out of it. Steve Sholes had good ears and he was a good guy to work with. He died. Had a heart attack in Nashville about ten years ago. Great talent. Likeable fellow. He brought Chet and Elvis to RCA.

MF: How 'sound conscious' was Elvis? Would he reject a take because he didn't like the way something sounded?

BP: Well, as far as all the recordings I did with him, he never said anything at all about the sound quality. Zero. Felton Jarvis, who was his producer during the later period, basically called the shots, so Elvis didn't butt in too much. Once in a while he'd ask for a remix or something; but all the time I was working with him, he never made any comments at all about the sound or the balance.

MF: Was he conscious of how his voice sounded?

BP: Oh yes. Definitely. He always was conscious of that.

MF: Did he ever tell you to put more of less reverb on it, or things like that?

BP: No. He never told me anything about that. The only time he was really concerned was when I was working on sound reinforcement [for live performances].

MF: Did you make suggestions for getting closer to the mike, or further away?

BP: Oh yeah. And he always said 'Bill, I'll work the mike the way I want to. I don't want to be heard too much. Don't try to turn me up. I'm trying to do this intentionally ...' I said 'OK!'

MF: Was this done in a friendly tone or did he throw fits?

BP: He never threw fits about sound ... well let me rephrase that. He got very upset if he couldn't hear everything on stage, and I think rightly so. That's how I got working with him again, as I told you. There were no monitors. When I got them up, he could hear. He never got as bad as Paul Anka, for example. Paul Anka, I think, is deaf.

Elvis was not a typical dictatorial musician. Sometimes he would comment on the musician's part. He'd want to have him play something a little different, but he never criticized what the guy sounded like.

MF: He never brought in any recordings and said, 'I like this sound, can we get that?'

BP: Nope. Never did.

MF: Did he ever express concern about how something would sound on the radio? Was he concerned about the commercial aspects of a recording?

BP: No. Not to me. Maybe later on. I know on his jukebox at his house were all the Orbison hits I'd recorded. I know he liked the sound of those. Sometimes I'd ask him, 'What do you think?' He'd say 'Fine'.

MF: There weren't headphones in those days-you just stood there and listened live, right?

BP: If you listen to some of those re-releases of 'Reconsider Baby' and stuff like that that's out now-I think I have three or four on those packages-and you can hear him lean off the microphone and yell to the other guys.

MF: Who played on the Elvis sessions?

BP: Buddy Harmon on drums, Bob Moore on bass, Grady Martin and Hank Garland on guitar, and Boots Randolph on sax. D.J. Fontana on drums and Scotty Moore on guitar. That's the basic nucleus.

MF: How much of what we hear was pre-arranged before they got to the studio? Were there charts?

BP: No. A guy named Freddy Bienstock (Porter pronounced it 'beanstalk' but I think my spelling is what he had in mind) who ran Hill and Range Publishing Company would come with a stack of demos on record with lead sheets. I'm talking about maybe a foot-and-a half high. I'm not exaggerating. We had a little record player for 78s and Freddy would've already culled some material, and he'd bring this big stack out and he'd go through it, five or six down and he'd pull it out and put it on for Elvis and say 'Hey, listen to this'. Elvis would say 'I don't like that'. So he'd pick another one.

MF: So at this stage, Elvis was the arbiter. Steve Sholes didn't say, 'Now Elvis, wait a second'.

BP: Now wait! Everything was culled to a fine point. It was Elvis' choice, but he didn't have the initial picking. They led him to hear what they wanted him to hear. If he didn't like it, he'd say 'No, I don't want to do it'. I found that the ones that imitated him on the demo, he liked them ... Then they'd play the record over and over and over again and the musicians would learn the part-and it was all ad-lib-nothing was written down, not even chord sheets.

MF: This is all happening while the studio time is booked and the clock is running?

BP: Yup! We start at nine at night and go until seven or eight in the morning and we'd record anywhere from eight to fourteen songs.

MF: (incredulous) Eight to fourteen songs? Finished in one night?

BP: Yes sir, you heard me correctly.

MF: From the point of picking the songs out of the stack, learning the parts and doing the takes, you'd end up with eight to fourteen songs in one all-night session?

BP: Exactly.

MF: You couldn't do that anymore!

BP: Musicians make a difference. If they get their act together quickly, then it's up to the technical staff.

MF: So who was the arranger on all of these things?

BP: There was no arranger! A lot of times they'd copy the demo like it was. But mostly they'd just try stuff.

MF: It sounds like anarchy. I mean, who was producing these sessions?

BP: Nobody.

MF: Nobody?

BP: Not as far as I could tell. Well Steve Sholes produced, using the term loosely. But Freddy Bienstock was in charge of music selection. Sometimes Elvis would hear a lick and pick up a guitar and the musicians would follow him, but there was no one person in charge of every song.

MF: So one of the reasons why all this was so exciting, is because it was fresh. Totally fresh.

BP: Exactly The licks were original from the date-except when they copied the demos, which were darn good sometimes.

MF: Where do you suppose all those demos are today?

Elvis Australia note : Some demos were released on a CD included with the FTD publishing book, Writing For The King]

BP: Boy, I have no idea.

MF: Those would be absolutely fascinating to hear ... When you began to record Elvis he had had a whole recorded history before you got to him. Didn't anybody say to you, 'Well Bill, here are Elvis' old recordings and we want to continue the sound where we left off'.

BP: Nobody said boo. I wasn't told what to do, or how to do it.

MF: And you didn't say to yourself, 'Well, Bill, I'd better go back and' ...

BP: I didn't have time. I'm serious. It was just another session. I was hung up on a quality kick, trying to get some depth into those recordings and it was just another client to do the same darn thing with. You know Elvis had a lot of hits before I came along ... but after we left ...

MF: Why did you leave?

BP: I left RCA because they tried to dictate to me and I wasn't gonna be dictated to.

MF: Dictate to you what?

BP: I had a small publishing company and they told me it was a conflict of interest. I said, 'How can that be, everybody else has got one. Chet has one'. 'yes, but you work with a lot of different clients'. 'Yes, but I'm not abusing the privilege'. So they said either the publishing company or you go. So I made my decision. The legal department said there was nothing wrong, but personnel did. Steve Sholes called and said 'Now Bill, please don't leave'. I said story Steve' Meanwhile I went looking at Columbia and they said 'Come on, we'll take you any day of the week'. In fact they didn't believe that I was going when I called RCA in New York to say goodbye. 'You're not going?' 'Yes I am, I gave you notice two weeks ago'. They didn't believe it and they had to scramble like mad to get someone down there for Monday's session. They didn't think I'd go. Nobody leaves RCA. What's the matter with you?

MF: So then you went to Columbia.

BP: This was November of 1964. I was there for six months. Then Fred Foster decided he'd have his own studio. So I jumped when I had the chance to manage the studio. I was there roughly two years. That's where I cut Orbison's biggest hit 'Pretty Woman'. 'It's Over' was cut there too.

MF: Could you hear the difference between the studios?

BP: Oh yes. The equipment wasn't as good at Fred's studio, because actually he bought an existing studio that belonged to Sam Philips (of Sun Records fame-the man who 'discovered' Elvis). Acoustically it was fantastic. It was an an old Masonic lodge hall. All wood, big ceiling about twenty-five feet high. I mean you could put about one hundred musicians in it easy. But the console wasn't so good. The live echo chamber wasn't as good either. Of course an EMT is an EMT (a mechanical echo device). But one reason I go the EMTs to sound like they did-I had them in a room all by themselves and it was a real cold room and I didn't go according to specifications. I drove the chamber hard. I went for what I wanted it to sound like. And I switched the meter off on the feed so I wouldn't see the meter banging against the pin all the time. So I drove it hard and took a very small amount back. That's one of the secrets of the sound ...

MF: When you left RCA and Elvis kept recording, if I were to compare your last recording with the first with the new engineer, would I hear the difference?

BP: Oh yes. Like daylight and dark ...

MF: What were the big hits he had after you left?

BP: He didn't have any, until Felton Jarvis got involved. It's kind of strange. I recorded 'Crying in the Chapel' and they re-released it in 1965 and it went back on the charts.

MF: Was Elvis a hi-fi fan? Did he have a big system?

BP: I never went into his bedroom, but I put a really elaborate system in his racquetball court. He had big, three-way Electrovoice custom systems with 18-inch woofers. Of course, you couldn't turn it up too much in a racquetball court, because the sound would bounce around so much ...I was using Crown amps. I had it set up for radio, cassettes and records.

MF: Do you remember what turntable it was?

BP: No.

MF: That's healthy.

BP: I had a Crown IC 150 preamp and a Lux(man) tuner.

MF: Did Elvis have a big record collection?

BP: I never saw the stuff he had. He carried tapes on the road, but he didn't listen too much. His entourage did. They had a VCR in the plane they used. They watched a lot of movies.

MF: That was before Beta and VHS. They must have had ? inch.

BP: Yes. U-Matics. They had access to movies. If a new movie came out, they had it.

MF: Now how about Roy Orbison? Was recording him similar to Elvis?

BP: No. Roy Orbison, to a great extent, was arranged. Anita Kerr did a lot of charts for him. She was really good at that. Obviously with strings and stuff you needed to have charts. The rhythm patterns are basically ad-libbed. She had the basic feel she wanted to capture and they pretty much went along with it ...There's a story about 'Only the Lonely' and I'm gonna sort of take credit for the Orbison sound, because as a result of what happened with that recording, he had a trademark. We had done recording before. The first one was on RCA and they didn't release it. So Monument picked Roy up and did the very same song-an awful song, 'With a Bug' or something. And they released it and it went nowhere. So then Fred Foster said let's change the concept, and brought strings into the next session. And that was a tune called 'Uptown' which made it to the bottom of the charts. We'd just finished that record session and Orbison came in and said here's my next song. So Orbison strummed the guitar and sang, and there were two guys standing behind sort of like singing, but I thought they were just hangers on. And Roy looks at me and says 'That's the sound I want'. And Fred says 'What sound?' So I walked over there, and these guys are whispering the words and I thought, my God! I'll never get that on the mix. No way. I said, 'Must they sing so softly?' 'Yeah', Roy said. I said 'Well, OK'. Meanwhile I'm thinking how am I going to do this in one take? If I opened the mike up that much, it would let everything else in. So when time came to do the recording I knew I can't beat them. I've got to join them. My normal mix is, I get a balance on the rhythm section, piano, bass, drums, guitar, whatever, then I add the sweetening-strings, voices-then I put the artist on top. It's kind of like a pyramid. This time I knew if I did that, forget it! So what I did was take the 'dum dum' sound real soft and I mixed down from that instead of mixing up. And so I was able to get that on top of the mix fairly easy. That 'dum dum' sound became Orbison's trademark. That's what made that record. That soft, breathy vocal.

MF: So how did you feel when Orbison went over to MGM and didn't take you with him?

BP: I didn't appreciate it, to be frank with you.

MF: Did you say anything?

BP: Nah! All he ever gave me was a steak dinner one time. That's all.

MF: Didn't he get the hint after releasing flop singles and umpteen albums at MGM that didn't do well?

BP: Fred Foster had the uncanny ability to pick the right kind of song, to pick the right people to do the arrangements and then he stepped out of the picture and left it alone.

MF: That happened to Fats Domino when he left Imperial and ended up at ABC.

BP: With the combinations working, don't change it. With Orbison, the change occurred basically because of Wesley Rose. He wanted that contract with Roy-he was doing his job as a manager, I'm not faulting Wesley, but he didn't know that much about the music, and Roy listened to him.

MF: Because he was taking him to a bigger label for bigger bucks?

BP: But Monument initially took the risks with Orbison. Their concept of how to record Roy was what made it work. Now you take 'Running Scared'. That song had a dynamic range of about 25dB. And for a 45 in those days that was unheard of. If you had 3dB you were doing great ...

MF: What was your very last recording session?

BP: I honestly don't remember.

MF: But wasn't there a point where you just said to yourself 'This is it?'

BP: I was in my Vegas studio ... You reach a point acquiring a skill where you want to be appreciated for what you do. You reach a higher level than other people have. And you realize you're operating in a different realm. And of course many of those sessions were bread-and-butter affairs. You've got to keep the doors open. But I got tired after awhile of knocking myself out to get a good, unique sound, and the client wouldn't appreciate it ...

Bill Porter Plays Favorites : An Elvis Presley Recording Session

Elvis Presley: 'Stuck On You' [Elvis' Golden Records Vol.3]

(No producer credit given, engineered by Bill Porter) RCA LSP-2765

BP: 'Stuck On You' was, of course, the very first song Elvis recorded after he got out of the Army. The session was booked at seven o'clock on a Sunday night. Elvis showed up at about a quarter to nine. That's normal. And he always recorded all night long.

After the preliminaries-it was the first time I'd met the guy-I was impressed with Elvis as an artist, but I wasn't impressed with him more than anybody else. I'd cut a lot of big artists by then…At the very beginning of the first cut I sensed an eeriness in the control room,, like somebody's going to jump on you-like somebody's behind you watching and you just want to look?

Finally, I did, and right behind me was Colonel Parker (Elvis' manager), Elvis, Steve Sholes (RCA A&R) and the VP from RCA, all looking like I made a mistake, they were going to grab me. It was that kind of thing. And as soon as we got the first cut finished, everybody sat down. Nobody said anything the whole time, because I was told later he hadn't sung in a studio in two years and they weren't sure what was going to happen. So, a lot was really riding on that cut.

We went ahead and did the next song, 'Fame and Fortune', on which he popped the mike a couple of times: in fact, he was popping it more than that. And I kept pushing the talk-back button, saying 'Elvis, now you're popping the mike, back up, please'. And so after four or five times, he was getting up-tight and he started cursing. I figured I'd better not do it again, because he was losing his cool. So, you know, back then we didn't have roll-off filters on the console. It was pretty much as it was. It used to be the engineer's duty, if you saw a flaw, it's up to you to stop the producer and say 'Hey, there's something wrong with this record, you can't put it out'. And, as you know, phonograph cartridges back then were real stiff and they wouldn't track those low-frequency notes. They'd skip. Well, here I am sweating, when I heard two mike pops. Is it bad enough? Do I let it go? Do I stop it? I'm sitting there weighing in the pros and cons. Well, I chanced it. You can hear them. But if it hadn't tracked, it would have been my rear end later on. But you'll notice when it comes out, it goes ' 'Fame And Fortune', not 'fame', because he was popping the 'f' so bad.

MF: You mean you had to splice it out?

BP: No, that's the way I had him do it. Now as soon as I got through-back in that time I was the only engineer-we didn't have any help. And I would edit off the master take as soon as we got through with it, while the musicians would work on the next song. And so I had these two cuts edited off the tape and the VP steps up and says, 'I want those tapes'. I said, 'No, sir, you can't have that'. He says, 'Yes, I can have that, I'm flying to New York right now. We've already got presses waiting, that's his next release'. And so, obviously, I gave it to him. He took it and split. This was twelve-thirty at night and they had record back by Wednesday afternoon. They had the two songs already picked out. The label copy was all done, so all they had to do was press it!

One of Elvis' valets mentioned to me that they never got that kind of sound out of the RCA Nashville studios. I had kind of a reputation going for me by then, so Elvis was picked to record there and they wanted everything possible going for him. Steve Sholes didn't do anything but time the songs and take down master numbers. The sound is pretty much the way I thought it should be done.

Now, as you are well aware, that's entirely a different contrast to Elvis' previous recordings. Well, I wasn't pre-conditioned to his early stuff. I listened to it, but I didn't really pay attention to it. I was doing what I thought it should be. I saw a studio full of people out there and they're using two drummers and the only reason was D.J. Fontana was the original drummer for years with Elvis, and he was a loyal person to work with.

The guitar player was Scotty Moore, who stayed with him pretty much till the end. And this console, bear in mind, had 12 inputs-and all these people out there, and I'm saying, 'How am I going to mike all these drums?' So I had put them up, side by side, and the second drummer basically is just on an overhead mike.

Elvis Presley: 'Are You Lonesome Tonight?' [Elvis' Golden Records Vol. 3]

(No producer credit given, engineered by Bill Porter) RCA LSP-2765.

BP: This was done in one take. What had happened-as I mentioned earlier, I'd be taking off the master cut while the guys worked out the next song and so I'd always have the console set up for the last mix. I didn't change anything, so-I forget what song we'd just done, but before I could turn around to Mr. Sholes and tell him, 'Okay Steve, I'm ready to go', he said, 'Roll the tape'. And I said, 'But I haven't heard the song yet!' And he said, 'Roll the tape, Bill!' and I look and the studio is totally black out there. I can't see a thing. I said, 'You're kidding!' He said, 'No, roll the tape!' So I said, 'Yes sir!'

So, I roll the tape and I don't know what's going to happen. And a guitar starts off, and then a bass comes in, stuff like that, and Elvis starts singing. And I still can't see a thing in the studio. And I'm afraid to turn any mikes off because somebody may come in and start playing! I mean I don't know what kind of arrangement they've got going on out there! All of a sudden he stops singing and just starts talking. And I say to myself, 'This is awful!' Because you don't normally put a lot of echo on dialogue.

And I thought, next take, I'll just turn it down. We did the take all the way through.

The Jordanaires screwed up the ending, and he (Elvis) started to do it one more time. And he stopped and said, 'Mr. Sholes I can't do this song justice, throw it out'. And I looked at Steve and he said, 'Don't you dare throw that tape out, Bill'. So he pushed the talk-back button and said, 'E.P., the Jordanaires messed up the ending, just do me an ending. I want to have one whole cut so we'll have it for posterity's sake'. So they backed up and did the last eight bars or so.

And Steve looked at me and said, 'Now, when I leave, tomorrow, I want you to splice that together. That's a hit and I know it'. I said, 'How about that echo?' He said, 'Screw the echo, that's a hit!' I said 'Okay'. He said, 'I want you to use all the original, except right at the end, put the tag on'. That's just what I did.

MF: Did you save that little bit that was spliced out?

BP: Nah. Well, you know, you can look back and say that about a lot of things. As I left the studio, they had one of those big white (Nipper) dogs? And Elvis had signed it, and a bunch of other people too. And they tried to get me to take it with me. And I said, 'I don't want that damn thing!' I kick myself now, obviously.

MF: Are you kidding? I'll kick you!

BP: Well, you don't know what's going to happen down the road. But getting back to the cut. If you listen to the dialogue, to what he says, the echo matches the effect, so I come out smelling like a rose. Because he says, 'All the stage is bare, I'm standing here…' You could obviously get that kind of sound on a bare stage.

'When Porter left RCA in late 1964, 'the sound was never the same, never as great'. Chet Atkins.

By Michael Fremer
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Elvis Presley Video Tupelo's Own Elvis Presley DVD

Tupelo's Own Elvis Presley DVD + 16 page booklet.

Never before have we seen an Elvis Presley concert from the 1950's with sound. Until Now! The DVD Contains recently discovered unreleased film of Elvis performing 6 songs, including Heartbreak Hotel and Don't Be Cruel, live in Tupelo Mississippi 1956. Included we see a live performance of the elusive Long Tall Sally seen here for the first time ever.

This is an excellent release no fan should be without it.

The 'parade' footage is good to see as it puts you in the right context with color and b&w footage. The interviews of Elvis' Parents are well worth hearing too. The afternoon show footage is wonderful and electrifying : Here is Elvis in his prime rocking and rolling in front of 11.000 people. Highly recommended.